OUT WITH THE OLD, IN WITH THE NEW: AN ANALYSIS OF PERMANENT COMMISSION FOR WOMEN IN ARMED FORCES
Author: GAURAV GAUTAM
ICFAI UNIVERSITY, DEHRADUN
“To call a woman the weaker sex is a libel; it is man’s injustice to woman…”
– Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi
The Armed forces continue to define themselves along the gendered lines. There is a strong belief that combat, by nature is the male occupation; that the army is a male space and the combat the most masculine of all aspects of war. Also, the accommodation of women in the patriarchal society is in itself a challenge, their intrusion into the armed forces seems threatening. Traces of such ideology can be seen in the low percentage of the women inducted into the armed forces where women comprised 3.89% of the army, 6.7% of the navy, and 13.28% of the air force.1
Gender equality in India has always been a prickly and controversial issue where females and third gender become subject to fetters of gender stereotypes which creates a barrier for them in the professional world, deepening gender discrimination. Whenever a woman has moved or attempted to move into new roles like electoral politics, via reservations, or into armed forces, this movement has been accompanied by outcry and protest especially from male members of these institutions. Despite Innumerable women empowerment initiatives, or gender equality and indiscrimination provisions in our constitution, the stagnant ideologies and beliefs are unable to show any development. Indeed it is nothing but insanity, where you do the same thing yet expect different results.
This paper will analyze how the women officers tried to seize the clamant parity over the patriarchal nature of the army and how the judiciary has contributed to bring equality between men and women in the army. It will be based on a recent Hon’ble Supreme Court landmark and laudable judgment named The Secretary, Ministry of Defence v. Babita Puniya & Ors.2
1 Status of Women in Armed Forces, Press Information Bureau, Government of India, Ministry of Defence, 2019
In Contrast to that author will cover the issues that are linked to the induction of women in combat branches.
History and Background
In India, women are given the status of equality theoretically, mentioned under the constitutional provision laid down under Article 14. Women’s Status has undoubtedly changed since the ancient and medieval period but has yet to reach the level as stated under the Indian constitution.
Armed forces have always been considered as the male-dominated workplace but now the women are seizing their place in every work field and proving their worth, setting an example to embark on. The journey of women in the armed forces first started in 1927 as medical officer cadres and nursing services. However, the induction of women in the other regular services like logistics, engineering, aviation, and other administrative cadres commenced in 1992.
In the Indian Army, the induction of the women officers was done through the Women Special Entry Scheme (WSES). Initially, the tenure of women officers was five years subsequently it increased to 10 years, extendable up to 14years.3 In the Air force, women were first inducted into the nontechnical branches like Logistics, Accounts, Administration, Education, medical, and later into Aeronautical Engineering and Flying Branches. In 1992, the Indian Navy inducted women as Short Service Commission officers in logistics, education, and law cadres of the Executive branch. Indian Women officers despite being assigned lower roles than the roles of men have excelled in those roles as well.
The women officers who performed leadership roles in their services and devoted themselves to the nation, in 1943, the Rani Jhansi Brigade of Indian National Army under Captain Lakshmi Swaminathan operated in the jungles of Malay very effectively. If we see the recent times there are several women officers in the armed forces whose exemplary and significant service is worth mentioning:
Punita Arora, the first Indian woman to hold the second-highest rank in armed forces and the first female vice admiral in the Indian Navy.
3 15th Report on ‘Women in Armed Forces’ by Committee on Empowerment of Women, 2012 < https://eparlib.nic.in/bitstream/123456789/63963/1/15_Empowerment_of_Women_15.pdf>
Padmavathy Bandopadhyay, the first woman Air marshal of the Indian Air Force and the first Indian woman to conduct the extreme cold acclimatization in the North Pole.
Divya Ajith Kumar became the first woman of the Indian Army to receive the most coveted ‘Sword of Honour’ by beating the 244 (men and women) in several tasks including both academic and physical.
Mitali Madhumita, the first woman officer in the Indian Army to receive the prestigious ‘Sena medal’. The gallantry honor is bestowed on officers who die serving the army or show extreme courage in a crisis. She risked her life saving the injured civilians in the 2010 Kabul Embassy attack.
Gunjan Saxena, become the first women officer in the Indian Air force to fly in a combat zone.
It takes huge grits, determination, and self-sacrifice to be a part of the Armed Forces. Out of the rigorous training that is undoubtedly physically exhausting and emotionally draining, come out the brave officers who are ready to bleed for the nation’s pride. Among these brave heroes, we find the extraordinary women officers walking shoulder to shoulder with their male counterparts in serving the nation by fighting for it and inspiring the generations to come.
The picture we are seeing is not that rosy as it seems, as these ‘Sheroic’ (she Hero) officers till now are in the quest of claiming parity in the armed forces. Before 1992 women officers were not allowed to be enrolled in the Indian army. Later by the Union Government on 30th January 1992 issued a notification that women were made eligible for the appointment of an officer in the Indian Army for specific branches of the army act.4 After that women were inducted into several more branches but their tenure of service was fixed for five years and were not allowed to work beyond that.
The pages of discrimination were flipped to a different stage, where earlier the discrimination was of non-recruitment of women officers and now they are discriminated based on the duration of service they are employed for. They are not entitled to the pension or other concessional benefits of being an army officer5 moreover there has been no provision of grant
4 Section 12, The Army Act, 1950
5 Jai Brunner, Supreme Court Grants Navy Women PC, Supreme Court Observer, 2020 < https://www.scobserver.in/the-desk/supreme-court-grants-women-pc-in-navy>
of permanent commission6 to the women officers. It is saddening to see that such great women officers, instead of fighting for the nation, are fighting against gender biasness.
There are primarily two options to get into the Indian Army one through the Permanent Commission and the other way is through Short Service Commission. Permanent Commission as the name implies, offers long term career in the Army until the age of retire which generally falls between the age of 54 to 60 years, the officers selected to get to train in IMA, Dehradun, and NDA, Pune, and in the Short Service Commission the officers are inducted in the army under the 10 plus 4 scheme that is the initial engagement of 10 years and can be extended up to a maximum of 14 years. Officers selected under SSC get to train in OTA, Chennai. The PC is granted to the SSC officers subject to service requirements and availability of vacancies.
The problem lies in the discriminated recruitment system, where the women can only join the armed forces through the SSC, and they are not offered the ab initio permanent commission in any of the forces. While the male officers could opt for the Permanent Commission if they want to serve the army after the end of 10 years of service, this option was not available to the women officers. They were thus kept out of the command appointment hence were deprived of getting the senior position like Brigadier, Major General, Lieutenant General, General, or Field Marshal, in the army.
Revolution in Indian Navy
The Union Government in 1999 issued a letter to the Chief of Naval Staff specifying the rules and regulations regarding the grant of Permanent Commission to the women officers.
Regulation number 203 of chapter 9 of Naval Ceremonial, condition of Services and Miscellaneous Regulations, 1963 provides with the provisions to grant PC to officers inducted in the SSC:
- The Short Service Commission officers ranked Sub-Lieutenant or above who are considered suitable and recommended by the Chief of Naval Staff may be granted
6 Permanent commission is the entitlement to army officers to work till their age of retirement i.e. a career in the army till you retire.
Permanent commission from time to time, subject to the availability of the vacancies in the stabilized cadre of Navy.
- The retention of the existing rank of the concerned officers at the time of transfer to the Permanent Commission will be governed by regulation 202.
- The concerned officers for the grant of PC shall conform to the medical standards laid down by the Chief Naval Staff.7
No females were offered the opportunity to be considered for the Permanent Commission upon their completion of their SSC. No one paid heed to the problem that women were facing as they were capped by the system. Aggrieved by this, the batch of women officers approached the High Court and Armed Force Tribunal (AFT)8. Though they were considered for the PC based on the vacant position, nothing significant and concrete action was taken. Then in 2008 anticipating the High Court order, Union Government issued a policy letter granting a chance of obtaining a PC in the armed forces on a restricted basis. The policy was not retrospective, hence will offer PC only post-September 2008. Moreover, the PC was decided to be offered to the specific branches only.
The Delhi HC in Lt. Cdr. Annie Nagaraja & Ors. v. Union of India9 held that the SSC officers who opted for the grant of Permanent Commission but were not granted should be considered for the same, though they had attained the age of retirement due to the pendency of the case. The Armed Force Tribunal (AFT) differed from the Judgment of the High Court and left the matter to the relevant authorities to decide due to lack of materials. But the AFT directed women officers to continue serving SSC on the present terms and conditions until the decision is pronounced.
The respondent appealed to Apex Court against this order. There the court quashed and set aside the provisions of the guidelines dated 3 December 2008, to the extent that they are made prospective and restrict the induction of the officers to the specified branches and cadres only. The court said the policy letter dated 25 February 1999 read with Regulation 203 Chapter IX Part III of 1963 Regulation provides for the right to be considered for the grant of Permanent Commission. All the SSC officers in the Education, logistics, and law and SSC women officers in the batch of the case to be considered for the grant of PCs.
7 Chapter IX of Naval Ceremonial, condition of Services and Miscellaneous Regulations, 1963 < https://www.mod.gov.in/dod/sites/default/files/RegsNavyIII.pdf >
8 Est. Under Armed Forces Tribunal Act, 2007.
Revolution in the Indian Air Force
Section 12 of the Indian Air force Act, 195010, restricts the women officers to work in the Air Force except in such corps, branch, or other body attached to any portion of the Air Force as the Union Government can specify by notification.
The time moved on, especially in favor of fairer sex. Union Government in 1991, opened the gates of Air Force for the Indian Women, by the way of official Gazette. The Wings of the force were notified about the allowance for women’s enrolment. All of them were employed in the Short Service commission and not Permanent Commission. The Women struggled their way through a war of litigation to finally achieve the goal of being granted Permanent Commission.
A writ petition was filed for grant of PCs to female officers in Jasmin Kaur v. Union of India11, 2010, the case was adjudicated in the favor of the petitioner, and the court granted the PCs to the women. Thus putting another stone of victory in the fight against this gender discrimination.
Revolution in Indian Army
Section 12 of the Indian Army Act, 195012, restricts women officers to work in the Army. In 1992 Union Government issued a notification making the women officers commissioned in SSC eligible for the branches/cadres of Army Postal Service, Judge Advocate General, Education Corps, Army Service Corps, and Army Ordnance Corps. Later in December 1992 union government made women eligible for five more branches namely:
- Corps of Signal
- Electrical and Mechanical engineering
- Regiment Artillery
In 2003, Practising advocate Babita Puniya instituted a writ petition in the nature of Public Interest Litigation before the Delhi High Court, pleading the court for granting the Permanent Commission to the SSC women officers. The court combined all other petitions seeking the same end.
10 Section 12, Ineligibility of females for enrolment or employment, Indian Air Force Act, 1950
11 Jasmine Kaur vs. Union of India WP (C) 8492/2009
12 Section 12, Ineligibility of females for enrolment or employment, Indian Army Act, 1950
The Women Special Entry Scheme (WSES) was a prime way for recruiting women in the armed forces. Recruits under the Scheme were offered shorter Pre commissioned training compared to that of their male counterparts. In 2005, the Ministry of Defence through the issued notification ceased the existence of WSES and extended the validity of the appointment scheme, thus making the female officers eligible for induction in the army through SSC just as their male peers. Later in 2006, President sanctioned two circulars that granted the women officers inducted under the WSES scheme a chance to move to SSC and can now serve a period of a maximum of 14 years. But again few petitions were instituted, challenging 2006 notification, for the PC for women officers, by Lt. Col. Seema Singh and Major Leena Gaurav.
In 2008, Union Government granted PC to SSC inducted women officers prospectively and only two branches in Army education corps and JAG. The action of the government was again challenged as PC was prospectively and that too in two departments only.
In March 2010, Delhi High Court clubbed all the pending Petitions and held that the Women currently serving under SSC shall be offered a grant to PC in all the departments after five years and all the consequential benefits within the 2 months of pronouncement of the order. In July Army challenge the judgment but all its effort went in vain as the Supreme Court upheld the Delhi High Court Judgment.
After that in 2011, the appeal was made by the Ministry of Defence in the apex court, which opened the case again on which SC held the order of questioned judgment to be continued. In February 2019, the center issued an order for granting PC to SSC women officers but only prospectively in eight combat support services.
Now the main issues that were raised before the bench comprising Justice D.Y. Chandrachuda and Justice Hemant Gupta, in Secretary, Ministry of Defence v. Babita Puniya & Ors.
- Whether PC should be granted to the women officers already working in the army?
- Whether the guideline issued by the Union Government on 15th Feb 2019 should be implemented?
- Whether the condition of the women officers are up to the mark?
The Supreme Court, in February 2020 directed the Union Government:
- All woman officers serving SSC shall be considered for the grant of PC, regardless of any of them crossed 14 years or 20 years of service.
- The expression ‘in various staff appointments only’ in para 5 and 6 of the 2019 circular shall not be enforced.
- All the women who do not opt for or do not get in the Permanent Commission are entitled to all the consequential benefits or substantial perks like their male counterparts.
- Every women officer who is not granted PC after 20 years of service, can retire on pension terms
- The apex court upholding the Delhi High court decision, directed to take necessary steps in compliance with this judgment in the next 3 months from the date of this judgment.
The court condemned the evaluation criteria adopted by the army, granting them the permanent commission to women officers, which caused ‘systematic discrimination against them. It is the sheer gender discrimination one can witness in such a nationwide respectable and honorable profession.
Thus, it can be said that this Judgement is the victory of 17 yearlong battle of not only the women officers but also the generation to come. It has heralded all women’s rights and gender equality to be on equal footing with their male counterparts by being offered Permanent Commission in all the ten branches of the army.
Issues involved in inducting women in combat roles
After a long fight, some concrete steps have now been taken by the government by giving approval for Permanent Commission in the non-combat branches like Education, Naval Architect, and law according to the availability and merit. Despite women being accepted for permanent Commission government is still hesitant in inducting women in combat services.
Empowering women and giving them equal rights in any sector is of great significance, but not really when it comes to the country’s safety and security if in case they prove to be incompetent to take over the command in combat. The armed forces don’t run on the principles of liberalism and justice. Its code of conduct and ethics are stark opposite from the people they protect.
The Major chunk of the issues that come up are not culturally based, rather they are gender-based. But the two of the major issues that have been cited by the armed forces are:
- Nature of the Army
- Working conditions and environment of the Army.
We all must understand that the nature of the forces differs distinctly from the civil setup. The Army aspires to military effectiveness and no cohesiveness.13Therefore, most of the nations are unwilling to put gender equality above national security, still managing the take care of women’s rights of the nation.
27th Commandant of American Marine Corps, General Robert Barrow in senate hearing remarked over the issue of gender equality in the military,
“…It should not be about the Women’s Rights, career assignments, and equal opportunity for enhancement purposes for selection to the higher rank. It is about, combat effectiveness, combat readiness, winning the next conflict, and so we are talking about National Security”
In any organization, the mutual understanding between superiors, and subordinates makes the work environment healthy and productive. But the same is not seen in the case of a cross-gendered working environment in the armed forces. Since the armed forces have been witnessing only men folks working for ages, they feel that women are being favored. Women officers harassing male officers with their charm on the senior officers and condemn them for demanding equality is another issue that is quoted by male officers.15 However it seems far too unfair to tar all the women with the same brush, moreover, these acceptance issues and peer behavior are conservative in nature. Hence every country has to mold their society’s attitude at large and male soldiers especially to enhance the acceptability of women in the military.16
Another major issue that cannot be done away with is the Physical fitness issues in women. The military is a profession that demands physical fitness and readiness to defend at any point in time. The general attitude is that they lack physical strength and their inability to sustain in the high altitude and tough terrains to prevent the nation from danger prevent them from
13 Bhattacharyya, A. Women in the military in India: The cry for parity, 3(2) Mediterranean Journal of Social Sciences, 317-325 (2012)
14 Linell A. Letendre, Women Warriors: Why the robotics revolution changes the combat equation, 6(1) Prism, 93 (2016)
15 Suman, M., Women in the armed forces: Misconceptions and facts. Indian Defence Review, 25(1), 6. (2010)
performing effectively in the combat zones.17Research data have also shown that men comparatively have more muscular strength than women, they take more time and space to in lifting heavy loads. In a recent study, it was also shown that during the army combat training, 51% of the women and 27% of men were injured which is clearly related to lower fitness level.18
Pregnancy is another main issue with military women which contributes majorly to their undermining in the army. During the pregnancy, many duties are often severely truncated. Since pregnant women cannot be deployed to the battlefield hence they have to be evacuated, which is a costly process and it certainly affects the pregnant woman’s health and career.19
The Army, Navy, and Air force fight incessantly for the nation’s security every day and night, it is superfluous for them to fight against these kinds of issues. It was a long battle for the women fighting sex stereotypes, seeking their rights, but it was all of worth in the end as woman officers can now take a sigh of relief. The recent judgment of our highest judicial institution on PC in the army has also paved the way for women in other armed forces. They can now seize the command post or highest post of chief also.
When we can have women Prime Minister whom we offered the rope to run the nation, why can’t we see the Women who are Chief of Army, Chief of Naval Staff, or even Air Marshal?
Considering many issues that are linked to the women officers, cannot be done away with but the customs, practices, and perceptions of women being lower in strata than men have to be changed. As there can be hundreds, thousands, or even lakhs of laws seeking the same parity among gender and still find the same situation prevailing among the nation.
17 Field, K., & Nagl, J., Combat roles for women: A modest proposal. Parameters, 31(2), 74, (2001)
18 Singh, J. & Arora, N. Combat Role for Women in the Indian Armed Forces. Global Journal of Human-Social Science, 15(9), 17-28 (2015)
19 Lindberg, L. D. Unintended pregnancy among women in the US military. Contraception, 84(3), 249-251, (2011)
1. Status of Women in Armed Forces, Press Information Bureau, Government of India, Ministry of Defence, 2019
<https://pib.gov.in/Pressreleaseshare.aspx?PRID=1558892> 2. MANU/SC/0194/2020
- Short Service Commission is the tenure of service of the Navy, Army, and Air force officers ranging from 7 years to 14 years 10 years i.e initial engagement of 7 or 10 years which can be extended up to a maximum of 14 years.
- 15th Report on ‘Women in Armed Forces’ by Committee on Empowerment of Women, 2012<https://eparlib.nic.in/bitstream/123456789/63963/1/15_Empowerment_of_Wo men_15.pdf>
- Section 12, The Army Act, 1950
- Jai Brunner, Supreme Court Grants Navy Women PC, Supreme Court Observer, 2020
- A permanent commission is an entitlement to army officers to work till their age of retirement i.e. a career in the army till you retire.
- Chapter IX of Naval Ceremonial, condition of Services and Miscellaneous Regulations, 1963 < https://www.mod.gov.in/dod/sites/default/files/RegsNavyIII.pdf >
- Est. Under Armed Forces Tribunal Act, 2007. 10. MANU/SC/0307/2020
- Section 12, Ineligibility of females for enrolment or employment, Indian Air Force Act, 1950
- Jasmine Kaur vs. Union of India WP (C) 8492/2009
- Section 12, Ineligibility of females for enrolment or employment, Indian Army Act, 1950
- Bhattacharyya, A. Women in military in India: The cry for parity, 3(2) Mediterranean Journal of Social Sciences, 317-325 (2012)
- Linell A. Letendre, Women Warriors: Why the robotics revolution changes the combat equation, 6(1) Prism, 93 (2016)
- Suman, M., Women in the armed forces: Misconceptions and facts. 25(1), Indian Defence Review, 6. (2010)
- Field, K., & Nagl, J., Combat roles for women: A modest proposal, 31(2), Parameters, 74, (2001)
- Singh, J. & Arora, N. Combat Role for Women in the Indian Armed Forces, 15(9), Global Journal of Human-Social Science, 17-28 (2015)
- Lindberg, L. D. Unintended pregnancy among women in the US military.
Contraception, 84(3), 249-251, (2011)