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Equality in Armed Forces Comes with All Its Dues: Revisiting the Judgement of Apex Court
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Harshit Sharma | Date:04 Aug , 2020 0 Comments
Harshit Sharma

NET Holder, graduated from National Law University, Jodhpur and currently pursuing LLM I Year from Mahatma Jyoti Rao Phoole University, Jaipur.

“Inferior inducements bring second rate men. Second rate men invite second best security. In war there is no prize for the runner up.” —General Omar N Bradley

In what has been called significant judgment on gender equality, the Supreme Court on 16th February 2020 directed that Permanent Commission should be granted to women in army regardless of their service, in all the ten streams where the Union Government have already taken a decision to grant Short Service Commission to women[1].

The Court also held that absolute exclusion of women from command assignments is against Article 14 of the Constitution and unjustified. Therefore, the policy that women will be given only “staff appointments” was held to be unenforceable by the Court.

“An absolute bar on women seeking criteria or command appointments would not comport with the guarantee of equality under Article 14. Implicit in the guarantee of equality is that where the action of the State does differentiate between two classes of persons, it does not differentiate them in an unreasonable or irrational manner.”

To understand it in a better manner we need to quickly go through the history.

Historical Background

India has had women officers in its support services for over 70 years, with the Army Medical Corps (AMC) and the Military Nursing Service (MNS) taking the lead. These women from the AMC and MNS have been deployed even in “combat” zones, especially in Forward Hospitals and Field Hospitals in the Northern and Eastern sectors. Another major development came in 1993, when they were brought in for five years of service under “Special Entry Scheme”, which was then converted into Short Service Commission (SSC).

In 2008, permanent commission was extended to women in streams of Judge Advocate General (JAG) and Army Education Corps.

Last year, in a landmark move[2], the NarendraModi government decided to grant permanent commission to women in all ten branches where they are inducted for Short Service Commission — Signals, Engineers, Army Aviation, Army Air Defence, Electronics and Mechanical Engineers, Army Service Corps, Army Ordnance Corps and Intelligence[3].But it came with a caveat that women wouldn’t be considered for criteria and command appointments.

So this policy of considering women only for “staff appointments” and not for “criteria and command appointments” came under scrutiny before the apex court in Babita Puniya’s Case.

Revisiting the Issues and the Problem

The recent debate about the entry of women officers in the armed forces has been highly ill-informed and subjective in nature. People have taken stands and expressed opinion without analysing the matter in its entirety. It was imprudent on the part of Apex Court itself to consider it as an issue of equality of sexes or gender bias or even women’s liberation. It is also not a question of conquering the so-called ‘last male bastion’. That would amount to trifling a matter that concerns the well-being and the war-potential of a nation’s armed forces.

Focus need to be given on what General Bipin Rawat, then Chief of Army Staff (now Chief of Defence Staff), on December 15, 2018, in an interview to CNN-News 18, said-

“Women in combat would have to be “cocooned” from the prying eyes of subordinate soldiers; commanding officers of fighting units might require long maternity leave, which the army can ill afford; our soldiers are not ready to accept women leading them; and the society is not ready for women coming back in body bags.”

When the top most official of Army said this, then it definitely deserved consideration on merits keeping our emotions and passionate attitude aside.

In view of the same the present paper deals with the following issues:

•  Whether it was right on the part of Apex Court to interfere with the policy of the Union and Defence Ministry, knowing the fact that Government is in best position to decide what will be in the interests of women as a person and nation as a whole after talking with the relevant stakeholders.

•  Whether the policy of government differentiated in an arbitrary and unreasonable manner violating the concept of equality enshrined under Article 14.

•  A detailed conclusion and

•  Possible solution.

An Unwarranted Interference in Government’s Policy

A policy decision taken by the Government is not liable to interference[4], unless the Court is satisfied that the rule-making authority has acted arbitrarily or in violation of the fundamental right guaranteed under Articles 14 and 16[5].

The Supreme Court in Fertilizer Corpn. Kamgar Union (Regd.), Sindri v. Union of India[6], observed that:

…We certainly agree that judicial interference with the administration cannot be meticulous in our Montesquien system of separation of powers. The court cannot usurp or abdicate, and the parameters of judicial review must be clearly defined and never exceeded. This function is limited to testing whether the administrative action has been fair and free from the taint of unreasonableness and has substantially complied with the norms of procedure set for it by rules of public administration[7].

In Premium Granites v. State of T.N.[8], while considering the court’s powers in interfering with the policy decision, it was observed that:

It is not the domain of the Court to embark upon unchartered ocean of public policy in an exercise to consider as to whether a particular public policy is wise or a better public policy can be evolved. Such exercise must be left to the discretion of the executive and legislative authorities as the case may be.…[9]

Acceptance of this approach is reflected in the judgments of Laws LJ in International Transport Roth GmbH v. Secy. of State for the Home Department[10] and of Lord Nimmo Smith in Adams v. Lord Advocate[11] in which a distinction was drawn between areas where the subject-matter lies within the expertise of the courts (for instance, criminal justice, including sentencing and detention of individuals) and those which were more appropriate for decision by democratically elected and accountable bodies. If the courts step outside the area of their institutional competence, the government may react by getting Parliament to legislate to oust the jurisdiction of the courts altogether. Such a step would undermine the rule of law.

The Government, as was said in In re Permian Basin Area Rate cases[12], is entitled to make pragmatic adjustments which may be called for by particular circumstances. The court cannot strike down a policy decision taken by the State Government merely because it feels that another policy decision would have been fairer or wiser or more scientific or logical. The court can interfere only if the policy decision is patently arbitrary, discriminatory or mala fide.

Moreover in Babita Puniya’s Case Apex Court observed that:

“Courts are indeed conscious of the limitations which issues of national security and policy impose on the judicial evolution of doctrine in matters relating to the Armed forces.”

The court can interfere only if the policy decision is patently arbitrary, discriminatory or mala fide[13].It is against the background of these observations and keeping them in mind we will be dealing with second issue based on Article 14 of the Constitution.

Armed forces have been constituted with the sole purpose of ensuring defence of the country and all policy decisions should be guided by this overriding factor. All matters concerning defence of the country have to be considered in a dispassionate manner. No decision should be taken which even remotely affects the cohesiveness and efficiency of the military. Concern for equality of sexes or political expediency should not influence defence policies.

The wholesome rule in regard to judicial interference in administrative decisions is that if the Government takes into consideration all relevant factors, eschews from considering irrelevant factors and acts reasonably within the parameters of the law, courts would keep off the same[14].

Four categories of people are intimately connected with women’s presence in the services – Training academies, their commanding officers, colleague male officers and the soldiers. Their views and responses were seriously considered by the government while moulding policies to address all concerns because they are in the best position to tell what is in the interests of army and what is not. As they are in direct contact with the women officers and know the ground realities their views and perspective needs some mention here.

Training Academies Own Experiences

Compared to the average male Army recruit, the average female recruit is 4.8 inches shorter, weighs around 15 kg less, has 18 kg less muscle mass and 3.5 kg more fat mass. The consequence is that, in general, women are at a disadvantage when performing military tasks requiring muscular strength because of their lower muscle mass. Since fat mass is inversely related to aerobic capacity and heat tolerance, the average woman is also at a disadvantage when performing aerobic activities such as marching with heavy loads (related to the lower cardio respiratory capacity of women) and working in the heat[15].

While designing the training syllabus, this has been taken into account with different standards laid down for men and women.

As of now, the physical differences between men and women are addressed in a very simplistic way during training by having separate standards for men and women. Even with the enforcement of separate standards, few women are able to achieve any high levels of physical fitness. The differences are exaggerated by theextremely modest standards adopted for women. For example, the basic Physical Efficiency Tests for a Gentlemen Cadet (GC) and a Lady Cadet at the Officers Training Academy (OTA) constitutes the following along with the timings.Only one chance at passing these tests is afforded to the GCs but passing these entire tests is at times discretionary for the women cadets.

Physical Efficiency Test for Gentlemen Cadets (GC) (Click to enlarge)

As is evident that the most difficult test of endurance, the Battle Physical Efficiency Test (BPET) and other difficult tests such as, Chin-ups and Toe touches are also not applicable for lady cadets.

As it can be observed, there is a marked difference in the standards of men and women. During other training activities such as cross-country runs, route marches etc., women cover less than half the distance with half the weight as compared to men.

Physical Efficiency Tests Lady Cadets (Click to enlarge)

Boxing which is compulsory for every GC is a sport not even considered for women even if they pit against each other. Even in the informal physical toughening up sessions, most women are just not able to do the very basic and stock exercises at the Academy such as push-ups and front rolls and neither are they pushed to perform like the GCs who are pushed to the limit of their endurance.

Experiences at the training academies and  research indicates a high risk of injury to female recruits with just over 50% injured during initial Army training compared to only 27% of males. The risk of leg injury to women was just over twice as likely and for stress fractures 4.71 times that of men. The higher risk of injury for women was related to a lower level of general fitness when compared to men. It was also reported that 54% of women sustained reportable injuries during Army basic training which resulted in an average loss of 13 days training time. Routinely, more women cadets report sick and are given excuse from PT or hospitalised.

These biological differences explain the male and female secondary sex characteristics which develop during puberty and have lifelong effects, including those most important for success in sports and military: categorically different strength, speed, and endurance[16].

As of now, the physical standards for women at the Academy are ridiculously low and any physically fit woman from any walk of life who has been exercising regularly can achieve them with ease. Over the years, physical standards have only marginally increased vis-a-vis men. There still exists a scope for greater improvement as can be made out from the tables and other details mentioned above. It would be unfair to solely censure women for accepting these low standards because that is all that they are made to do. Till the standards are toughened up to an extent where women as a group are perceived as physically tough, whether fair or not, they will never be judged as equals in the Academy.

As Capt. Deepanjali Bakshi (Retd.) remarks,in an ideal integrated situation, men and women should train together in all respects including physical training. But the vast differences in the prevailing physical standards have shown that under the current circumstances it is inconceivable for idealism and ground realities to connect. In the quest for total equality, if the exercise of similar standards is applied across-the-board, the results will be counter-productive. Either most women will not be able to cope with the rigours of physical training and suffer excessive injuries while trying to keep up with the men, or alternatively, if the standards are reduced to accommodate women, then men will not find training challenging enough[17].

Commanding Officers Perspective

The first posting of all newly commissioned officers is to their assigned units. It is for the Commanding Officers (COs) to induct, mould and employ them. Therefore, views of COs carry utmost importance as they indicate an objective appraisal of actual position on ground. Most of the COs find women officers to be highly committed and sincere. They admire them for their enthusiasm despite the environmental difficulties faced by them. Safety of women under their command becomes their primary concern and they find it quite taxing, especially in field areas.

The second common problem faced by them relates to their useful employment. CO of an engineer regiment recounted –

“My unit was in Punjab when a young lady officer was posted to it. Soon thereafter the unit was ordered to move to insurgency affected Poonch area. I did not know how to employ her and where to house her. Ultimately, I had to send her on long leave to tide over the problem.”

Another CO of a services unit said –

“All young officers have to train, exercise and play games with their respective platoons. They are also required to visit troops’ barracks at lights-out to ensure that all mosquito nets are down and even check the cleanliness of latrines. I could not ask or expect the lady officer to do any of these duties”. By turn, every officer is detailed as a duty officer and has to visit the Quarter Guard and all sentry posts at midnight to ensure their alertness. All unit commanders rue the fact that lady officers cannot be assigned any of these duties. Thus the male officers have to undertake additional work load, which they resent.”

Referring to the recent increase in women’s service, some COs pointed out that at 14 years of service a lady officer will be second in command of a unit and will officiate as its commanding officer. In an Engineer or Signal unit she will be an advisor to the Divisional Commander. Without having commanded a platoon or a company and without having attended essential professional courses, it will be unfair to expect her to be able to deliver the goods. Some COs also expressed concern about the physical fitness of women officers and their being highly prone to back problems, pelvic injuries and stress fractures.

Many COs showed reluctance to have women under them due to concern for their safety and dignity. They also tend to be over-cautious in assigning duties to them lest they be exposed to any harm.

Male Colleagues Perspective

Almost all male colleagues admire women officers for their courage and determination. They understand and appreciate challenges faced by them in trying to adapt to an environment which is totally male dominated. However, they want the women officers to do their share of work and duties. They resent preferential treatment given to their women colleague.

 One officer was outspoken enough to state –

“They have joined the military on the plank of equality of sexes but this plank vanishes the day they join the training academy”.

Thereafter, they again become the weaker sex needing special dispensations.” An officer recounted that a lady officer posted to an Ordnance Depot declined to carry out periodic stocktaking of stores lying in isolated sheds unless provided with escort for security. Other officers had to do her job.

When told about women making up shortage of male officers, most young officers scoff at the speciousness of the argument. According to them, there is no shortage of male volunteers to join the services but the required number of candidates do not come up to the standards laid down. The services do not want to dilute the standards even marginally in the fear of compromising the quality of intake. But when it comes to women, standards are reduced to extremely low levels.

Soldiers Perspective

One of the arguments of Central Government was that male troops will not accept the command of women on account of their perceived ‘rural background, with prevailing societal norms’. As soon as this argument is made a definite question comes into our mind that “If NirmalaSitharaman could be the defence minister and the three chiefs accepted her, why are we considering that others will not? Why are we even debating it?”On account of the same the Union’s argument would definitely be termed as very regressive and retrograde.

But the fault lies not in the argument but the way it was presented. The real reason why soldiers are reluctant in accepting commands swiftly because for them superiority lies in form of physical prowess as compared to intellect. For a soldier a superior is one who in not only intellectually superior but can actively lead them from front, run and train like them, can beat them in physical standards, can understand and solvetheir problems, can share the same barracks with them.

Most soldiers view women’s induction as a fall-out of Government policies and generally take it lightly. They are convinced that women can never lead them effectively. Some Junior Commissioned Officers were blunt enough to state – “An officer, who cannot run with us, cannot train with us and cannot exercise with us can barely be expected to lead us”[18].

Now this reality we need to accept because of the fact that troops are recruited on the basis of physical standards and not on the basis of any written examination. Moreover entry level recruits in Army are less educated and belong to rural backgrounds as compared to entry level recruits in Air Force and Navy.

The Concept of Equality is not breached as there is Reasonable Classification

It is a universally accepted fact that militaries are not created to generate employment and hence have nothing to do with gender equality. They are tasked to ensure national defence and that is the sole reason for their existence. They need only the fittest – men or women. Armed forces require personnel who are physically strong and mentally robust to be able to handle battle-field pressures. The fighting potential of a force depends fundamentally on its cohesion, mutual trust and faith in the leadership. Nothing should be done to weaken these traits.

Article 14 of the constitution says “The state shall not deny to any person equality before the law and equal protection of laws”.

While Article 14 forbids class legislation but it permits Reasonable Classification of persons for achieving specific ends[19]. The classification must fulfill two conditions:

•  It must be found on intelligible differentia which distinguishes persons that are grouped together from others who are left out the group; and

•  The differentia must have rational relation to the object sought to be achieved by the act.

•  The third point which is a new concept based on guarantee against arbitrariness. Classification should be on the principle of reasonableness[20].

Object sought to be achieved in our case is National Defence, well-being and war potential of Armed Forces. Now let’s see how it satisfies the Principle of Reasonable Classification and Intelligible Differentia.

Scientific Evidence showing Inherent Physical Limitations of Women

The reason for the limitations is pure anatomy. Women are usually born with female sex organs that primarily produce larger amounts of estrogen. Men are usually born with male sex organs that primarily produce larger amounts of testosterone.

While estrogen has been observed to be potentially beneficial in muscle recovery, testosterone is a key ingredient in muscle growth. Testosterone stimulates protein stimulus leading to greater growth. If estrogen outnumbers testosterone your muscle growth is impeded even if they do return to normal strength faster.Men, on average, have 7–8 times more testosterone in their systems than women.

In an article[21], The Journal of Marine Medical Society listed out several physical, psychological and social issues that could be unique to women combatants.

Tossing and turning not only causes women more psychological distress, it also raises their insulin and inflammation levels — risk factors for compromised health, found a 2008 study of 210 people led by Edward Suarez at Duke University.

A study of more than 6,000 participants, led by researchers at the University of Warwick in 2007, found that women who slept five or less hours a night were twice as likely to suffer from hypertension than women who slept for seven or more hours. Among men, there was no such relationship[22].

A study in the Journal of Applied Physiology found that men had an average of 26 lbs. (12 kilograms) more skeletal muscle mass than women. Women also exhibited about 40 percent less upper-body strength and 33 percent less lower-body strength, on average, the study found.

Difference exists in world of sports also

In general, men are also faster than women. The fastest woman in the world, Florence Griffith Joyner, ran the 100-meter dash in just 10.49 seconds in 1988, and that record remains unbroken. Yet her fastest time wouldn’t have even qualified her for the men’s 2016 Olympic competition, which requires competitors to finish the 100-meter sprint in 10.16 seconds or less. Although the difference is only of mini seconds but those who are in this field knows that how much effort it takes.

The Israeli physicist Ira Hammerman spoke at the 2010 Wingate Congress of Exercise & Sports Sciences, and he found that this little-known ratio held across all sports. And yet they all share something: Their women’s speed world records are all about 90 percent of their men’s speed world records, in both short, middle and long distances[23].

(Click to enlarge)

If you know sport, you know this beyond a reasonable doubt: there is an average 10-12% performance gap between elite males and elite females.  The gap is smaller between elite females and non-elite males, but it’s still insurmountable and that’s ultimately what matters.  Translating these statistics into real world results, we see, for example, that:Just in the single year 2017, Olympic, World, and U.S. Champion Tori Bowie’s 100 meters lifetime best of 10.78 was beaten 15,000 times by men and boys. 

The same is true of Olympic, World, and U.S.  Champion Allyson Felix’s 400 meters lifetime best of 49.26.  Just in the single year 2017, men and boys around the world outperformed her more than 15,000 times[24].

Physiological Realities

The natural processes of menstruation and pregnancy make women particularly vulnerable in combat and command situations. Lack of privacy and sanitation can result in an increased incidence of genitourinary infections as is evident from a number of studies. Menstrual hygiene is a major issue, and the need to suppress menstruation in combat zones and its effects on long-term health is debatable. Unforeseen pregnancy is an issue that needs to be prevented and tackled sensitively. The effect of prolonged deployment in difficult terrains and grueling physical activity on the reproductive health of women war veterans is being studied extensively particularly in the United States[25].

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”.

Women normally get commissioned at the age of 23 to 25 years. Soon, thereafter, family pressures start building up on them to get married. Many women confess that managing married life with military service is difficult, though marrying a service officer helps. Subsequent pregnancy and motherhood prove very demanding.

Environmental Stress

In general, women are more sensitive to the effects of thermal stress due to several factors that include lower cardio-respiratory fitness, higher body fat content and lower skin surface area. During marches at a set pace, women exercise at a greater percentage of their aerobic capacity than men, resulting in a higher heart rate, oxygen consumption and heat production. Because of this higher metabolic rate, women experience an earlier onset of fatigue and are at greater risk of heat injury than men during forced marches in a hot environment. Women’s physical advantages are that they are less susceptible to altitude sickness and, normally have a greater tolerance of cold temperature due to their extra body fat[26].

Lack of Infrastructure in Forward/Border Areas

In Siachen, there are posts with only four soldiers. They sleep and share the same cramped post to attend nature’s call. Can one imagine a female soldier there?Soldiers undertake patrols that last for over 20 days at times. During this period, the men sleep and bathe together, and do the morning chores in open, often with another team keeping a watch for a possible ambush. There can be no separate arrangements for women.

The consequences of inserting a few women in an almost entirely male preserve, in cramped quarters, in inhospitable terrain, isolated from civilization, cannot even be imagined at this point in time in India.

In army there is a concept of field and peace postings. Every officer looks forward to a good peace posting to be with his family and sort out family issues when he has done his share of field postings. But a large number of peace postings at junior officers’ level are held by the women because they can’t be deployed in forward areas due to lack of infrastructure, thereby depriving male officers of their due share.

Command Appointments and Permanent Commissions

The whole concept of women’s induction in the services has to be viewed in a holistic and objective manner. The first step should be to ascertain whether the required preconditions exist as to warrant women’s entry into the Indian services. Here is a brief appraisal:

•  India is not short of male volunteers.

•  India is still a second generation technology force which is trying desperately to graduate to the third generation, whereas the US and the Western nations are already well into the fourth generation. Indian defence forces are manpower intensive needing physical ground effort.

•  A major part of the Indian Army is deployed on combat duties at all times. Peace tenures are rare and there are very few periods of comparative lull.

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. Commanding a unit is not 24 x 7 task rather it is 24 x 30.  However, existing physical standards of women officers are distinctly lower than their male counterparts. 

Command Appointments often require 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”.

Employment of Women in Direct Line of Fire and in close proximity with the enemy

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”.

The reason that appears to be in Centre’s argument is that profession of arms requires both mental and physical prowess. That is the reason why even advanced countries are wary of inducting women in fighting units. They have been taking precautions to ensure that women are neither pitched against enemy in face-to-face direct combat nor exposed to the risk of capture by the adversary

Moreover it is imprudent to replicate the model or path followed by others. Every nation has to weigh its options against the backdrop of its own social and environmental mores. The continuous active border conflicts with Pakistan on one hand and China on other, frequent insurgencies in North Eastern Regions, turbulent conditions in State of J&K itself and Naxalites fighting their own battle against forces in Red Corridor necessarily demands Officers and Troops to be experienced in Combat as well as to be in their peak physical powers. Apart from that types of hostilities encountered in past, level of technology and larger manpower issues also need to be considered.

These points are sufficient enough to show that the classification adopted by Government was not arbitrary rather it was based on principle of reasonableness showing Intelligible Differentia and having a rational nexus with the object sought to be achieved.

Conclusion-Women themselves have to be the Crusaders of Change

The underlying principle of the Supreme Court judgment is that so long as women meet the desired physical, intellectual and performance standards, they should have parity with their male colleagues in the armed forces. And therein lies the challenge for women to change the existing realities by performing at par with their male colleagues if not better in all the fields.

Firstly, this performance must come in the physical fitness standards. However, both the military and the women officers are to blame for this. In the initial stages, the induction of women in the armed forces was seen as a cosmetic appendage and very low physical fitness standards—barely 50 per cent of male standards—were laid down. This is something women officers should have protested against. Women remained complacent and thus could not cope up with the physical rigours of soldiering.

Greek philosopher Euripides (480-406 BC) said 2,400 years ago: “The daughters of Sparta are never at home. They mingle with young men in wrestling matches….” Physical fitness standards are fundamental.

Women must understand that if they cannot measure up to the physical fitness standards set for various services, they have no right to seek gender parity. There is no separate battlefield only for Amazons.

These standards have since been revised, but are still 25-30 per cent lower than men with no tests for upper body strength. Equal rights and opportunities imply equal physical standards. The standards have to be role-specific, and not gender- or age-specific. The military must revise the physical fitness standards for women to make them at least up to the minimum standards laid down for the men. For combat arms and special forces, these must be at par with the standards laid down for men. Standards would also have to be laid down for post-pregnancy fitness recovery in terms of time.

If the problem with regard to physical standards still persists it can be solved by the practice of gender norming as is the practice in the United States and other Armies. Under gender normed standard, the tests remain the same and only the scores and requirements are lowered and adjusted to accommodate women. The main objective of any standards whether for men or women, or according to age, should be to ensure physical fitness as physiologically determined. This would result in far greater acceptance of women by their male counterparts.

Secondly, gender parity also implies no concessions with respect to terms and conditions of service. Of course, physiological gender-specific concessions like maternity leave will be encoded in rules and regulations. Women officers must set an example by adopting measures similar to those taken by women sportspersons. The experience so far has been that the performance of women officers declined post marriage and after bearing children. There was a marked tendency to request for peace tenures to take care of children and to be with the spouse. The problem was manageable due to the small numbers and short service tenure of 10+4 years. With grant of permanent commission, women will have to cope with school going children and related domestic issues.

The problem will become more acute with induction of women as soldiers (in Military Police) due to tougher conditions of service. Women also have to be prepared for 50 per cent of their service tenures to be in field or operational areas away from their families as it is for men. Facilities in field and operational areas are primitive and rudimentary. Women will have to bear the same privations as male soldiers[27].

The Possible Solution

Their talent needs to be effectively harnessed in the best interest of the organization. Keeping in view the design of the future battlespaces and the operational readiness of other Armies ofthe world, certain specialist roles can be identified and suitable women candidates can beinducted to meet the requirements of these roles. Some of these roles can be:Computers and Information Technology, Electronics and Communication, Forensics, Bomb Disposal, Nuclear, Biological and Chemical warfare, Radiodiagnosis, Biometrics, Psychologists, Intelligence, Explosives, Tactical questioning, etc.

The whole purpose of this paper is not to undermine or demean the exceptional courage, valour and determination shown by our respected women from time to time. Rather it tries to advocate that in certain commands which involves leading from the front and where reliance on physical power is more, till the time women officers reach the physical standards set by their male colleagues and army prepares the necessary infrastructure which the ladies rightfully deserves, permanent commissions in criteria and command appointments shouldn’t be given to them. It will be in the best interests of woman as a person and nation as a whole.

Even someone like myself who thinks women should be able to serve on the front lines applies the caveat:

“If she’s physically capable of passing the physical requirements”. This doesn’t mean “the female requirements” it means the same ones a man has to pass. Not all women are capable of this, but some are.

Summing up my paper in conformity with what retired Indian General HS Panag said[28]:

“While some can argue that women, in general, may not be able to cope with the rigour of combat due to the sheer physical strength required, why deny the opportunity to those who can? In my view, the right of a woman to serve in any role in the armed forces must be equal to a man’s as long as the physical and qualitative standards are not compromised.

Why don’t Supreme Court itself be the Harbinger of Change

In Babita Puniya’s Case Supreme Court came down heavily upon centre for having lack of will and retrograde mindset with regard to appointment of women officers. Whether this mindset doesn’t apply to Supreme Court itself. The reality is that, as of today out of current strength of 33 Judges we find only 3 lady judges. It doesn’t even make 10% of total judges. Is Collegium not finding competent lady judges out of 25 High Courts in the country to be elevated to the Apex Court or it is itself having a retrograde mindset. Supreme Court needs to understand that it is an institution of National Character and reflects the aims and aspirations of people. So in order to bring a change throughout the country Supreme Court itself need to step up first.


[1]Secretary, Ministry of Defence v. BabitaPuniya and Others, Civil Appeal Nos. 9367-9369 of 2011 with Civil Appeal Nos. 1127-1128 of 2013 and with Civil Appeal No. 1210 of 2020.

[2] Government of India, Ministry of Defence, Permanent Commission to Women (Mar 5th 2019).

[3]Snehesh Alex Philip, “Women in combat roles: India can romanticise it but here’s why we are not ready yet”, (The Print, Feb 14th, 2020).

[4]Akhil Bharat GosevaSangh (3) v. State of A.P.(2006) 4 SCC 162.

[5]K. Narayanan v. State of Karnataka1994 Supp (1) SCC 44 : AIR 1994 SC 55.

[6](1981) 1 SCC 568; (1981) I LLJ 193 SC.

[7](1981) 1 SCC 568, 584, para 35; (1981) 1 LLJ 193.

[8] (1994) 2 SCC 691; (1994) 1 SCR 579.

[9](1994) 2 SCC 691, 714, para 54; (1994) 1 SCR 579.

[10] 2003 QB 728; (2002) 3 WLR 344; 2002 EWCA 158 (CA).

[11] Court of Sessions, Times, 8-8-2002.

[12] 1968 SCC OnLine US SC 87; 20 L Ed 2d 312; 390 US 747 (1968).

[13](1986) 4 SCC 566, 605, 606, para 34; (1987) 1 SCR 1.

[14]Federation of Railway Officers Assn. v. Union of India, (2003) 4 SCC 289; AIR 2003 SC 1344.

[15]McGraw K, Koehlmoos TP, Ritchie EC,‘Women in combat: Framing the issues of health and health research for America’s servicewomen’,Vol. 181, Military Medicine, 7–11, (2016).

[16]DorianeLambelet Coleman, Sex in Sport, Vol. 80, Law & Contemporary Problems, 63-126, (2017).

[17]CaptDeepanjaliBakshi (Retd.), ‘Training of Women Cadets in the Army – Some Issues and Challenges’, USI, 2005.

[18]Maj Gen MrinalSuman, “Women in the Armed Forces: Misconceptions and Facts”, Vol 25 Issue 1, Indian Defence Review, (Mar 9th, 2015).

[19]Anwar Ali Sarkar vs State of West Bengal, 1952 AIR 75, 1952 SCR 284

[20]Maneka Gandhi vs Union of India, 1978 AIR 597, 1978 SCR (2) 621

[21]Sheila S Mathai, Ravi Kalra, ‘Medical challenges of women combatants: Looking to the future’, Vol. 20 Issue 1, JMMS, (2018).

[22]Robin Nixon, “5 Myths About Women’s Bodies” (Live Science, April 4th, 2011).

[23]Robinson Meyer, “We Thought Female Athletes Were Catching Up to Men, but They’re Not” (The Atlantic, August 9th, 2012).

[24]World Athletics, Senior Outdoor 2018: 100 Metres Men.

[25]Evidence-based Synthesis Program (ESP), Center West Los Angeles VA Medical Center, Health Effects of Military Service on Women Veterans (May 2011).

[26]‘Induction: Qualitative Requirements’, Shodhganga.

[27]GulPanag “If Women Can’t Match Physical Fitness Standards, They Have No Right To Seek Gender Parity In Armed Forces” (Outlook, Mar 9th, 2020).

[28]Soutik Biswas, “India’s soldiers ‘not ready for women in combat” (BBC News, Feb 8th, 2020).

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