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Notion That Women Are 'Weaker Sex' Constitutionally Flawed: SC Calls For Change In Mindset [Read Judgment]

Ashok Kini
17 Feb 2020 12:04 PM GMT
Notion That Women Are

"If society holds strong beliefs about gender roles – that men are socially dominant, physically powerful and the breadwinners of the family and that women are weak and physically submissive, and primarily caretakers confined to a domestic atmosphere – it is unlikely that there would be a change in mindsets."

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The notions that women are the "weaker" sex and may not undertake tasks that are "too arduous‟ for them, are constitutionally flawed, observed the Supreme Court, in its judgment which held that the absolute exclusion of women from Command Appointments In Army is Illegal.

The bench comprising Justice Dhananjaya Y. Chandrachud and Justice Ajay Rastogi observed that to cast aspersion on their abilities on the ground of gender is an affront not only to their dignity as women but to the dignity of the members of the Indian Army – men and women – who serve as equal citizens in a common mission.

The Court was dealing with the submissions made with regard to "physiological limitations" of women officers in Indian Army. Justice Chandrachud, who authored the judgment observed thus:

Reliance on the "inherent physiological differences between men and women" rests in a deeply entrenched stereotypical and constitutionally flawed notion that women are the "weaker‟ sex and may not undertake tasks that are "too arduous‟ for them. Arguments founded on the physical strengths and weaknesses of men and women and on assumptions about women in the social context of marriage and family do not constitute a constitutionally valid basis for denying equal opportunity to women officers

To deny the grant of PCs to women officers on the ground that this would upset the "peculiar dynamics" in a unit casts an undue burden on women officers which has been claimed as a ground for excluding women. The written note also relies on the "minimal facilities for habitat and hygiene" as a ground for suggesting that women officers in the services must not be deployed in conflict zones. The respondents have placed on record that 30% of the total women officers are in fact deputed to conflict areas.

Change in Mindset Needed

The bench observed that there is a need for change in mindsets to bring about true equality in the Army.

If society holds strong beliefs about gender roles – that men are socially dominant, physically powerful and the breadwinners of the family and that women are weak and physically submissive, and primarily caretakers confined to a domestic atmosphere – it is unlikely that there would be a change in mindsets. Confronted on the one hand with a solemn policy decision taken by the Union Government allowing for the grant of PC to women SSC officers in ten streams, we have yet on the other hand a whole baseless line of submissions solemenly made to this Court to detract from the vital role that has been played by women SSC officers in the line of duty.  

Women officers of the Indian Army have brought laurels to the force, said the bench while listing names of women army officers like Lieutenant Colonel Sophia Qureshi and Lieutenant Colonel Anuvandana Jaggi. It added:

"Their track record of service to the nation is beyond reproach. To cast aspersion on their abilities on the ground of gender is an affront not only to their dignity as women but to the dignity of the members of the Indian Army – men and women – who serve as equal citizens in a common mission."

Absolute Exclusion Of Women Indefensible

The bench also observed that the Army has provided no valid justification as to why women across the board should not be considered for any criteria or command appointments. It said:

Command assignments are not automatic for men SSC officers who are granted PC and would not be automatic for women either. The absolute exclusion of women from all others except staff assignments is indefensible. If the army has cogent reasons for excluding women from a particular criteria or command appointment, it may provide them to the relevant authorities and if necessary, to future courts. However, such a justification must take place on a case-to-case basis, in light of the requirements and exigencies of a particular appointment. The blanket non- consideration of women for criteria or command appointments absent an individuated justification by the Army cannot be sustained in law.


Advocate Meenakshi Lekhi and Senior Advocate Aishwarya Bhati appeared for the women officers.

Click here to Download/Read Judgment

[Read Judgment]




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