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How women Army officers won a crucial battle, thanks to SC

Threatened with contempt action, Army agreed to grant PC to eligible women officers

16-Officers-celebrating (File) Officers celebrating the February 2020 Supreme Court verdict that granted permanent commission for women in the Indian Army

Friday turned out to be a historic day for women Army officers in their fight against the “systemic discrimination” in selecting candidates for permanent commissioning.

Threatened with contempt action over non-compliance of its earlier orders, the Indian Army on Friday agreed to grant Permanent Commission (PC) to all of its eligible women officers, that is, those who had qualified on merit and had no disciplinary or vigilance clearance pending against them.

“We are holding Army guilty of contempt of court. We are putting you on guard. Since you have not complied with our orders you will have to face the consequences. The Army may be supreme in its own authority but this Constitution court is also supreme in its own jurisdiction,” the apex court said.

The Army said that of the 36 Women Short Service Commission Officers (WSSCO) in the force, who filed the contempt petition, it has granted PC to 22 officers while 14 were not considered fit including three on medical ground.

But it was forced to relent after the warning by the bench of Justices D.Y. Chandrachud and A.S. Bopanna.

In September, THE WEEK had reported on the fight of the women officers against the "systemic discrimination" by the Army. Even women officers who were awarded the prestigious commendation card by the Army chief, were denied permanent commissioning.

Women officers in the Army, who form only 2.5 per cent of the entire force, were allowed to join only under the short service commission (SSC) and could serve only up to 14 years. In a landmark judgement on February 17, 2020, the Supreme Court ruled that all women officers should be considered for command roles and are eligible for permanent commission.

Two years ago, during his Independence Day speech, Prime Minister Narendra Modi had said that women officers recruited under the short service commission would be allowed to take up permanent commission. He described it as a "gift" to the "brave daughters", but it took the apex court again to actually deliver the gift.

After the apex court verdict in February last year, the Army conducted the selection board in November. Out of 615 eligible women officers, only 277 were granted permanent commission in the first lot; 147 more were approved after the court intervened in March 2021. Among the rest, the results of 72 women officers—who had crossed the cut-off mark of 60 per cent in the selection board—were withheld citing “weak” or adverse remarks in their annual confidential records. The officers claimed that these adverse comments were never communicated to them by their superiors during service.

Twenty-eight officers were found unfit as they scored less than the cut-off marks. Eighty-six officers voluntarily withdrew from the race and five were rejected on disciplinary grounds. In July, the Army filed a clarification in the Supreme Court explaining the grounds on which the selection board had rejected the 72 officers.

With the direction of the Supreme Court today, 68 of the 71 WSSCOs will be granted the permanent commission. One officer had opted to quit. Three officers were found medically unfit.


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