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Implement it, observes SC after govt says women should go far ahead of men

Women should not just strive to equal men but go far ahead of them, Solicitor General Tushar Mehta told the Supreme Court on Wednesday.

This comes just a day after a written note of the government, represented by Mr. Mehta, in the Supreme Court, cast doubts about women officers matching up to men in physical prowess and their ability to take command posts in the Army.

“Why do women strive to be equal to men when they are and can be far ahead of them?” Mr. Mehta told a Bench of Justices D.Y. Chandrachud and Ajay Rastogi during an urgent mentioning.

“We would like to see the government implement that,” Justice Chandrachud responded.

The Bench said a will and a change of mindset on the part of the government would definitely see women officers rise to command posts in the Army. There were many services in addition to combat posts.

The note containing the government’s views on permanent commission for women officers in the Army has raised eyebrows.

It said the “physiological limitations” of women officers, lower physical standards of women officers compared to men, prolonged absence due to pregnancy, children’s education, husband’s career prospects, etc, were great challenges for women officers to meet the exigencies of service.

‘A way of life’

“Profession of arms is not just a profession but a way of life beyond the call of duty,” the note said. Family separation, career prospects of spouses, education of children, prolonged absence due to pregnancy, motherhood were a greater challenge for women to meet the exigencies of service.

Besides, the note stated, the “composition of rank and file being male predominantly drawn from the rural background with prevailing societal norms, troops are not yet mentally schooled to accept women officers in command of units”. It explained that “a soldier relies heavily on his physical prowess to engage in combat”.

It said, “Officers have to lead from the front. They should be in prime physical condition to undertake combat tasks. Inherent physiological differences between men and women preclude equal physical performance resulting in lower physical standards. Physical capacity of women officers in the Indian Army remain a challenge for command of units.”

‘Peculiar dynamics’

Army units were a “unique all-male environment”. Presence of women officers would require “moderated behaviour”. Thus, the posting of women officers in all-male units had its own “peculiar dynamics”, it noted.

It highlighted the environmental and physiological realities of Army posting; the difficult terrains, isolated posts and adverse climate conditions coupled with the internal security situations in the North East and Jammu and Kashmir. “These conditions have a major bearing on the employment of women officers in light of their physiological conditions accentuated by the challenges of confinement, motherhood and childcare,” it said.

Changed battlefield environment, hybrid nature of warfare composing of non-linear battlefields and counter-insurgency operations have also been quoted as reasons against bringing women officers to the frontline.

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