India’s top court issues landmark ruling on women in army

Women cadets celebrate after their graduation ceremony at the Indian Army’s Officers Training Academy in Chennai, India in this March 14, 2015 file photo. (AP)
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Updated 18 February 2020

India’s top court issues landmark ruling on women in army

  • Order grants them equal rights in combat roles, ending an archaic gender bias

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.

Taliban rule out cease-fire until it is agreed in talks

Updated 25 min 42 sec ago

Taliban rule out cease-fire until it is agreed in talks

  • President Ghani’s order to release 400 hardcore Taliban prisoners opens way for negotiations

KABUL: The Taliban have rejected calls for a truce before the long-awaited talks with the government get underway. They said that the possibility of a cease-fire could be debated only during the talks.

“When our prisoners are released, we will be ready for the talks,” Zabihullah Mujahid, a Taliban spokesman, told Arab News on Tuesday.

“A cease-fire or reduction of violence can be among the items in the agenda of the talks,” he said.

This follows President Ashraf Ghani signing a decree for the release of 400 hardcore Taliban prisoners on Monday — who Kabul said were responsible for some of the worst attacks in the country in recent years — thereby removing the last obstacle to the start of the negotiations set by the Taliban.

However, Kabul has yet to announce the date of their release.

Feraidoon Khawzoon, a spokesman for the government-appointed peace council, said that Doha, Qatar, would be the likely venue.

“Deliberations are continuing, and no decision has been made on a firm date yet,” he said.

Ghani pledged to release the prisoners after the Loya Jirga, or traditional assembly, voiced support for their freedom.

After three days of deliberations the Jirga, which comprises 3,400 delegates, said that its decision was for the sake of “the cessation of bloodshed” and to remove “the obstacle to peace talks.”

After the Jirga’s announcement, Ghani said that “the ball was now in the Taliban’s court” and that they needed to enforce a nationwide cease-fire and begin talks to bring an end to more than 40 years of war, particularly the latest chapter in a conflict that started with the Taliban’s ousting from power in the US-led invasion in late 2001.

The exchange of prisoners between the government and the Taliban was part of a deal signed between the insurgent group and the US in Doha in February
this year.

The prisoner swap program — involving the release of 5,000 Taliban inmates in return for 1,000 security forces held by the group — was to be completed within 10 days in early March, followed by the crucial intra-Afghan talks.

February’s deal between the Taliban emissaries and US delegates, led by the US envoy for Afghanistan Zalmay Khalilzad, came after 18 months of intensive and secret talks, amid growing public frustration in the US about the Afghan war — America’s longest in history.

Ghani, whose government was sidelined from the February accord, initially voiced his opposition to freeing the Taliban inmates.

However, faced with increasing pressure from the US, Kabul began releasing 4,600 prisoners in a phased manner.

The intra-Afghan talks are also crucial for US President Donald Trump, who is standing for reelection in November and is keen to use the pull-out of forces and the start of negotiations as examples of his successful foreign policy. However, experts say the next stage will not be easy.

Analyst and former journalist Taj Mohammad told Arab News: “The talks will be a long, complicated process, with lots of ups and downs. It took 18 months for the Taliban and US to agree on two points; the withdrawal of all US troops and the Taliban pledging to cut ties with militant groups such as Al-Qaeda. Now, imagine, how long it will take for the completion of a very complicated process of talks between Afghans who will debate women’s rights, minorities rights, election, Islamic values, … the form of government and so on.”

For some ordinary Afghans on the streets, however, the planned talks have revived hopes for peace and security and “are more needed in Afghanistan than in any other country.”

“I am more optimistic now than in the past. All sides have realized they cannot win by force and may have decided to rise to the occasion and come together,” Fateh Shah, a 45-year-old civil servant from Kabul, said.

Others spoke of their dreams to “go back home.”

“I have been away from my village for 19 years, and as soon as peace comes, we will pack up and go there,” said Rasool Dad, a 50-year-old porter who lives as a war-displaced person in Kabul, talking of his desire to return to his birthplace in southern Helmand province.

However, 30-year-old banker Sharif Amiri wasn’t very optimistic about the future.

“Even if the talks turn out to be successful, that will not mean an end to the war or the restoration of security. There are spoilers in the region, at home and at an international level who will try to sabotage peace here,” he said, hinting at rivalries among countries in the region, including major powers such as Russia, China and the US, who have used Afghanistan as a direct and indirect battleground for years.