SC upholds right of women naval officers

At the helm:The court quashed the stipulation making permanent commission for women prospective.K.R. DEEPAK

At the helm:The court quashed the stipulation making permanent commission for women prospective.K.R. DEEPAK  

Bench says denial of permanent commission to SSC personnel reeks of a stereotypical mindset

The Supreme Court on Tuesday upheld the right of serving Short Service Commission (SSC) women officers of the Navy to be granted permanent commission (PC) on a par with their male counterparts.

A Bench of Justices D.Y. Chandrachud and Ajay Rastogi said the “101 excuses” devised by the government, including motherhood and physiological limitations, reeked of a stereotypical mindset.

“The battle for gender equality is about confronting the battles of the mind. In the context of the armed forces, specious reasons have been advanced by decision makers and administrators. They range from physiology, motherhood and physical attributes to the male dominated hierarchies,” Justice Chandrachud observed in a 64-page judgment.

Policy letter

The judgment was based on a case filed by 17 women SSC officers, represented by senior advocate Aishwarya Bhati, who were denied PC and discharged despite completing 14 years of service as SSC officers.

They had challenged a February 26, 2008 policy letter of the government granting PCs to SSC officers in all the three branches of the Armed Forces. However, the offer was restricted to certain categories and was to operate prospectively for the benefit of future batches inducted on SSCs after January 2009.

In a slew of directions, the court quashed the stipulation in the policy letter of September 26, 2008, making permanent commission for women prospective and restricting its application to specified cadres/branches of the Navy. It directed that SSC women officers found suitable for the grant of PC shall be entitled to all consequential benefits, including arrears of pay, promotions and retirement benefits as and when due.

In the judgment, Justice Chandrachud referred to a submission that vessels of a Russian origin are deployed by the Navy and they have no bathrooms for women officers. The court called these submissions both illusory and without any foundation.

“Women officers have worked shoulder to shoulder with their men counterparts in every walk of service. The supposed explanations based on duties at sea or Russian vessels are devices adopted to justify an action which is not germane to the proper discharge of duties and the maintenance of discipline among members of the Armed Forces,” the court said.


It held that such submissions were plainly contrary to the policy letter of February 25, 1999 issued by the Ministry of Defence to the Chief of the Naval Staff, emphatically stipulating that women officers of all branches/cadres could be directed to serve on board ships, both during training and subsequent employment in accordance with the exigencies of service. “In the face of this communication, it is impossible to countenance a submission that women cannot sail alongside men sailors.”

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