New Delhi: The Supreme Court on Wednesday said that there’s need for “administrative will and change in mindset” to end gender discrimination in the Army while hearing the case of granting permanent commission to women officers serving in the Army.
Day after telling the top court bench of Justice D.Y. Chandrachud and Justice Ajay Rastogi that the “physiological limitations”, lower physical standards as compared to men, prolonged absence due to pregnancy, children’s education were the challenges that were obstructing the grant of permanent commission of women officers, the Centre on Wednesday did a somersault and heaped praise on the abilities of women saying that they can surpass men in uniform.
Solicitor general Tushar Mehta, in an attempt to erase the impression generated from Tuesday’s hearing that the Centre was reluctant to consider women for permanent commission in Army, said, “I did not mean to say anyhow that men cannot take commands from female superiors… “I myself was surprised when I saw the news… “Women don’t have to make an endeavour to come at par with men. They are much above the men...”
As Mr Mehta completed his sentence, Justice Chandrachud said, “We want the government to effectuate this”.
The note submitted by the Centre on Tuesday had said, “Officers have to lead from the front. They should be in prime physical condition to undertake combat tasks. Inherent physiological differences between men and women preclude equal physical performance resulting in lower physical standards. Physical capacity of women officers in the Indian Army remains a challenge for command of units.”
It had further said that posting of women officers in all-male units has its own “peculiar dynamics”.
Reserving the order on the petition by the Centre challenging Delhi high court’s 2010 verdict directing grant of permanent commission to women officers, Justice Chandrachud gave the Centre time till February 10 if it wants to issue any order in the matter and communicate the same to the court.
Justice Chandrachud said that it a was question of “administrative will and change in mind-set” as senior counsel Balasubramanian laboured to persuade the court that a woman officer who has joined the armed forces for a “tenure-bound appointment” does not undergo training and attend courses that are imparted to regular officers.
Telling Mr Balasubramanian that the government did not comply with the 2010 Delhi high court judgment and wondered why was it was so averse to the grant of permanent commission to women officers who had joined armed forces through short service commission route, Justice Chandrachud said, “The matter is of 2010. They have been in litigation for 10 years. So nobody has completed 14 years (the maximum period in Short Service Commission after which permanent commission is granted to suitable and willing candidates)?... You didn’t comply with the judgment of the Delhi high Court (requiring PC to be offered to women officers at par with the male SSC officers with consequential benefits)... now they have been in service for 24 years but have not completed 14 years? How can the government be so averse to considering this?… In case of male officers, each of them is ipso facto getting into PC. 97% of them are getting it!”
Saying that the actual combat force is a small fraction of the army, Justice Chandrachud said, “Look at your line of arguments — ‘women captured by enemy’, ‘danger…”, as Mr Balasubramanian premised his argument on physical fitness for combat readiness.
On the woman officer being caught by the enemy, court said that such a situation can arise in another context as well.
“Administrative will and a change in the mindset are two prerequisites for eradicating any gender discrimination”, Justice Chandrachud said.