Women army officers battle in court for equality

May 4th, 2009 - 3:39 pm ICT by IANS  

By Kanu Sarda
New Delhi, May 4 (IANS) Major Leena Grover will have to quit the army in August. She doesn’t have a choice. As a woman, she’s entitled to just 14 years in service. But over 20 serving and retired women army officers are fighting a battle in the Delhi High Court to change this.

“A man can be re-employed as an officer after completing his service but a woman officer is not given this weightage; so her options are limited,” said Rekha Palli, counsel for Leena Grover and the other women fighting the case.

“Due to the economic downturn, I had no choice but to sit at home after leaving the army. Corporate houses don’t value army experience much,” Sandhya Yadav, who retired as a major in April, told IANS.

Since women officers retire after 14 years of service, they are not eligible for pension and other retirement benefits. In contrast, men officers normally serve till the age of 54. However, if they are promoted to the rank of brigadier they serve till 56, which is extended to 58 if promoted to major general.

“I just don’t understand government rules and policies. But I believe that the court will come to our rescue and give us justice. I am now fighting for the coming generation,” said Yadav.

When the case was last heard, the court criticised the government for not being serious about ensuring gender equality among the armed forces and sought an explanation why women were not being granted permanent commission.

“On one hand the government talks about women’s empowerment and reservation, and on the other hand it expresses reservation in giving equal opportunity in the armed forces. The government’s response does not gel with its policy,” Justice Sanjay Kishan Kaul said while asking the additional solicitor general to appear before it May 18.

Women were first allowed in the army in 1992. In 2005, the army explained its policy of limiting the service for women to 14 years.

“The background of our troops who hail from rural areas with fixed concepts of women had to be considered at the time of induction of women as officers into the army. Grant of permanent commission would result in placing women officers as commanding officers of units, which was considered inappropriate,” the army said in an affidavit filed in the high court.

In September last year, the government did revise the rules and decided to give women the same tenure as men. But this applies only to new recruits and not those already in service.

“There could be various ramifications which the government has to consider. The financial implications, seniority in the army, the effect on the male counterparts who have gone through a lot of other drills to get permanent commission that these women have not,” said Dalip Mehra, counsel for the army.

“Over 1,000 serving women officers will retire after 14 years of service despite the change in rules,” said Palli.

The matter next comes up for hearing May 18, but by then an entire batch of women officers would have retired - not by choice. But these women say they will continue to fight this battle. For them, it’s not about personal gains, it’s about equality and fairness.

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