It was in March 2010 that the Delhi High Court struck a definitive blow for the claim of women to be granted permanent commission in India's armed forces beyond the traditional medical branches. Three years down the line, as the matter remains on appeal before the Supreme Court for final orders, the armed forces seem to be still holding themselves back as one man from going ahead wholeheartedly to do the just, fair and right thing. Following the High Court order, the Navy and the Air Force agreed to grant women permanent commission posts, but the Army rushed to the Supreme Court to challenge the decision on the grounds that such a step could create operational difficulties. Even if one were to accept the argument that in the Indian context, women are not yet ready for full-combat roles — some armed forces elsewhere have gone the distance — there are surely a number of other areas in which women could contribute their potential. Defence Minister A.K. Antony has time and again gone on record that he favours the opening up of more and more streams of the armed forces to women. But that policy prescription seems to remain largely on paper and the needed momentum has not been built up. Just recently, he merely restated that Short Service Commission women officers were eligible to join the Judge Advocate General branch, the Army Education Corps and corresponding branches in the Navy, as naval instructors, and the Air Force, in the accounts branch. But he remained silent on the demand for a categorical across-the-board decision to recognise women's capabilities and their commitment to a full-fledged career, on a par with men, in the different branches of the three services.

As the Delhi High Court pointed out in 2010, grant of permanent commission without any caveats whatsoever is not “charity being sought by women officers but enforcement of their constitutional rights.” The court, rightly enough, found the situation to be discriminatory. At last count (November 2011) the Army had just 1,055 women short service commission officers, while the Air Force had 936 — and both figures were lower than in the previous year. The number for the Navy, a mere 288, was marginally higher than in the previous year. There is a case not only to step up these, but also to increase the overall percentage of women at all levels of the armed forces. Rather than having to be prodded every step of the way, the government should show the requisite level of sensitivity on the issue of granting permanent commission to women officers in more non-combat streams and end a patently iniquitous situation.

More In: Editorial | Opinion