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Bridging gender gap, again!

Bridging gender gap, again!

Give it to the judiciary for sparking the change that society requires; especially the Indian society. For long, the Indian society at large has perceived men to be breadwinners. Even as times changed, the deeply entrenched patriarchal mindset — corroding bit by bit — has curtailed the inclusion of women in roles that men have championed since time immemorial. As inevitable as it may be, our pursuit for equality, however, envisages women thriving in roles that history wouldn't approve. One such role is commanding the Army. Dominated by men in commanding shoes, the Indian Army exudes an air of patriarchy. Even as women began to be inducted in non-medical roles back in 1992, the Indian Army has a meagre presence of women with just 3.8 per cent as of December 2018 (support roles only). Also, women are not allowed to serve in combat units of the Indian Army such as Infantry, artillery and armoured corps. When we speak of equal opportunities, it is important that our understanding of the same cuts across a wide spectrum. If men can hold commanding positions, so should women. The practice of not allowing women to hold commanding positions in the army has perhaps reached its culmination with yesterday's Supreme Court directive. In a judgment authored by Justice DY Chandrachud, the Supreme Court upheld the 2010 Delhi High Court judgment of giving permanent commission and command posts to women officers. It was the government's contempt of court that paved the way for the Supreme Court verdict. What should have happened a decade ago, could not simply because of reluctance in implementation. In fact, it was the government which had appealed to the Supreme Court in the matter of contempt, citing hesitation based on strong stereotypes for women that confine them to domestic obligations. In support of its argument, the government even argued that "troops are not yet mentally schooled to accept women officers in command of units" since they are "predominantly drawn from a rural background". The statement says it all vis-à-vis Indian society. While modern age has established urban centres that may still follow practices of equality, rural settlements largely continue to exude deeply-rooted patriarchy. Though there have been exceptions to the norm in some states, patriarchy is still conveniently evident in general behaviour and parlance. That perhaps explain the government's argument. Yet, it is utterly bereft of constitutional values and human ethics. It is, in fact, regressive on the government's part to counter a positive change with such an argument. While we may continue to have misogynistic episodes in our society, it should be a government's duty to pursue equal opportunities, avidly working to eradicate gender discrimination. A government batting for why women should not rise to the ranks of commanding officers is simply recusing from the responsibility to promote an equal society bereft of discrimination — of any manner — against women. The Supreme Court rightly found the government's argument "deeply disturbing".

Government's argument that only women officers with less than 14 years of service would be considered for permanent commission and that those who had reached 20 years of service would be discharged with pension were dismissed by the Supreme Court. The Court earnestly declared that all serving women officers would be eligible for permanent commission in the Army. It was indeed an account of failure on the government's part to not implement the order in the first place that put deprived many women officers — then eligible for service — from the opportunity. The Court's verdict serves for women joining the ranks of colonel and above in the Army Service Corps, Ordnance, Education Corps, Engineers, Signals, Intelligence and Engineering. Skipping the vestiges of historical discrimination against women, the judiciary has finally widened the roles for women to occupy in the army. Not only does this move serves for all women aspiring to rise high in army ranks but will help penetrate equality in the grassroots. Going by the government's logic that soldiers are not yet mentally schooled to accept women in commanding positions, the verdict will serve well to eliminate such discriminatory notions. If there is a requirement to unlearn a regressive notion and widen the scope of perception, then the same should be done without hesitation. Lingering in a limbo of backwardness does not help forge a forward path. It only allows for a prolonged stay in the same backwardness. Women empowerment has to be comprehensive. The day women stand shoulder-to-shoulder with men in all walks of life, humankind will achieve equality in all measures. Judgments like these are small steps to the larger goal of equality that our Constitution observes and protects. It will serve the cause better if governments drive society towards the same rather than countering forces that do so on their behalf. Proactive policymaking that envisages equality in all spheres should be a government's responsibility. Judicial intervention highlights executive and legislative failure. And, twice in the span of a decade is just regrettable.

(Image from indiatoday.in)

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