Occasions that see military displays, like the Republic Day parade, for instance, invoke the greatest sense of pride and prestige to everyone who is a spectator. Seeing a lady in uniform fills me with incomparable joy, perhaps because women have played such crucial roles in my life- strong, independent women, both personally and professionally. Women have been role models for me as far as I can remember. My mother has been one of the two people I so adore and revere, I could do anything to be a hundredth of the person that she is- driven, dedicated, and unwavering towards her goals, with endless love to give. She is the epitome of power. Every woman is. We associate the same values with the Army, do we not? Power and passion, and boundless love for the country.
Anyway, coming to the point now, women in the uniformed forces currently stride shoulder-to-shoulder with their male counterparts, earlier not so much, for a dearth of opportunities took that away. Recently, the government approved permanent commission for lady officers in the Indian Army. This is nothing short of path-breaking because the journey treaded to reach this stage, has been nothing short of miraculous. Deserving lady officers have had to fight for the very basic of rights- the right to equality as guaranteed by the Constitution- for years.
The first course of lady officers passed out from the Officers’ Training Academy, Chennai in 1992, with a five-year cap on enrolment, thereby making it a ‘very’ Short Service Commission that was being granted to them. However, in December 1996, this cap was removed and the tenure of female officers inducted in 1992, 1993 and 1996 was extended by another five years from 1997. The retired officers were without pension benefits and medical coverage which officers with permanent commission would be otherwise entitled to. In 2003, Babita Puniya, a practicing advocate, filed a writ petition before the Delhi High Court for the grant of permanent commission to women officers. It was unfair considering how these women gave their prime to the Army, only to be shown the door later.
In the year 2005, the tenure of Short Service Commission officers (both male and female) was extended to 14 years, and subsequent promotions were to be granted to them in line with those of Permanent Commission officers. However, women were never included in the clause which allowed SSC gentlemen officers to convert to Permanent Commission based on their willingness and merit. In 2006, Major Leena Gaurav filed a writ petition challenging the terms and conditions of service imposed by circulars along with the issue of permanent commission. As a consequence of this, the Defence Ministry approved Permanent Commission for lady officers in Judge Advocate General and Army Education Corps. This restricted move was challenged in the same year by Major Sandhya Yadav, in the Delhi High Court. In 2010, a decision came through in favour of lady officers. However, this was challenged by the government in the Supreme Court, in July 2010. The Supreme Court upheld the Delhi High Court’s order, making it binding on the Centre to abide by the judgement. The judgement was appealed in 2011, but the earlier order was upheld.
In February 2019, an order was issued by the Centre, granting permanent commission to lady officers in all 10 combat support and service arms, but prospectively. There were no clear-cut guidelines as to whether this order would be applicable to officers already serving. These issues were raised in the case of Secretary, Ministry of Defence V. Babita Puniya & Ors. It was held that the discriminative policy adopted by the government was violative of Article 14, and was “based on sex stereotypes premised on assumptions about socially ascribed roles of gender which discriminate against women”. The Centre was asked to consider all Short Service Commission officers for grant of Permanent Commission within three months.
Following this, a ‘Special No. 5 Selection Board 2020’ was constituted to screen eligible officers for grant of PC based on their general fitness and Annual Confidential Reports (ACRs). Orders were issued with guidelines. Despite all the years spent in litigation, the element of discrimination did not just disappear. Women officers’ physical fitness was tested at their current age, although suitably adapted, whereas their male counterparts had the same checks either 10 or 14 years into their service, if and when they chose to opt for PC.
This indirect discrimination was again challenged by Lt Col Nitisha in 2021, as women officers in their 40s were required to be at par with their male counterparts aged 20-30, in terms of physical fitness. The Apex Court held that the Centre was exercising indirect discrimination which prima facie seemed fair, but worked to ensure that an already disadvantaged group continued to be on worse footing. These are highly discriminatory and were not a true reflection of the service picture of those officers. In this case, the doors to command appointments and further promotions were thrown open to women short-service commission officers. Women officers were also deemed eligible for all career courses, such as the Junior and Senior Command courses, necessary to hold critical appointments. Lady officers were also deemed eligible to hold staff appointments- a move is bound to broaden their career prospects and diversify their job profile.
In October 2021, the first batch of 39 women was granted Permanent Commission, a testimony to their service and a fruit of all the tribulations faced by their forerunners.
Just a month before this, the Supreme Court passed an order permitting girls to appear for the National Defence Academy exam, paving another way for them to be granted Permanent Commission. This judgement was a response to the writ petition filed by Advocate Kush Kalra. The first batch of 19 girls- six for the Air Force and three for the Navy- will join the National Defence Academy, Khadakwasla in June 2022, to train in a ‘gender neutral’ manner, along with their male counterparts.
Later in the same month, following the directives of the Supreme Court, the doors for Rashtriya Indian Military College (RIMC) and Rashtriya Military School (RMS) were thrown open to girls by the Ministry of Defence. The total vacancies shall be increased from 250 to 300, by admitting five girls each month.
This timeline is just a brief of the struggles that women and girls went through for their very basic rights. Here is to hoping that the nation starts the recognise the embers of commitment, dedication and enthusiasm, that are just waiting to be fanned by opportunities they have been historically deprived of. Per aspera ad astra.
 WP (C) 1597 of 2003
 Major Sandhya Yadav & Ors. V. Union of India (2010) WP (C) 9028 of 2008 (High Court of Delhi)
 Secretary, Ministry of Defence v. Babita Puniya and Ors., (2020) 7 SCC 469
 Lt Col Nitisha v. Union of India and Ors., Writ Petition (Civil) 1109 of 2020
 Kush Kalra v. Union of India, Writ Petition(s) (Civil) No.1416 of 2020
 Express News Service, NDA Gearing Up To Admit First Batch Of 19 Girl Cadets, Training In ‘Gender Neutral’ Manner, https://indianexpress.com/article/cities/pune/nda-gearing-up-admit-first-batch-19-girl-cadets-training-gender-neutral-manner-7831541/
This article has been written by Sakshi, IInd year