The Supreme Court simply described that a woman can rise to the rank of Colonel and above based on their merit like their male counterparts. In the rank of a Colonel, an officer picks up a substantive command and would be delegated to carry out independent tasks. A Colonel commands a battalion which typically consists of 850 men. A woman officer who is successful in this position could technically rise to the highest ranks of the Army, though at the moment, women officers will not be inducted into the combat arms such as the infantry, artillery or armoured corps. The SC further said that women officers in the Army can get command positions on par with male officers, asserting that the government’s arguments against it were “discriminatory”, “disturbing,” and based on stereotype.
The Court also said that Permanent Commission would be available to all women, regardless of their years of service. The judgement has to be implemented within three months. The Supreme Court said that even women who have served more than 14 years in the Short Service Commission (SSC) in the Army can have the option of Permanent Commission. The Court commented that there was a “fundamental fallacy” in the Centre’s policy of considering only women with less than 14 years for Permanent Commission. The Court said that the army could not discriminate between men and women striking down a blatant gender bias propagated for years. To cast aspersions on gender is an affront to their dignity and to the country.
“Time has come that women officers are not adjunct to their male counterparts,” said the Court. It also rejected the Centre’s arguments of physiological limitations and “social norms” for denying permanent commission to women officers calling it disturbing. Women work shoulder-to-shoulder with men. The Centre’s submission is based on gender discrimination and stereotype. “Women Army officers brought laurels to the country,” the Supreme Court said referring to women officers who it said had done the country proud. The Court noted that the petitioners had countered the government by arguing on the physical capabilities of women, the composition of the rank and file and psychological realities. At present, woman officers can serve for 10-14 years in the Short Service Commission(SSC). Women officers are allowed entry into Army Service Corps, Ordnance, Education Corps, Judge Advocate General, Engineers, Signals, Intelligence and Electrical and Mechanical Engineering branches. There is no option but to allow women in combat roles like infantry, armoured, mechanised infantry, aviation and artillery. The Indian Air Force and the Indian Navy also grant permanent commission to women officers even as both have opened up some combat roles for women. The air force allows women as officers in flying and ground duties. Women IAF Short Service Commission (SSC) officers fly helicopter, transport aircraft and now even fighter jets.
In the Navy, women officers inducted through SSC are allowed in logistics, law, observers, air traffic control, maritime reconnaissance pilots and Naval Armament Inspectorate Cadre. This, according to military historian Srinath Raghavan is an “extraordinary and regressive” claim, reminiscent of the claims of colonial rulers that Indian soldiers would never accept Indian commanders.
India’s armed forces began inducting women officers in 1992. Over the decades, they have been given combat roles in the Air Force. Women have been inducted as fighter pilots and have flown sorties into combat zones; they will be inducted as sailors as soon as ships that can accommodate them are ready. Last year, a 24-year-old became the navy’s first woman maritime reconnaissance pilot. The army is a striking exception. Women have worked here as doctors, nurses, engineers, signallers, administrators and lawyers. They have treated soldiers on battlefields, handled explosives, detected and removed mines and laid communication lines. Women officers have also been given permanent commission – a 20-year service, depending on eligibility and rank. Last year, women were cleared to join the military police. So they have ended up doing almost everything except combat roles: women are still not allowed to serve in infantry and the armoured corps. According to 2019 figures, women comprise only 3.8 per cent of the world’s second-largest army – compared to 13 per cent of the air force and 6 per cent of the Navy. There are some 1,500 female officers compared to more than 40,000 male officers.
The Indian Military Nursing Service was formed in 1888 and nurses fought in World War I and II where 350 Indian Army nurses either died or were taken prisoner of war or declared missing in action, this includes nurses who died when SS Kuala was sunk by Japanese bombers in 1942. In 1992, the Indian Army began inducting women officers in non-medical roles. On 19 January 2007, the United Nations first all-female peacekeeping force made up of 105 Indian policewomen was deployed to Liberia. In 2014, India’s army had 3 per cent women, the Navy 2.8 per cent and the Air Force performed best with 8.5 per cent women. In 2015 India opened new combat air force roles for women as fighter pilots, adding to their role as helicopter pilots in the Indian Air Force. All wings of the Indian Armed Forces allow women in combat roles (junior ranks) and combat supervisory roles (officers), except Indian Army (support roles only) and Special Forces of India (trainer role only). Indian Air Force had 13.09 per cent and 8.5 per cent, Indian Navy 6 per cent and 2.8 per cent women and Indian Army 3.80 per cent and 3 per cent in December 2018 and December 2014 respectively. Females are not allowed to serve in combat units like the Infantry, the Armoured corps and Mechanised infantry. In 1992, the Indian Army began inducting women officers in non-medical roles. On 19 January 2007, the United Nations first all-female peacekeeping force made up of 105 Indian policewomen was deployed to Liberia.
The first batch of 100 women soldiers in the Army is likely to be commissioned by March 2021. The commissioning will take place after the first batch completes its training which will commence in December this year. The women soldiers will be commissioned into the Corps of Military Police of the Indian Army. The training period of 61 weeks is similar to that of male soldiers. Batches comprising similar number of soldiers will be trained and commissioned every year. Cadre of women soldiers in the Corps of Military Police will be maintained at a fixed number of 1,700 corps. This number will be achieved by filling in the corps in batches. In the Corps of Military Police, women soldiers will take up duties of policing cantonments and other Army establishments. They will also work in co-operation with civil police of various state governments as well as the Centre besides handling prisoners of war and maintenance of rules. They will also investigate cases of crime. At present, women in the Army work only in engineering, medical, legal, signals and educational wings.
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