'Change Mindset': SC Tells Govt Over Male Troops Not Ready To Accept Women Officers Argument
The central government cited "motherhood, childcare, psychological limitations" as factors that could have an impact on the employment of women officers in the Army.
The Supreme Court on Wednesday stated that "women officers could be given command posts in the Army" if the government changes its mindset. The apex court's remarks came while hearing a petition, demanding permanent commission for women officers in the Army.
Appearing for the Centre, Solicitor General Tushar Mehta said that male troops in the Army were not yet ready to accept women command troops. He later explained that he did not promote "gender discrimination" in any way and clarified that women are "far ahead of men" and do not have to try and be equal to them.
In response to these remarks, SC asserted that there are many non-combat services like NCC and Sainik Schools, where women officers could be accommodated. This comes out as a 'compensation' for all women officers who are often associated with softer roles and not combat and defence strategies.
Justice D.Y. Chandrachud agreed with Mehta and said that it's time for the central government to allow induction of women in the Army and offer command posts to them.
"I was surprised and disagreed with the news today. The arguments were much more nuanced and contextual. We would like to see the government implement that," Justice Chandrachud said.
The central government cited "motherhood, childcare, psychological limitations" as factors that could have an impact on the employment of women officers in the Army. "Lower physical standards of women, the composition of units that are entirely male mostly from rural background impact commander appointments," Mehta submitted.
Justice Chandrachud pointed out that combat roles were only ones where women are not inducted, to which Mehta argued that "in combat situations, different physical standards was a reality".
The Centre further pointed at "greater family demands and danger of women officers being taken as prisoners of war".
The SC, however, maintained if the government is ready to change its mindset then "women officers could be given command posts as there are many other services in addition to combat operations where women could be accommodated".
Senior advocate R. Balasubramaniam, representing the Defence Ministry said that "no rule in the appointments perpetuates gender-based discrimination for promotion, appointments, etc.", adding that "all provisions and rules apply equally to both men and women".
Representing women officers who have been demanding permanent commission, advocate Meenakshi Lekhi argued that the Short Service Commission (SSC) was introduced in 2006 and it was optional for women if they wanted to follow the old regulations, adding that discrimination existed since the beginning.
"There's a difference in training in SSC (11 months) and when someone passes out from Indian Military Academy (18 months) because they have permanent entry. There's an adjustment in seniority when you go from SSC to the permanent commission, so they don't surpass the ones who've come from Indian Military committee," Lekhi said.
She told the bench that there is lack of administrative will to ensure the permanent commission is made available to all women officers.
In the case of women officers, they have to undergo SSC training to get inducted into the Army. To this, Justice Chandrachud responded that the petitioners were suggesting that women were not eligible for permanent commission at all.
Previously, ex-army chief of staff and present chief of defence staff General Bipin Rawat had sparked a row, in an interview, where he claimed that women were not ready for combat roles because they were responsible for raising children and would feel uncomfortable at the frontline or would accuse male troops of peeping into their quarters.
The Centre's remarks received flak from many legal experts. Karuna Nundy, a Supreme Court advocate, claimed that the government was relying on the "unproven" sexism of its troops to justify its own sexism.
The *government* sets out unvarnished misogny - "they won't take orders from women" - and pregnancy discrimination as a reason for suppressing army women.— Karuna Nundy (@karunanundy) February 5, 2020
i.e. government is sexist because troops are sexist. I doubt the latter has been proven. So what are we left with? pic.twitter.com/vcMP0IpQji
Military historian Srinath Raghavan referred to the Centre's argument as an "extraordinary and regressive claim".
An extraordinary and regressive claim. Reminiscent of British Raj's claims that Indian soldiers would never accept Indian commanders. Military training is about fundamentally reshaping norms and attitudes that soldiers bring from their social backgrounds. pic.twitter.com/g8B5D7mGlC— Srinath Raghavan (@srinathraghava3) February 5, 2020