Historically, there have been many instances of women leading armies and trumping their enemies with well-thought strategies. In India, one of the most famous warriors was Rani Laxmibai of Jhansi, who was part of the 1987 Rebellion Movement and died on the battlefield. Even in the Tamilian Hindu mythology, Korravai is celebrated and worshipped as the goddess of war. Yet, in the Indian Armed Forces, women weren’t allowed to hold command positions, until the recent landmark judgement by the Supreme Court.
On 17th February 2020, the SC ruled that Women Short Service Commission Officers in the Indian Army are eligible for permanent commission and command posts, irrespective of how many years they have served in the force and within three months to all those who opted for it.
Previously, the Centre had cited various reasons for disallowing women to hold command positions and has been heavily criticized by many as stereotyping on the basis of gender by reinforcing domesticity as the mark of a woman. An excerpt from the judgement of the Secretary, Ministry of Defence vs. Babita Puniya & Ors., which was chaired by Justices D Y Chandrachud and Ajay Rastogi:
“The submission note of the Union of India has spoken of “physiological limitation” on the employability of women officers “accentuated by the challenges of confinement, motherhood and childcare”. Finally, the note portends the PART C 25 dangers of a woman officer being captured by the enemy and becoming a prisoner of war.”
This move is not only helpful to the women who are currently working in the various departments under the Ministry of Defence but to those girls who are still in school aspiring to become strong, visionary leaders and dream of a future in the armed forces. The segregation of genders by virtue of physical strength is prejudiced and supports the regressive attitude of viewing women as the weaker sex.
In the Indian Army, the first time a woman was given positions of combat was in 1992, prior to which they were restricted to the medical field. In the judgement delivered by the SC, the bench of Justices mentioned that:
“The counter-affidavit contains a detailed elaboration of the service which has been rendered by women SSC officers to the cause of the nation, working shoulder to shoulder with their male counterparts. Yet, that role is sought to be diluted by the repeated pleas made before this Court that women, by the nature of their biological composition and social milieu have a less important role to play than their male counterparts. Such a line of submission is disturbing as it ignores the solemn constitutional values which every institution in the nation is bound to uphold and facilitate. Women officers of the Indian Army have brought laurels to the force.”
The judgement passed by the SC delivers home the statement that women are not confined to orthodox roles of the caretaker and are much more than physical limitations that restrict them from being equal to their male counterparts. It is more than female empowerment – it is a big step to eradicating the patriarchal mindset of our society.