In a historic judgment, the Supreme Court has ruled that all women officers in the army shall be considered for permanent commission and be eligible for command posting on a par with male officers. This is a big step for gender equality in the army and paves the way for women officers being granted superior responsibilities commensurate with their capabilities.
The verdict is a put down of the Centre’s argument that women officers could not be given command posts because the composition of the army was predominantly male and drawn from rural background. It had also cited physiological limitations and family obligations of women officers. But the apex court refuted these grounds and emphasised the need for a change in mindset.
Indeed, women officers have performed admirably in the army and have even led companies and platoons of soldiers – including male soldiers – in the ten combat support arms. Therefore, there’s no reason why they can’t be given independent command of larger formations such as battalions. In fact, in foreign armies too the trend is towards giving women more responsibilities. Apart from Israel, where women soldiers have served in intensive combat roles since 1995, Germany has allowed women in combat since 2001. Australia opened all jobs in its defence forces to women in 2013, and Pakistan inducted its first woman fighter pilot the same year. True, combat roles are still not open to Indian women army officers. But that now women can be full colonels and above in army service corps, ordnance, education corps, judge advocate general, engineers, signals, intelligence, etc is definitely a step in the right direction.
Finally, studies have shown that testosterone – a male hormone – leads to distorted perceptions of the risk-reward ratio in any endeavour. If men are prone to taking irrational risks in war, having all-male armies leads to enhanced possibilities of warfare. Having more women officers in command, including of combat units, would therefore reduce the risk of such warfare – which will have devastating consequences under 21st century conditions. That is where India, and the world, should be headed to.
This piece appeared as an editorial opinion in the print edition of The Times of India.