The Supreme Court directive to reconsider giving permanent commission in the Army to Short Service Commission women officers — calling the medical grounds for their rejection as being systematically discriminatory — smoothens the path for aspiring lady officers to equal opportunity in public employment and also underscores gender equality. It is a pity that the SC’s watershed ruling of February 2020 that allowed SSC women officers’ full integration into the defence services, including in combat positions, was not being upheld in letter and spirit. The apex court has minced no words in pointing out the gender-skewed selection criteria adopted.
A pattern of evaluation of merit that is derived from an equal society — one that affords a fair work ambience and dignity to women — is needed. The one prevailing is drawn from a world created by ‘males for males’, as the SC observed, and only serves to bestow equality on a superficial or symbolic level. Ever since their entry into the tri-services was allowed, women have with tenacity met the exacting standards of the armed forces. With postings in difficult terrains and conflict zones, they have time and again proved that valour has no gender. In the last six years, their strength in the military has increased three-fold, with over 9,000 women currently serving in the Army, Navy and Air Force.
But sadly, it has been an uphill battle and they have had to petition the Supreme Court at every stage to get their rightful dues. The forces must remedy the hesitancy in providing them with greater responsibility. Removing the hurdles that are detrimental to the induction and career progression of the lady defence officers and providing the qualified women a level playing field is bound to make the armed forces better and stronger. It also assumes significance in light of the acute shortage of officers in the Army. There is a lot to learn from the armies of Israel, Germany, Australia and the USA, which have benefited from the services of their women soldiers in intensive combat roles for many years.