Army’s Criteria Arbitrary: SC Okays Permanent Commission for Women

Supreme Court allows permanent commission to women officers, holds application of Shape 1 fitness rule arbitrary.

2 min read
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On Thursday, 25 March, the Supreme Court directed the central government to allow permanent commission to women officers in the armed forces. These women were earlier deprived of the permanent commission due to unequal application of fitness standards.

While announcing a major victory for the women officers in the armed forces, the Bench headed by Justice DY Chandrachud hailed that superficial equality is against the principles of the Constitution. 

Holding the application of Shape-1 fitness criteria for women officers as arbitrary, the court ordered that women officers who were excluded from the permanent commission in November 2020 based on non-compliance with Shape 1 Fitness standards are entitled to continue as permanent commissioned force till they fulfil the fitness criteria needed for continuance in service.

Shape 1 Fitness Rule for Women is Arbitrary

The present order has come in a plea moved by 60 women officers who claimed that despite the Supreme Court’s judgment in the Babita Puniya case, they were denied permanent commission due to arbitrary application of Shape 1 fitness criteria.

At the outset, the court observed that the fitness rule known as Shape 1 criteria was applicable to male officers at the time when they were granted Permanent Commission in the early years of service.

Therefore, the same Shape 1 criteria cannot be applied to women officers who were granted permanent commission only last year pursuant to the Supreme Court's landmark judgment in Secretary Ministry of Defence v. Babita Puniya as they are senior in age.

The court, however, highlighted that the Shape 1 criteria itself is not arbitrary. The discrimination lies only in its application.

“Army says medical category has been applied by taking age related factors into account. However, discrimination and exclusion is there in this application. Similarly aged male PC officers do not have to maintain SHAPE 1 Fitness now when granted PC earlier.”
Supreme Court

Societal Structures Created "By Males for Males"

Defending its decision, the Ministry of Defence had informed the Supreme Court that the government has applied the same rules to male officers as well.

Rejecting this claim of ‘equal standards’ the court said there cannot be “perverse equality” in the armed forces.

The apex court questioned the Army for denying Permanent Commission to the petitioners by requiring them to have the same fitness standards which are mandated for 25-year-old male officers.

The Bench of Justice Chandrachud and Justice MR Shah further held that the Centre's stance was based on gender stereotypes and societal notions on gender roles that men are physically stronger while women are weak and submissive.

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