Feb 26, 2022

Permanent Commission for women army officers: Still a long way to go

The Supreme Court has said that the Indian army’s evaluation criteria for granting permanent commission for women officers is arbitrary and irrational. The Court recognized that societal structures have been created by men and for men. When the law itself is structured towards a male standpoint, the court cannot apply it as it is to women, and adjustments are necessary to rebuild the structures of an equal society. 


The Court also said that these adjustments and amendments are not concessions for a category of people, but are remedies to compensate the years of suppression of opportunities which should have been granted to women.


Why is Permanent Commission important?

Permanent commission (PC) allows officers to serve in the armed forces till they retire. This is different from Short Service Commission (SSC), which is for a specific period of 10 or 14 years.


Were women army officers always eligible to apply for PC?

No. It was only on February 17, 2020 that the Supreme Court said that women SSC officers are also eligible to get PC in the Army, which was previously only granted to male officers. In its judgement, the Court criticised societal stereotypes that discriminate against women based on gender. 


The Court criticised the denial of PC based on flawed reasons of physiological differences between men and women, which portray women as the weaker sex. The Court held that differentiating women’s abilities based on gender is against the fundamental right of equality and dignity under the Constitution.


Why was the judgement a step towards equality in the army?

Due to the judgement:

  • Women serving as SSC officers are eligible for the grant of PC.
  • Women SSC officers can apply for PC after the same period of service as male officers. 
  • Women officers on SSC who don’t want to be considered for PC, or who do not get PC, can continue in service till their term comes to an end, or till they reach the age of pensionable retirement. 
  • At the stage of opting for PC, women officers also have all the choices for specialisation on the same terms as male SSC officers.
  • Consequential benefits including promotion and financial benefits are available to SSC women officers who get PC.


What is the way forward?

The Supreme Court said that selective evaluation and improper implementation of the medical fitness criterion discriminates against SSC women officers and the pattern of evaluation causes economic and psychological harm to them.


The Court invalidated the army’s administrative practice of measuring women SCC officers against the lowest ranked male officers in their batch. It said that all women officers with the required 60% cut-off grade can get permanent commission, subject to medical criteria and disciplinary clearance.