For years, Indian women have been denied to take NDA exam in the country. Candidates recruited through this exam are presently granted permanent commission in the Indian armed forces unlike women, who are recruited as short service commission officers before being considered for a permanent commission at a more advanced stage in their career.
However, the Supreme Court passed a landmark interim order on 18th August, allowing women candidates to appear for the exam. “Don’t do tokenism. Why do you need the judiciary to pass orders every time?” asked the Supreme Court rhetorically.
The judgement has come in response to a PIL. The PIL argued that there is no constitutional justification for categorically excluding eligible female candidates from entering the NDA. It further articulated that such elimination is based entirely on the irrelevant grounds of sex.
The bench comprising Justices Sanjay Kishan Kaul and Hrishikesh Roy lamented about the “mindset problem” which does not grant equal opportunities to men and women in the armed forces. “This is a mindset problem. You (the government) better change it… don’t force us to pass orders”, the court said. It further added, “This policy decision is based on gender discrimination. We direct the respondents to take a constructive view of the matter in view of the judgement of this court.”
The court also slammed the Indian army for its inaction in ensuring equality. “The endeavour is to persuade the Army to do things itself… We would prefer if the Army did some things itself, rather than us passing orders,” the court remarked.
Justice Kaul also pulled the army up for a passive response to permanent commission judgement. This judgement was passed in March by a bench of Justices D.Y. Chandrachud and M.R. Shah. It asked the government to make certain that women short-service officers get permanent commission in the Army, including command postings. “Why are you continuing in this direction? Even after Justice Chandrachud’s judgement expanding the horizons and extending Permanent Commission in the Army to women? This is unfounded… We are finding it absurd!”, Justice Kaul asked of the Additional Solicitor General.
The govt. retorted saying that its recruitment procedure was not discriminatory as women could apply through a wide number of other passages. Additional Solicitor General Aishwarya Bhati defended the exclusion of women from NDA by saying, “ultimately it (the omission of women) is a matter of national security”.
Responding to this, the bench said “We will also normally like to leave it to you to decide the manner of implementation but we cannot let you create a bar against women. Don’t make the judiciary intervene every time. Do it yourself rather than inviting orders from the court. You must accept the broad principles of gender neutrality and then structure it in your peculiar set up”.
The SC has also asked the UPSC (Union Public Service Commission), to form a suitable corrigendum notification for the order. September 5 is the scheduled date for this year’s NDA exam. However, the court clarified that the results of the examination will be subject to the final verdict on the matter.