The biggest threat to reforms in any field often comes from within. A well-entrenched culture of status-quoism turns out to be the biggest stumbling block for undertaking transformative changes. Not surprisingly, those who are supposed to guide the process of implementation of reforms often end up leading the pushback. The delay in allowing women Army officers to take up permanent commission is one such issue that illustrates how even a perfectly legitimate reform idea faces resistance from within the system and hits one hurdle after the other. More than a year ago, the Supreme Court gave a landmark verdict, allowing absorption of women into permanent commission and putting them in the command roles. This was a long-pending demand to ensure gender justice. However, the implementation of this progressive measure hit a roadblock with the Army top brass invoking flimsy grounds to deny permanent commission for the women officers inducted through Short Service Commission (SSC). It is a case of systemic discrimination to invoke medical grounds for depriving women officers of the command roles. Again, the apex court had to come to the rescue to correct the situation. The court’s recent direction to put women on the permanent commission will smoothen the path for aspiring lady officers to equal opportunity in public employment and also underscores gender equality. At present, women are inducted into the Army through the SSC as they don’t qualify for permanent commission which allows an officer to serve a full tenure. They also don’t get the same benefits as their male counterparts.
The verdict paves the way for women officers’ full integration into the defence services, including in combat positions, and places them on a par with men in terms of promotions, ranks, benefits and pensions. The apex court minced no words in pointing out the gender-skewed selection criteria adopted by the defence authorities. A pattern of evaluation of merit that is derived from an equal society — one that affords a fair work ambience and dignity to women — is needed. The one prevailing now is drawn from a world created by ‘males for males’ and only served to bestow equality on a superficial or symbolic level. Ever since their entry into the tri-services was allowed, women have demonstrated the tenacity that met the exacting standards of the armed forces. With postings in difficult terrains and conflict zones, they have time and again proved that valour has no gender. In the last six years, their strength in the military has increased three-fold, with over 9,000 women currently serving in the Army, Navy and Air Force. Unfortunately, it has been an uphill battle as they had to petition the Supreme Court at every stage to get their rightful dues.
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