Smooth sail for women

Supreme Court grants permanent commission to women officers in the Navy

In its continuing effort to foster gender neutrality in the Indian defence forces, the Supreme Court granted permanent commission to women officers serving in the Indian Navy, just a month after it ruled in favour of the same right to women officers in the Army. This means that an officer is entitled to serve in the Navy till he/she retires unlike the 10 year short-service commission (SSC), which can at best be extended to 14 years. Incidentally, in a reflection of the age-old biases in the military, male officers were entitled to both short service and permanent commissions. Ruling that both men and women officers should be treated equally in the defence forces, the apex court ordered that serving woman officers’ applications for permanent commission should be considered within three months, with increments. However, the court said that the consideration would be based on the availability of vacancies, which might leave the door open for those in power to stymie efforts by serving women officers to bridge the gender gap.

The apex court’s decision will end a discriminatory policy that was unfair to women officers on two levels. First, the move will give women the same rights and perks as male officers. So far, not only were they losing out on career opportunities because of the discriminatory practice, they had also been deprived of pension because of the forced SSC. This is because to be eligible for pension in the armed forces, one requires a minimum of 20 years of service. Second, it will go a long way in opening up career opportunities for women who are already serving in the Navy. Till now, according to a skewed policy decision taken by the Centre in 2008 which defied all logic, permanent commission was allowed prospectively to women officers, but denied to serving ones. The Navy has long been a male preserve and in the seafaring universe women have always been unwelcome. Worldwide for centuries, having a woman on board a ship was taboo. Even now, though the global shipping industry has been penetrated by women where the land offices are concerned, the number of women employees onboard ships is a minuscule two per cent. And women Captains have mostly been accepted in the civil cruise industry. Fact is, women officers, with their multi-tasking abilities, may turn out better in running close unit operations. On Tuesday, too, the Supreme Court tore into the flimsy excuse of unavailability of washrooms for women in the Indian Navy’s Russian-made ships and alleged “physiological limitations of woman officers” saying it was a clear “case of gender stereotypes” when “women can sail with same efficiency as male officers.” We must not confine women sailors to tokenisms like the 2017 Navika Sagar Parikrama where a six-member all-woman military team had sailed to circumnavigate the globe and covered more than 21,600 nautical miles. The court should not be reminding us of a mindset change in the evolutionary flow of changing times, we should execute changes ourselves.

The Pioneer

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