The Green Trousers and the Grey tresses shall meet now

Oct 13, 2020

The Supreme Court is a momentous decision on the eve of February 17th 2020 decided to bestow on the ladies of the Army the right that they demanded for nearly two decades. The decision was to put the olive-green women in the same pedestal as that of the men in the Army by providing them with a permanent commission which was restricted to them since their admission into the Army in the 1990s.

A permanent commission in the Army refers to the employment of the army personnel until he reaches the superannuation. The Indian Army was opened to women in 1992 via Women Entry Special scheme through which they could discharge their service up to 5 years. Post a decade, and a few years later, the short service scheme was introduced that allowed them to work for a period of ten years which could be prolonged to 14 years. The government pension scheme was excluded to the category due to non-completion of twenty years in the service.

Petitions came up in 2003, 2006 and 2008 regarding non-availability of permanency and future application of permanency only in chosen cadres that were addressed collectively in 2010 where the court gave its judgement in line with petitioners, but it was restricted to only those women who had taken up the grievance to the authority. The government appealed the decision. During the pendency of the appeal concerning no orders being passed to stay the high court's decision, there was no reform in the status of employment of women officers. In 2019, the government through an order allowed for the permanent commission to women in 10 categories of the Army, but they were only limited to staff posts, and they were denied combat roles.

A year later, the Supreme Court, in the case of The Secretary, Ministry of Defence vs Babita Puniya and Ors decided ultimately on the matter in entirety and finality. The court's decision is summed up as below:

  • Option for women officers to prolong their service to permanency till super annuity post short service commission
  • Such option is available on an open basis without any bracket ban on the duration of specific years of service in prior, which was an idea put forth by the government. Non-entertainment of suggestion to mandatorily pension those who had completed twenty years in service.
  • Eligibility of women to combat position in areas of non- combat, and to be decided adequately with appropriate consideration in each case.
  • Provision of courses and training made open to women that needed to be fulfilled to be promoted to higher ranks

The court observed flaws in contentions of the government that essentially were sexist and impliedly made to render women as the weaker sex.\ The court observed the resistant mindset of society to consider only breadwinners of the family still. There were outstanding examples of contribution from the feminine force that was highlighted by the bench consisting of Justice DY Chandrachud and Justice Ajay Rastogi.

There are currently around 600 women who are eligible to prolong their service until they retire. But there has been dissatisfaction from a fraction of women officers due to the delay in the judgement. At the same time, such a decision will influence many more women to enrol due to the security and stability of job post judgement. On July 23rd five months post the judgement the Ministry of Defence released the official sanction order for the same.

Post this scenario, on March 17th the Supreme Court decided concerning affirming permanent commission to women in the Indian Navy in at least seven categories subject to availability, suitability and recommendation by the chief of naval staff. The Indian Air Force has already been employing women in compatible positions.

The Supreme Court's decision will be historic in marking the achievement for the waves of the struggle of true feminism that inspires many to strive and work hard to reach the pinnacle of equality. The decision has encouraged them to crush the barriers imprinted on women and pave the way for them to be solely and solemnly judged and evaluated of their abilities under them being human than being a victim of clouded judgment due to the prejudice that is cast on the feminine gender.