WOMEN IN ARMED FORCES: THE COMMISSION AND COMBAT QUESTION
Namah Bose, I year of B.A.,LL.B. from Rajiv Gandhi National University of law, Punjab
“The hand that rocks the cradle rules the world.”
- William Ross Wallace
It was in February 2020 that the Supreme Court ruled in favour of gender equality. When they ruled in favour of giving Permanent commission to women in the army and considering women for combat positions the ultimate message was one of gender justice. For years women have been denied equal freedom to serve their country and get benefits like pension. Women have served in the army since 1992 but till February of 2020, they have been even denied a permanent commission and combat posts have been a no-go zone. Women are appointed as SSC (short service commission) officers for ten years and with an extension, they can serve for another four years. The permanent commission will allow them to serve till retirement and make them eligible to receive the pension.[i] While women have proven their worth multiple times and have shown that they have the physical and mental strength required to serve in the army prejudices still exist against their appointment. Stereotypical concepts talking about bodily limits and biological events like childbirth have always been used as arguments to deny women their natural right. The debate on letting women serve in the army on the permanent commission has gone on for a long time. Honourable women like Priya Jhinghan who was the First Lady cadet to join the army in 1992 to Divya Ajith Kumar who beat 244 fellow cadets to secure a place as the Best all-round cadet’ a prestigious award which entailed a sword of honour have always proven their worth. Unfortunately, women like Priya Jhinghan could only serve in the army for ten years. History has already disfavoured women and yet they never gave up. Throughout modern Indian history, warriors like Rani Laxmibai to Uda Devi have shown the strength and valour women possess. While everyone is familiar with Rani Laxmibai, underrated figures like Uda Devi Shot dead more than 6 Britishers in a battle in Sikander Bagh in Lucknow in the year 1857.[ii]
Even when political parties have changed, the centre’s position on women in command positions and for permanent commission never changed. Even in February this year, the central government gave outrageous reasons like male members of the troop wouldn’t accept female officers in commanding positions. The advocates fighting the case for women, Meenakshi Lekhiand Aishwarya Bhati blamed the administration within the army for their unwillingness and casual sexism against women as the sole reasons for the lack of acceptance of women in the army and forces. The fact to be considered here that even today there is this lack of respect for women officers based on mythical claims. Greater familial demands that women face within their household is used as an excuse to not let them take command positions; it will be a grave injustice. While the supreme court has opened the doors for women to serve even in combat posts the opinions of the army still don’t agree with the decision.
The government in 2015 took the starting step by allowing the Indian Air Force to induct women into its fighting stream. This was a huge step up until then women were always prevented from going for front line combat posts, which inevitably made Male officers look at women as less superior. Women couldn't serve their own country even if they wanted to or had the strength too. After seeing women warriors in history like Lakshmibai, our country should have been one of the first ones to allow.
The Indian army is the second-largest army and yet only 3.8% of its members are women.[iii] The army also made a statement that men in the army who come from rural India are not used to seeing women in superior posts and may be unable to see a woman in a command position. Everyone who supports this argument believes that a societal change is needed first. But unless women who want combat posts are given a chance to prove themselves in combat then Male officers and jawans etc will see women as people who only take peaceful postings and hence see them as inferior officers in comparison to Male officers. Women should be judged based on strength and not sex. Giving a rigorous testing standard for both men and women and then seeing who clears the test makes sense, but outright denying women a chance based on an inherent difference is unfair even to our country.
Another reason which is and will always be used against appointing women is that they may be kidnapped and abused.[iv] But the fault with that argument is that men aren’t made of steel. This argument denies our men the right to claim to have been abused by the enemy party. In the case of a Male officer getting kidnapped and tortured it’s equally sad and deserves to be as high priority as it would be if a female officer gets kidnapped. If this argument is there why is it only there when command positions are discussed. A woman who chooses such a job does it when she is very well aware of the risks. Countries like the USA and Israel have successfully appointed women in frontline positions.
Combat positions shouldn’t be given to women because they are women and there are some equal representation requirements but governments shouldn’t deny 50% of the population of the country a chance to serve because of their gender is a problem.
In November, seventy percent of the women who have applied for the permanent commission have been appointed which is an indicator of why this Supreme Court judgement was extremely required.[v] Rather than using society as an excuse to deny women their right, a positive mindset change can take place by allowing more deserving women into all the branches of armed forces. The more women join the armed forces the more people will become accepting of it. If a country like India with a huge force changes its mindset it can bring a global change. It can give a positive image for our country and the win for women through the court case is the first step towards change. By taking the side of gender justice the Supreme court followed the constitutional path of equality and with that, as the army accepts hundreds of women for the permanent commission it seems to be following the example set by the supreme court. It will take some time for the consequences and ramifications of this judgement to show, but it's likely to lead to positive results and lead to more skilled people joining the forces.
[i]Satya Prakash ,SC gives Centre a months time for giving permanent commission to women officers in army, tribune news service, https://www.google.co.in/amp/s/www.tribuneindia.com/news/nation/sc-gives-centre-a-months-time-for-giving-permanent-commission-to-women-officers-in-army-109769 , July 7 2020.
[ii]BageshwariSavyasachi, Uda dev: Dalit freedom fighter in the 1857 uprising. https://feminisminindia.com/2017/10/10/uda-devi-dalit-freedom-fighter/ October 10, 2017
[iii]Women to comprise 20% of military police after graded induction: Nirmala Sitharaman, The tribune, https://www.tribuneindia.com/news/archive/nation/women-to-comprise-20-of-military-police-after-graded-induction-nirmala-sitharaman-715756 , January 18. 2020,
[iv]Livelaws network, https://www.livelaw.in/top-stories/physical-limitations-mentality-of-male-troops-reasons-deny-command-appointments-women-in-army-centre-tells-sc-152347, February 5, 2020 .
[v] Man Aman Singh Chana ,https://indianexpress.com/article/explained/explained-how-army-is-screening-women-officers-for-permanent-commission-6602770/ September 22, 2020.