NEW DELHI: In a landmark judgment on Monday, the Supreme Court of India upheld a 2010 Delhi High Court verdict to order the permanent commissioning of women in the Indian Army.
The ruling, which the court has asked the government to implement within three months, means that a woman can now assume the post of colonel and command a battalion of 850 men, and can rise to the rank of brigadier, major general, lieutenant general, and chief of army staff.
“Women officers (must) be given permanent commission as a change of mindset is required on government’s part to end a gender bias in the armed forces,” a two-judge bench of the court said in its order.
The court came down heavily on the government for not acting on the Delhi High Court’s order, and for delaying the verdict by nine years.
Citing a change in policy decision last year, New Delhi had allowed the permanent commissioning of women in eight streams.
Despite this, the government contended in court that men and women could not be treated as equal in the armed services as women have “physiological limitations,” adding that existing social norms acted as a deterrent, too.
The counsel added: “Troops are not yet mentally schooled to accept women officers in command of units” since they are “predominantly drawn from a rural background.”
Rubbishing the arguments, the top court stated: “To cast aspersion on gender is an affront to their dignity and to the country.
“(The) time has come that women officers are not adjunct to their male counterparts. Physiological features of women have no link to their rights. The mindset must change,” Justice D.Y. Chandrachud and Justice Ajay Rastogi said in the ruling.
In a letter to the court, sent prior to the judgment on Monday, some serving women officers termed the government’s stance as “regressive” and “contrary to the demonstrated record and statistics.”
“All the lady officers in the Indian Army are very happy and very elated by the landmark judgment,” Lt. Col. Sandhya Yadav said after the verdict on Monday, adding: “It was a long wait and has ended. We are happy about it.”
Lt. Col. Manish Thapliyal said: “This is a historic judgment which will go miles in the futuristic role that brave lady officers will play in the organization. They have already been playing a great role in fact.”
Deboleena Dutta, a law student at Delhi University, said that the ruling was “a victory for not just women in service, but of the constitutional morality, decades of fight against inequality and recognition of obsolete rigidity of patriarchal ideals.”
Dutta wanted to join the military service and was part of the National Cadet Corps (NCC), a voluntary youth group of armed forces, in school.
Reality struck when Dutta realized how limited the opportunities were for women seeking to join the military.
“When I came to know about the restrictions on the professional growth for women in the services I gave up the idea,” she told Arab News, adding that she’s hoping for more women to “break the glass ceiling” with this historic move.
“I am sure this judgment will give women brave hearts their rightful, well-deserved opportunities to break the glass ceilings and ease the uneasiness of the masses,” she said.
New Delhi-based senior journalist and defense expert, Manish Jha, concurred and commended India for a “path-breaking” verdict.
“This order is setting a qualitative bench mark for the nation and setting a new precedent for the developed world to follow,” he said.
“However, it remains to be seen how far the military services accept the change. The Indian Air Force has already been giving key roles to women, the army was also opening gradually but the navy is still very resistant to expanding the role of women in the services,” Jha told Arab News.