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A win for women in India's military


After almost a decade, India’s Supreme Court has ordered the national government to grant permanent commission and command positions to women officers on par with men.

It means women in the armed forces can now assume the post of colonel, brigadier, major-general, lieutenant general, and chief-of-army-staff and be eligible for the same benefits and pensions as their male colleagues regardless of their years of service or whether they are retired.

Female officers have long campaigned for this change, which will allow them to serve a full tenure and achieve a higher rank, with improved salary and leadership potential. Currently, women are inducted into the army through short service commissions, which only permit them to serve for 10 to 14 years.

The Supreme Court argued the government's case was based on discriminatory gender stereotypes.

Although the Delhi High Court had approved equal treatment for female officers in 2010, the central government attempted to overturn the ruling by arguing women were not eligible for promotion or intelligence positions because of their “physiological limitations”. “Women officers must deal with pregnancy, motherhood, and domestic obligations towards their children and families and may not be well suited to the life of a soldier in the armed forces,” it had argued, according to CNN.

In handing down its verdict, the Supreme Court said, "The time has come for a realisation that women officers in the army are not adjuncts to a male-dominated establishment whose presence must be 'tolerated' within narrow confines. Physiological features of women have no link to their rights. The mindset must change. To cast aspersion on gender is an affront to their dignity and to the country.”

"This change will lift up women — not just in the army but all girls across the country and the world," said Lt. Col. Seema Singh to reporters after the court ruling.

Though the court's ruling does not permit women to serve in army combat units, such as the infantry or artillery corps, they are now eligible to command entire battalions or head the intelligence department. Aishwary Bhati, one of the lawyers representing female officers, said the government had denied women a route to leadership positions. "It is not about money, it is about career prospects."

The government has three months to implement the ruling.

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