Arguing against giving command appointments to women in army, the Centre has told the Supreme Court that women may not be able to meet the challenges and hazards of military service due to their "physiological limitations" and domestic obligations.
The Centre has also talked about the possible unwillingness of male troops, predominantly drawn from rural backgrounds, to accept a women in command of their units.
In an argument note submitted in SC by Centre, it is stated as follows :
"Command of units entails setting personal example and leading from the front and Commanding Officers must do everything that the troops are required to do. However, existing physical standards of women officers are distinctly lower than their male counterparts. Composition of rank and file being male, predominantly drawn from rural background, with prevailing societal norms, troops are not yet mentally schooled to accept women officers in their command of units. Further, they also lack combat exposure in the form of infantry attachment and service with Rashtriya Rifles".
This is in an ongoing case regarding the denial of Permanent Commission (PC) to women officers in the Armed Forces. The Centre has filed appeals against a 2010 judgment of Delhi High Court which held that Short Service Commissioned women officers of the Air Force and the Army, who had applied for Permanent Commission but were only given extension of SSC, are entitled to PC at par with male Short Service Commissioned officers with all consequential benefits.
A SC bench comprising Justices D Y Chandrachud and Ajay Rastogi on Wednesday reserved orders on the matter concerning Army. The cases pertaining to Air Force and Navy will be heard next week.
The Centre has said that women officers above 14 years of service cannot seek PC, as it was made clear in the post notifications and appointment letters that their recruitment was on short service. Since they were on short service, they were only given limited training of 24 weeks, as opposed to 49 weeks for male, and were given limited exposures.
To support the policy of denying Permanent Commission to women in Army, the Centre cited concerns of operational effectiveness, exigencies of service, physical capabilities etc.
It was said that future wars are likely to be short, intense and lethal, and unconventional in view of terrorism and insurgency operations.
"The non-linear battlefield has rendered the erstwhile rear ares as much vulnerable as battlefield. Therefore, the induction of women officers into Indian Army, hither-to-fore a male bastion, needs to be viewed in the perspective of changed battle field environment", read the argument note submitted by the Centre.
"The profession of arms is not only a profession but a way of life, which often required sacrifices and commitments "beyond the call of duty" by the entire family of service personnel involving separation, frequent transfers affecting education of children and career prospects of the spouse. As a consequence, it is a greater challenge to Women Officers to meet these hazards of service, owing to their prolonged absence during pregnancy, motherhood and domestic obligations towards children and families, especially when both husband and wife happen to be service officers".
According to the Centre, it is advisable to keep women officers from direct combat as their capture as prisoners of war by enemies would be a situation of "extreme physical, mental and physiological stress for the individual, organization and above all the government"
It was also suggested that lesser physical capacities of women preclude equal performance by them as men during combat operations.
Indian Army is mostly deployed in difficult terrain and adverse climate conditions. "These conditions have a major bearing on the employment of women officers in the light of their physiological limitations accentuated by the challenges of "confinement, motherhood and childcare"", said the note.
The note also mentioned the possible impact of recruitment of women in all-male units. It is said that most countries have women officers in their armies except India, Pakistan and Turkey. The note states that posting of women officers in all male units has its own peculiar dynamics, as it calls for 'moderated behaviour' in their presence.
The Centre has told that Court that women officers up to 14 years of service would be considered for permanent commission and further career progression only in accordance with the policy taken on February 25, 2019.
Those above 14 years of service would be permitted to serve till 20 years without PC and those past 20-year 20-year service would be released with pensionary benefits.
The Army introduced women into service in 1992 in non-combat roles in certain branches on Short Service Commission basis. The tenure was initially 5 years and was later extended to 14 years in 2004.
In 2010, a Delhi HC bench comprising Justices S K Kaul (now SC judge) and Mool Chand Garg granted relief to women Short Commissioned Officers in Army and the Air Force observing that denial of PC to such women officers when their male counter-parts were given PC would be a "gross denial of Articles 14, 15 and 16 of the Constitution".
Click here to download the argument note submitted by Centre
Click here to download the Delhi HC judgment
Read Note submitted by Centre
Read Delhi HC Judgment