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Supreme Court through its landmark ruling for one more time in history has spotlighted the battle of gender equality. And this time it was for the Indian Navy cadres who challenged the bar upon them on promotion to occupy the desired commanding post in the Indian Navy in par with male counterparts. The Supreme Court upheld has followed;

“The statutory bar on the engagement or enrolment of women in the Indian Navy has been lifted, and All SSC officers in the Education, Law, and Logistics cadres who are presently in service shall be considered for the grant of PCs. The right to be considered for the grant of PCs arises from the policy letter dated 25 February 1999 read with Regulation 203 of Chapter IX Part III of the 1963 Regulations. SSC women officers in the batch of cases before the High Court and the AFT, who are presently in service shall be considered for the grant of PCs based on the vacancy position as on the date of judgments of the Delhi High Court and the AFT or as it presently stands, whichever is higher;”

Can the ruling be justified by the equality clause? 

The dawn of the issue was raised when 17 women officers in the Indian Navy who were working for 14 years as Short Service Commissions grieved that, despite having completed 14 years as SSC they weren’t with Permanent Commission post. The background of the case dates back to the policy letter constituted by the Union of India in the Ministry of Defence on 26 September 2008 granting PCs to SSC officers in all the three branches of the Armed Forces. This policy letter was taken in action in the case of Babita Puniya v. Union of India in 2013, but the policy letter suffered a huge ambiguity because of its prospective application on cadres inducted after January 2009. Thus the policy letter lost its implementation for the current issue in action. The later part of the case dealt with the Navy provisions on appointment of women officers in commanding position which showed clear discrimination and also challenged the policy letter dated 26 September 2008, leading to the civil appeal in the Supreme Court of India.

The arguments made by the Government of India in this instance case are as followed;

Mr. Sanjay Jain, appearing on behalf of the Government of India stated that;

  1. Sea-going duties have a disadvantageous situation of no immediate return to base, this distinctive feature would be a greater hindrance for women course of life
  2. The policy made for the commanding position was not entirely restricted as it has exempted Logistics cadre from restriction;   
  3. A spotlight was laid of the practical difficulties to be faced by the women officers if allowed for sea-going, as the Indian Navy substantially operates on vessels of a Russian origin in which toilet facilities are absent for women; and 
  4. There is a possibility of certain branches involving sea-going duties being opened up for women officers on PCs shortly as new ships are introduced into the Naval fleet.

The written submissions limelight as follows;

“There is also a strong contemporaneous rationale for not considering women as sailors in the Indian Navy as the Navy ships of today are not structured nor have the infrastructure to accommodate women sailors alongside men sailors. There are a common barrack and a common bathroom, built as such that no temporary arrangement is possible to be made as they are built on of Russian models where there is no provision made for women as sailors. Navy is endeavoring to create such infrastructure…it emerges that women are kept away from sea-going duties purely on operational grounds and not on the grounds of gender discrimination.”

A survey conducted with the Indian respondents shows that nearly 72 percentile of women still feel that there is a large amount of gender discrimination in the workplace. The Indian Constitution unequivocally stated that Article 15 highly condemns gender discrimination and the prohibition of which is an elaborated fundamental right. Concerning the instance case Article 33 of the Constitution of India which empowers mandating laws for armed forces and encompassing the power to impose restriction and abrogation of fundamental rights to the members of armed forces was also scrutinized by the Supreme Court ruling in the case of  Lt. Col. Prithi Pal Singh Bedi v Union of India, where the court held that “the public interest in the maintenance and preparedness of the Armed Forces of the nation has to be weighed with an equally compelling public interest in balancing the abrogation or restriction of fundamental rights of the officers in the Armed Forces. For this reason, Article 33 specifies that any restriction imposed must be by law and to ensure the proper discharge of their duties and the maintenance of discipline among them”

All the arguments by the Government of India portrayed a clear discriminatory action against the women officers in the armed forces. This discriminatory action cannot be justified as actions to ensure proper discharge of duties and the maintenance of discipline in the forces. Thus it is very clear that the Supreme court ruling on allowing women to hold a commanding position in armed forces is an action of upholding equality in the country.

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