Winning the Fight for Equality 

Swapna Narayanan

army_647_053015021511_071917113848_0As the world gets ready to celebrate the upcoming International Women’s Day on 8th March 2020 with the theme for #EachforEqual, the women in the Indian Army woke up to a landmark judgement  passed by the Supreme Court earlier this month that levelled the playing field for both women and men. The court clearly defined that now women can continue to serve the army till their retirement age, and will also be eligible for a pension – similar to the men today.

For those of you who never realised that women officers in Army had to leave the service after working for 14 years, here is a bit of history for you.

Contrary to other countries like Israel, Canada etc. who started fairly early, Indian Army started to take in women in the year 1992. Initially the path began only for certain functions and was limited to only five years (Women Special Entry Scheme – WSES). Men on the contrary, were under the Short Service Commission (SSC) which enabled them to serve till 10 years.

It took the Army about 14 years to open the Short Service Commission to women, and in 2008, the WSES scheme gave way to SSC for women. But not in its entirety. While men were allowed to go in for a permanent commission as soon they finish the mandated 10 years of service, this option was not given to women officers of the SSC. They could, at the most, extend the 10 years to 14 years. As a result, they were not eligible for a pension from the Indian Army, which needs a minimum of 20 years of service!

It is often said that unless you ask, it is not given. Someone had to ask, and luckily for the women in the Army, someone did and eventually broke the glass (or a mortar) ceiling.

A PIL was filed in 2003 which questioned the status quo and requested the granting of permanent commission for women officers of the SSC. Eventually a few more petitions joined the fray in 2006 and 2008 where women officers stood up and asked for a fair deal.

20200115120L_1579175709505_1579175730561Finally in 2010 a judgement was passed granting the permanent commission to the women officers of SSC. But it was not all encompassing. It gave permanent commission to only those women who had sought for it. It excluded women who were yet to attain the age of superannuation. The Defence ministry dragged their feet on the above judgement and finally with an interim order in February 2019, the SC has finally enabled permanent commission to all women officers in February 2020.

While there are many a nuances that need to be ironed out, what it marks is a positive end to a long battle of justice, a dreary period of angst and anxiety, an unequal world where one group was treated inferior by the armed forces while both the groups give in equal amount of passion, commitment and hard work to safeguard our borders and keep the country safe.

A progressive judgement that debunked all the Defence arguments and called them as ‘based on sex stereotypes premised on assumptions about socially ascribed roles of gender which discriminate against women‘.

Well, the time could not have been any better, as the judgment ruled that there is a strong need ‘to emphasise the need for change in mindsets to bring about true equality in the Army‘.

Here’s to all the women in Indian Army who can now aspire for more options, roles, higher ranks, growth, a secure retired life, but most importantly, a level playing field where they will be treated at par with the men.

And, the International Women’s Day community could not have thought of a better theme for 2020 – #EachforEqual

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