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‘Best to keep women off combat duty’: Centre to Supreme Court

Updated on Feb 06, 2020 04:39 AM IST
The submissions were made in a plea by defence ministry challenging a 2010 judgment of the Delhi high court which had ruled that short service commissioned women officers in the Army and Air Force should be granted permanent commission.
Senior advocate R Balasubramanian, appearing for the central government, told the court that there was no gender discrimination in appointments and promotions in the army(PTI FILE)
Hindustan Times, New Delhi | ByMurali Krishnan

The government on Wednesday sought to counter the criticism it faced for submissions made in the Supreme Court on Tuesday about why women were not ideally suited for combat roles or command in the army by claiming these were taken out of context.

Solicitor general Tushar Mehta claimed the nuances of the submissions were missed.

“Women should not strive to be equal to men. They are in fact way above men”, Mehta submitted.

The bench headed by justice DY Chandrachud concurred with the solicitor general.

The submissions were made in a plea by defence ministry challenging a 2010 judgment of the Delhi high court which had ruled that short service commissioned women officers in the Army and Air Force should be granted permanent commission.

The central government put forward a proposal as per which short-service commissioned women officers with up to 14 years of service would be considered for permanent commission; women with more than 14 years of service would be permitted to serve up to 20 years without consideration for permanent commission and then released subject to pensionary benefits; and women above 20 years of service would be released with pensionary benefits immediately upon the completion of the case in the Supreme Court.

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Senior advocate R Balasubramanian, appearing for the central government, told the court today that there was no gender discrimination in appointments and promotions in the army and all rules and provisions apply equally to men and women.

He also added that the situations in combat and different physical standards of men and women are a reality.

Justice Chandrachud remarked that even if it is assumed that women are less fit for combat roles, these are only a fraction of the roles in the military today, suggesting that they can be granted permanent commission in other roles.

“Two things are required to rid any form of gender discrimination – administrative will and change in mindset”, he added.

The court proceeded to reserve its judgment in the matter. Similar cases concerning the Air Force and Navy will be heard on February 11.

In its submission on Tuesday, the government said “…the profession of arms is not only a profession but a way of life which often requires sacrifices, commitment beyond the call of duty by the entire family of service personnel involving separation, frequent transfers affecting education of children and career prospects of spouse. As a consequence, it is a greater challenge for women officers to meet the hazards of service owing to their prolonged absence during pregnancy, motherhood and domestic obligations towards their children and families especially when both husband and wife happen to be service officers”, the centre’s note stated.

It also added that it is best to keep woman away from direct combat since capture of a woman officer or soldier as a prisoner of war would lead to a situation of extreme mental, physical and psychological stress for the captured individual and the government.

Regarding the appointment of women officers as commanders of units, the centre said that it would have its own peculiar dynamics as units are composed entirely of male soldiers drawn predominantly from a rural background. Such units, the note said, are not “mentally schooled to accept women Officers in command of units”.

Further, the centre also submitted that lower physical capacity of women officers will be a challenge for them to command units wherein officers are expected to lead the men from the front and need to be in prime physical condition to undertake combat tasks.

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