In its judgment directing the Indian Navy to grant Permanent Commission for Serving Women SSC Officers, the Supreme Court reiterated its observations against gender stereotypes..
Justice Dhananjaya Y. Chandrachud, who authored the judgment for the bench, also comprising of Justice Ajay Rastogi, observed that the women should get a level playing field which will give them an opportunity to overcome their histories of discrimination. The judgment reads:
The battle for gender equality is about confronting the battles of the mind. History is replete with examples where women have been denied their just entitlements under law and the right to fair and equal treatment in the workplace. In the context of the Armed Forces, specious reasons have been advanced by decision makers and administrators. They range from physiology, motherhood and physical attributes to the male dominated hierarchies. A hundred and one excuses are no answer to the constitutional entitlement to dignity, which attaches to every individual irrespective of gender, to fair and equal conditions of work and to a level playing field. A level playing field ensures that women have the opportunity to overcome their histories of discrimination with the surest of responses based on their competence, ability and performance.
The Court noted the following submissions made by the ASG: (i) Certain avenues such as sea-sailing duties are ill-suited for women officers as there is no return to the base, unlike in the Army and the Air Force; and (ii) In vessels of a Russian origin which are deployed by the Indian Navy, no provision has been made for women as sailors and there are no bathrooms to accommodate them. It observed that such submissions are premised on sex stereotypes that male officers are more suited to certain duties by virtue of the physiological characteristics.
The above reasons are illusory and without any foundation. Women officers have worked shoulder to shoulder with their men counterparts in every walk of service. The supposed explanations based on duties at sea or Russian vessels are devices adopted to justify an action which is not germane to the proper discharge of duties and the maintenance of discipline among members of the Armed Forces. These submissions which have been made by the ASG are plainly contrary to the policy letter dated 25 February 1999 issued by the MoD to the Chief of the Naval Staff. The policy letter emphatically stipulates that women officers of all branches/cadres could be directed to serve on board ships both during training and subsequent employment in accordance with the exigencies of service. In the face of this communication, it is impossible to countenance a submission that women cannot sail alongside men sailors.
As this Court has noted in Babita Puniya, arguments founded on the physical strengths and weaknesses of men and women do not constitute a constitutionally valid basis for denying equal opportunity to women officers. To accept the contention urged by the ASG would be to approve the socially ascribed gender roles which a commitment to equal worth and dignity of every individual belies.
Taking note of the accolades which have been bestowed on women officers in the Indian Navy, the bench observed:
Performance at work and dedication to the cause of the nation are the surest answers to prevailing gender stereotypes. To deprive serving women officers of the opportunity to work as equals with men on PCs in the Indian Navy is plainly discriminatory. Furthermore, to contend that women officers are illsuited to certain avocations which involve them being aboard ships is contrary to the equal worth of the women officers who dedicate their lives to serving in the cause of the nation.
Click here to read/download judgment
Read SC Judgment
Read Delhi HC Judgment