The Centre has told the Supreme Court that it may not be suitable for women to hold command posts in the Army as male troops are not yet 'ready' to accept women officers.
Opposing the plea of women officers for command posting after getting the permanent commission, the Centre cited the dangers of women officers being captured as prisoners of war.
"The composition of rank & file being male, and predominantly drawn from rural background, with prevailing societal norms, the troops are not yet mentally schooled to accept women officers in command," The Times Of India quoted the Centre as saying.
The Centre further claimed that female officers cannot be treated equally when it comes to postings because of their different physical standards and exposures, as well as, expressed reservations to expose them to combat situations.
It was further cited that physiological limitation is accentuated by the "challenges of confinement, motherhood and childcare."
"...it is a greater challenge for women officers to meet these hazards of service owing to prolonged absence during pregnancy, motherhood and domestic obligations towards their children and families, especially when both husband and wife happen to be service officers," said the Centre.
As against these arguments, the bench said that it was not fair to completely bar women from command posts, as they were doing extremely well.
"A change of mindset is required with changing times. You need to give them opportunity and they will serve to the best of their capabilities," the bench said.
Why We Need Women In Combat Roles
In the Indian Army, women are not allowed to serve in combat units like the Infantry, the Armoured Corps and Mechanised Infantry.
There is severe opposition in India to integrate women into combat roles - their presence in the team is often considered a threat to combat effectiveness and team cohesion.
The Centre's statements to the Supreme Court is an echo of the patriarchy widely prevalent in the Indian Army. Instead of introducing rules that are equally suitable for both genders, the common notion is that to be an effective combatant, one has to act like a man.
However, what we essentially need to understand is that arguments around women being taken prisoners of war, childbirth, maternity, physical and psychological differences become redundant the moment a woman decides that she wants to bear the brunt of these difficulties. If a woman is not afraid of being taken a prisoner of war, then all that needs to change - as the Supreme Court rightly pointed out - is the mindset.
In fact, there are several pros of women serving in combat units.
Gender Is Never A Hindrance
The argument that women are not strong enough holds no value as several countries - Australia, Denmark, Finland, Kurdistan, New Zealand and many more - recruit women in combat roles. New Zealand has absolutely no restrictions on roles for women in its defence force. In Kurdistan, there are women fighting ISIL, including in combat roles.
Had strength been a concern, women in other countries would not be excelling in roles that the Indian government believes are not suited for women. Gender is only arbitrary as long as one is qualified for a position.
Society's conservative eyebrows need to be lowered because when a woman signs up for such a journey, she is without a doubt fit to be inserted in a male-dominated area, cramped quarters, inhospitable territories, and isolated from civilization.
Women Can Handle The Mental Strain Of Combat
It is not uncommon for women to be referred to as 'protective' as they nurture kids. Questions are raised over a woman's ability to be ruthless, return fire and kill a child insurgent fighter.
However, women in other countries have already proved that they are mentally strong enough to face war. In the Middle East, a number of women have found themselves in the line of fire.
Army Captain Meredith Mathis, who offered cultural support to the US military in Afghanistan, said that she has "seen as much, if not more, combat than a lot of infantry soldiers—leading patrols, going on foot patrols, IEDs, getting mortared." In fact, she hailed their effectiveness citing an incident where women secured valuable intelligence speaking with Afghan women who refused to talk to men. Deploying women, in fact, doubles the talent pool for sensitive tasks that require interpersonal skills which are not possessed by every soldier.
The armed forces are often plagued by falling retention and recruitment rates - an issue that can be easily addressed by allowing women in combat roles.
This thick blanket of restriction only limits one's ability to recruit the most capable and deserving person for the job.
What If A Woman Conceives?
The belief that women may leave the team if they get pregnant, and that men never leave the team, is a myth.
A 1991 report by the Navy Personnel Research and Development Center found that the average pregnant women in the Navy lost one day per month of work. On the other hand, a study cited in Linda Bird Francke's Ground Zero: The Gender Wars in the Military, that men almost lost twice as many days to drug, alcohol rehabilitation as women lost to pregnancy.
Any kind of ailment, for that matter, could prevent one from continuing their job, however, it is unfair to single out pregnancy only because it is applicable to a woman.
Integrating Women Does Not Degrade Morale, Cohesion
Questions on whether men will be comfortable behaving the same way they do with their male colleagues, or whether women might need separate facilities, are not uncommon.
In Afghanistan, female officers deployed as part of cultural-support teams have been stationed with all-male special-ops teams. These women have shared toilet facilities with men, and shared mud huts for sleeping.
In Norway too, female officers share bathroom facilities and sleeping quarters with men and have no complaints, in fact, a study revealed that integration boosted team morale.
Despite being deserving and talented, many women do not get the opportunity to do what they are best at. Their struggle to earn equal opportunities in the Indian Army is criticised at every step.
Keeping in mind, irrespective of all the arguments and debates, women in other countries are serving in a variety of combat roles and combat-support positions, there is a lot for India to learn about equality in military service.
Also Read: 'Give Permanent Commission To Women Who Fought Gender Bias In Forces,' Supreme Court Tells Govt