The female army officers have got Permanent Commission after winning a legal battle in the Supreme Court, which ordered the government to ensure their new service status is granted within seven working days

Thirty-nine women officers of the Indian Army have got Permanent Commission (PC) after winning a legal battle in the Supreme Court.

The apex court on Friday ordered the Centre to ensure their new service status is granted within seven working days.

During the hearing on Friday, ASG Sanjay Jain and senior advocate R Balasubramanian, appearing for the Centre, told the bench of Justice D Y Chandrachud and Justice B V Nagarathna that out of 72, only one woman officer had appealed for release from service and the government considered the other 71 cases.

The Case In Question

A total of 72 women, who were Short Service Commission officers, had moved the Supreme Court seeking Permanent Commission.

In its 25 March verdict, the top court had directed the army to consider granting Permanent Commission to the WSSCOs subject to their obtaining 60 percent marks in the assessment subjects, being found fit on medical criteria as per the 1 August 2020 order of the Indian Army and having received disciplinary and vigilance clearances.

The Supreme Court had said that the evaluation criteria set by the Army for granting Permanent Commission to women SSC officers constituted "systemic discrimination" which has caused economic and psychological harm and an "affront to their dignity".

On 1 October, the top court had restrained the army from discharging the women officers, who were not considered for Permanent Commission, till further orders and had sought a reply within a week on why they were not considered for the service.

The women officers alleged that the top court's 25 March ruling was not considered by the Indian Army and all the 72 of them were rejected from consideration for the Permanent Commission at one go. On 8 October, the Supreme Court gave one last opportunity to the Centre to resolve the issue of grant of Permanent Commission (PC) to 72 Women Short Service Commission Officers (WSSCO).

The top court said the grant of PC should be with regard to its order of 25 March this year and thereafter it will close the contempt case filed by the women officers. On Friday, the Centre informed the court that of the 71 officers, 39 were found eligible for Permanent Commission, seven were medically unfit and 25 had "issues of discipline".

The Supreme Court then directed the Centre to give a detailed report explaining the reasons why the 25 were not eligible for Permanent Commission.

On The Road To Equality

The move will pave will pave the way for empowering women officers to shoulder larger roles in the organisation. Experts also believe that access to Permanent Commission equals job security. Increased job security and extended tenure will likely improve the currently skewed ratio of male to female officers. The promise of permanent commission will also provide women with more economic opportunities, as they will be able to serve longer tenures and receive a higher salary for it.

One of the biggest benefits of permanent commission would be access to retirement benefits, securing their future. Traditionally, women officers received no pension as they were contractually mandated to retire within 14 years of service, while defence personnel are entitled to benefits after 20 years in service.

What Is Permanent Commission And Short Commission

A Permanent Commission means a career in the army till retirement, while Short Service Commission is for 10 years, with the option of either leaving or opting for Permanent Commission at the end of 10 years.

If an officer doesn't get Permanent Commission, the officer can choose a four-year extension.

Women officers have been inducted into the Indian Army from 1993. Initially, they were brought in for five years of service under ‘Special Entry Scheme’, which was then converted into Short Service Commission (SSC).

In 2008, permanent commission was extended to women in streams of Judge Advocate General (JAG) and Army Education Corps.

Debate Over Women's Role In The Indian Army

In today’s times, women are walking shoulder to shoulder with men in all occupations. However, gender equality is still a paramount challenge in the armed forces. The Supreme Court last year ruled that women could serve as army commanders further granting permanent commission and promotions equal to their male counterparts.

The decisions stood in stark contrast to the Centre’s opinion, which belonged to the school of thought that women were not suitable for commanding posts in the army because male troops were not yet ready to accept their orders.

However, women officers of the Indian Army are of the opinion that the trained soldiers should focus on the rank of the officer and not the gender. They further reiterate that performance should be criteria to decide, who rises in the ranks.

According to a report in Wion, the liberals argue that women should get access to the same military jobs as men; they are of the opinion that through this woman would also gain a greater political power. The conservatives reject the notion of women in combat. In the current status quo, women have been fighting for their right to equality in all spheres of occupation, they are demanding equal opportunity at workplace, hence, making the Indian Army no exception to this wave of equality. The relevant question being that does the military need to change with the changing times?

Women In Combat Roles

The idea of women in combat roles — Infantry and the Armoured Corps – has been a matter of debate over the years, especially in India. As per a report in The Print, the move requires a societal change first. Even countries such as the United States have only recently started inducting women in infantry combat roles. Even in sports, women have set records while competing against women, not men because of different physical attributes and stamina.

In war or operations, one cannot guarantee that women will come across only female combatants.

Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman was shot down last year in an aerial combat with Pakistan Air Force and captured. Imagine the outpouring of emotions nationally if this was a female pilot.

In the Indian Army, female officers are regularly deployed to the front, especially as doctors who are also sent for medical camps in Kashmir. However, extra precaution is involved to prevent their kidnapping.

Also, one is often given the example of foreign armies like the US and Israel that have female combatants. But even their forces don’t deploy women in direct infantry combat, added the report.