It was never about male or female officers—it was a fight for equal rights and the Supreme Court has upheld the right to gender equality in the armed forces as enshrined in Articles 15 and 16 of the Constitution of India. In a benchmark judgment on February 17, the Supreme Court granted parity to women officers with male officers, with respect to consideration for permanent commission and opportunity for command of units based on the selection criteria. The parity granted is only partial, and was restricted to the plea of the litigants as related to terms and conditions of short service commission in the combat support arms, excluding artillery and combat support services. Women are still not at par with their male counterparts with respect to the following rights/opportunities:
- Direct permanent commission into the armed forces through the National Defence Academy after 10+2 and respective service academies after graduation
- Joining fighting arms—infantry/mechanised infantry and armoured corps—and one combat support arm (artillery) in the army
- Service on ships and submarines in the navy (Indian Navy has in principle accepted the proposal subject to women-specific facilities being created)
- Joining special forces
- Enrolment as soldiers, sailors and airmen, i.e. as personnel below officer rank (Indian Army has made a small beginning with enrolment of 100 soldiers in the Corps of Military Police in December 2019)
The battle for absolute and rightful gender parity for women in the armed forces is going to be tough and long drawn. The patriarchal military is likely to give no quarter and none should be asked. Having been born and brought up in the army, I have had first-hand experience of this attitude. There is no doubt that officers and soldiers respect women literally to a fault, but complete with exemplary chivalry, this respect is similar to the attitude of condescending gallant knights on white horses rescuing damsels in distress. Back in 1992, the military had granted short service commission to women officers after government intervention, primarily to maintain a veneer of gender equality in the armed forces, and no more. While the armed forces grudgingly accepted women officers due to their meritorious performance, further reforms for gender parity were scuttled based on untenable arguments of relative differences in physiology, rigours of military service, lack of infrastructure for women in the field and, above all, the perceived cultural non-acceptance of women commanders by soldiers.