AIDWA Welcomes Upholding of Women’s Rights in Army
THE All India Democratic Women’s Association (AIDWA), in a statement issued on February 19, has welcomed the judgment of the Supreme Court that all women officers in short service commission are eligible for permanent commission and command posts in all branches of the army irrespective of the number of years of service. Women in the army have been fighting for this for the last ten years when the Delhi High Court granted them permanent commission in the army. However, the government had refused to act on the Delhi High Court judgment.
The Supreme Court rightly dismissed the patriarchal contention of the central government that women are physiologically unfit for command posts and that this would lead to a lowering of standards in the field. It also dismissed the notion that women are restricted by challenges of “confinement, motherhood and childcare”, by stating that this is a stereotypical notion of the role of women as “caretakers” confined within the domestic sphere whereas men are the breadwinners and the stronger sex. The court held that such socially ascribed roles of gender discriminate against women who have an equal right of employment in the army and the constitutional right of equality protects them. As pointed out earlier, AIDWA has always supported the right of women in the SSC to be inducted in command posts and points out that 30 per cent women with the army are, even presently, working in conflict areas.
AIDWA stands with women in the army who have been fighting neck to neck with their male counterparts. It demands that the central government immediately implement the Supreme Court judgment within the stipulated three months period.
AIDWA, had earlier in a statement issued on February 13, condemned the patriarchal and feudal attitudes still strong as ever in the government, administration and armed forces. This was explicitly exposed during the reply by the government to the Supreme Court during the hearing of the plea filed by a few women officers against the biasness in the Indian armed forces.
“The composition of rank and file being male, and predominantly drawn from rural background, with prevailing societal norms, the troops are not yet mentally schooled to accept women officers in command,” was the extremely regressive and condemnable argument the centre gave in an affidavit that essentially justifies sexism in official policy.
Maintaining that male and female officers could not be treated equally when it came to postings because of their different inherent physiological differences, the centre also cited “challenges of confinement, motherhood and childcare" to oppose the plea.
Gender disparities and patriarchal notions are deeply entrenched in the army. In 2018, former army chief and the current chief of defence staff Gen Bipin Rawat opined that there weren't any women soldiers serving in front line combat positions because "a woman would feel uncomfortable at the front line". He also said that women need to be "cocooned" from the eyes of subordinate soldiers. AIDWA had criticised his anti-women mentality.
The Supreme Court has asked the government to consider lifting the military's official ban on women in combat roles – and to give them commanding roles. The bench also said, “A change of mindset is required with changing times. You need to give them opportunity and they will serve to the best of their capabilities”.
India's armed forces began inducting women officers in 1992. Women have worked as doctors, nurses, engineers, signallers, administrators and lawyers in the Indian army. They have treated soldiers on battlefields, handled explosives, detected and removed mines, and laid communication lines. Women officers have also been given permanent commission – a 20-year service, depending on eligibility and rank. Last year, women were cleared to join the military police. So they are doing almost everything except combat roles: women are still not allowed to serve in infantry and the armoured corps. According to 2019 figures, women comprise only 3.8 per cent of the world's second-largest army – compared to 13 per cent of the air force and 6 per cent of the navy. There are some 1,500 female officers compared to more than 40,000 male officers.
Women have been given combat roles in the Indian air force. They have been inducted as fighter pilots and have flown sorties into combat zones adding to their role as helicopter pilots in the IAF and have carried out their duties in an exemplary manner.
More than a dozen nations already allow women in combat roles. AIDWA stands in support of the women officers fighting against these unjust and biased norms in the Indian army and demands equality of opportunities and commanding roles for women too.