Women in Armed Forces

Article Title: Women in Armed Forces

28-02-2024

International Relations Current Affairs Analysis

Why is in news? ‘If you don’t, we will’: SC tells Centre to grant permanent commission to women officers in Indian Coast Guard

The Supreme Court told the Centre that denying permanent commission to a woman Coast Guard officer on the ground that it is “functionally different” from the Indian Army and Indian Navy cannot be accepted in today’s times, indicating that the court will step in if the government fails to remedy the situation.

About the case:

A Supreme Court bench led by CJI Chandrachud was hearing the plea of Priyanka Tyagi, a woman officer in the Coast Guard, who was seeking permanent commission to eligible women short-service commission officers of the force.

The bench asked the Central government to ensure that eligible women officers get permanent commission in the Indian Coast Guard.

The bench also asked the Centre to come up with a gender-neutral policy on the issue.

“Women cannot be left out,” Chief Justice of India (CJI) D Y Chandrachud said while asking the Central government to ensure that eligible women officers get permanent commission in the Indian Coast Guard. He further said that if the government does not do so, the Supreme Court will take the necessary steps.

“All these functionality etc argument does not hold water in the year 2024. Women cannot be left out. If you do not do it, we will do it. So take a look at that,” the CJI said.

Tyagi served for 14 years and rose in the ranks from her initial appointment as assistant commandant in 2009 to Commandant (junior grade).

While dealing with her case on February 19, the court had sought the Centre’s response and termed the Centre’s reluctance to see women short service commission officers in Coast Guard to be “patriarchal”.

“The times have gone when you said women cannot be in Coast Guard. If women can guard borders, they can even guard the coasts,” and admonished the Centre for not translating talk of women-empowerment into action.

In February 2020, the top court gave a landmark ruling in Babita Punia judgement paving the way for women short service commission officers to be eligible for permanent commission in non-combat streams of Army and Air Force at par with their male counterparts.

Following this, results of Army selection board, de-classified on November 19, 2020, revealed that out of 615 women SSCOs, only 422 candidates were found fit on merits. This led to the second round of proceedings filed by Army women SSCOs before the top court.

In Lt Col Nitisha v Union of India decided in March 2021, the assessment criteria followed by Army was struck down as discriminatory and based on gender stereotypes.

Relief for woman navy officer, the bench headed by CJI Chandrachud used its extraordinary powers under Article 142 of the Constitution to direct the Indian Navy to constitute a selection board to give a “third look” on the petition by a lady JAG (judge advocate general) SSC officer ex-Commodore Seema Chaudhary.

Indian Coast Guard:

The Indian Coast Guard was established on August 1, 1978, as an armed force of the Union.

Its mission is to protect India’s maritime and national interests within its maritime zones.

It enforces laws related to customs, immigration, poaching, and pollution at sea.

It conducts round-the-year real-life operations at sea, despite being relatively small in size.

The Indian Navy operates globally, while the ICG is restricted to territorial waters extending out to 30 nautical miles from the coast.

The Indian Navy protects Indian ships and ports from external threats, while the ICG enforces maritime laws, ensures safety, and preserves the marine environment within territorial waters.

Permanent Commission:

Permanent Commission means having a long-term job in the Indian armed forces until retirement.

It provides stability and a complete career path within the military.

PC officers can rise through the ranks and attain higher positions.

Short Service Commission:

Short Service Commission (SSC) is a temporary service arrangement in the armed forces.

Officers serving under SSC have a set period of time to serve, usually around 10-14 years.

SSC Officers do not receive pension benefits. This means they do not receive retirement benefits like regular permanent officers.

After completing SSC, officers can choose civilian life or other professions.

Significance of the Permanent Commission for Women:

Gender Equality: Permanent Commission for Women in the Armed Forces removes gender discrimination.

Career Security: It ensures job stability and advancement opportunities, enabling officers to make lasting contributions. It can also grant equal entitlements as men, including pension benefits after 20 years of service.

Fostering Opportunities: Ensures economic opportunities, and improves social conditions, and dignity for women.

Behavioural change in the Society: It can encourage more women to join the Armed Forces, expanding the talent pool and addressing officer shortages.

Reasons for not giving Permanent Commission to Women in the ICG:

Operational and functional Difference: As per ICG,There is a point of functionality difference as the Coast Guard functions differently from the Army and Navy”.

Traditional Gender Roles: Historically, military roles, including those within the Coast Guard, have been predominantly occupied by men due to traditional societal norms and perceptions regarding gender roles.

Incorrect assumptions about physical abilities: There are some arguments that women may lack the necessary physical strength or stamina for specific roles in the Coast Guard. This viewpoint overlooks individual capabilities and unfairly discriminates based on gender.

Safety and Privacy Concerns: There are concerns about the safety, privacy, and insufficient facilities for women in combat environments