Petitioners hail Supreme Court’s ‘watershed’ order for women in Army
The Supreme Court on Monday struck a blow for gender parity in the army, saying that women should be considered for command roles, and that all women officers are entitled to permanent commission.Updated: Feb 18, 2020, 03:22 IST
The Supreme Court ruling on Monday that all women officers are entitled to the permanent commission in the Indian Army concluded a struggle that began in 2003, when the first petitioner, Babita Puniya, a civilian, filed a Public Interest Litigation (PIL) in the Delhi high court. Puniya, now a metropolitan magistrate in Delhi, was then an advocate represented by Rekha Palli, who is now a Delhi high court judge.
Several petitioners joined the crusade, and in 2010, the Delhi high court ruled in their favour.
One of them, Lt Col Seema Singh, who was a Major when she moved court in 2007, said she is happy to still be in the service when the case has come to a conclusion. “I would not call the existing rules discriminatory, but they came in the way of gender equality,” she said on Monday, when the top court also held that women should be considered for command roles.
“The army is one of the best organisations to work with. It makes you feel at home,” she added. The order will directly affect 332 women officers serving in the army, and others who join the eligibility ranks in the future.
Another officer, who like Singh was a Major when she filed her petition in 2010, said she was stressed about having to start another career in her late 30s if she would have to retire after 14 years of service without permanent commission.
“After a decade in the army, I was worried about finding a new career which might require a new skill set. Being in the job left us with little time to develop that,” she said, asking not to be named.
She added what hurt more was seeing male officers opt for courses that would help them progress in their careers. “We had no next step. There was a wall ahead of us,” she said. “We were never given any relaxation... we strived to do better than the men. Why were we not given the same rights?” she asked.
Lt Col Sandhya Yadav, who filed her petition in 2008, when she was also a Major, said the fight was for parity, and despite the long struggle, it was worth the wait. “You spend 14 years in service only to be left out in the cold one day. How is that fair?” she asked.
Lawyer Aishwarya Bhatti, who represented over 50 petitioners, said the policy was discriminatory because it left out all serving women officers from command roles, denied permanent commission to women with more than 14 years of service, and was applicable to staff appointments only.
In the petition, Bhatti mentioned Minty Agarwal, a fighter controller of the Indian Air Force who was part of the team that guided Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman during the post-Balakot dogfight last February. The combat followed Indian air strikes on a terror camp in Pakistan in retaliation to the Pulwama attack on a Central Reserve Police Force convoy in Jammu & Kashmir.
She also mentioned Major Mitali Madhumita, the first lady officer to receive the Sena Medal for gallantry.
“Minty was a staff appointment, and Madhumita faced a fidayeen [suicide] attack in Kabul,” she said. “This judgement is a watershed moment for women across the world.”
Bhatti said the next goal is to push for combat roles.
Singh was not that sure. “To be practical, combat roles require a special sort of preparedness, and women will need a certain kind of training. If the authorities decide to send us to combat, we are more than ready,” she said.
Yadav said the women, who will be commissioned henceforth, will have a clear path. Singh echoed her sentiments. “The army is the kind of organisation you will fight for and that is why we went to court. It is up to us all now to prove the judgement worthy.”