When I was a child (late eighties/nineties), we often used to fantasize about how life and society will be in the 21st century. We would dreamily talk about space travels, atomic energies, water being utilized as an alternate resource of energy and flying cars, mobile phones, etc. We presumed that society would develop and adopt a progressive path of equality and banish the differences based on age-old myths and regressive traditions. Women will be treated as equal partners to men in all the fields, and the number of inter-caste marriages would increase manifold. Thus, we dreamt of a progressive, open-minded and dynamic society in the making in the years of the 21st century.
It’s February 2020, and we are now adults. However, the 21st century doesn’t seem anything closer to what we imagined during our childhood. A piece of news caught my attention and made me think seriously if as a nation or society, are we really progressing with time?
I was pained to read a news report, “The centre has told the Supreme Court that women may not be suitable for command posts in the Army as male troops are not yet prepared to accept women officers“. It also cited “greater family demands and the danger of them being taken prisoner of war to oppose the plea of a few woman officers for command posting after getting the permanent commission. The composition of rank and file being male and predominantly drawn from a rural background, with prevailing societal norms, the troops are not yet mentally schooled to accept women officers in command.”
This regressive piece of news came as a shocker and gave a picture of the stark reality of the kind of societal beliefs that exist when it comes to policy-making. This is still done overlooking the crucial issue of gender inequality in our society. I would like to mention one of the fundamental rights enshrined in the Constitution of India, the Right to Equality (Articles 14–18).
Article 16 assures equality of opportunity in matters of public employment. It prevents the State from any discrimination on the grounds of religion, race, caste, sex, descent, place of birth, residence, etc. This Article also provides the autonomy to the State to grant special provisions for the backward classes, under-represented categories such as SC & ST, for the posts under the State. Local candidates are also given preference is certain posts. The reservation of posts for people of a certain religion or denomination in a religious or denominational institution is not deemed illegal.
In a landmark precedent in C. B. Muthamma vs. Union of India and others (AIR 1868) 1), 17 September 1979, the three appeal judges presented unanimous findings. J.K. Iyer Krishna delivered the two decisions, first commenting that “sex prejudice against the Indian womanhood pervades the service rules even a third of a century after Freedom. There is some basis for the charge of bias in the rules, and this makes the ominous indifference of the executive to bring about the banishment of discrimination in the heritage of service rules. If high officials lose hopes of equal justice under the rules, a legal lot of the little Indian, already priced out of the expensive judicial market, is best left to guess.”
The court then analyzed the individual rules, finding that “If a woman member shall obtain the permission of Government before the marriage, the same risk is run by Government if a male member contracts a marriage. If the family and domestic commitments of a woman member of the service is likely to come in the way of efficient discharge of duties, a similar situation may well arise in the case of a male member… If a married man has a right, a married woman, other things being equal, stands on no worse footing. Freedom is indivisible, so is justice.”
The above reasons stated by the centre before the Honorable Supreme Court are regressive and hurt the very essence of Article 16 of the Indian constitution.
It is a sad scenario that even in the 21st century when women have proved that they are at par in all the fields of employment, they have to face such segregation. It has not even been over a month when the whole country cheered up Captain Tania Sher Gill for leading all-male contingent on the occasion of army parade day on January 15, 2020. Last year, it was Captain Bhavna Kasturu to led the all-male contingent during the Republic day parade.
However, when it comes to delegating and assigning some concrete responsibilities to the female section of employees, our policymakers shy away from addressing the real root cause for such inequality. Instead of providing thorough counseling to such male soldiers who are apparently ‘not socially conditioned’ to accept the female commander, there reasoning is being put up before the law of court. This is a mockery of the spirit of gender equality in our country. The pathetic reality is that it’s not just the coveted and proud service of the Army; the women have to work twice as hard to prove their caliber in every other profession too.
The sick herd mentality of having a ‘no-use male ego’ often propagates the myth that most women secure higher ranks and promotions only because of the sheer reason of being a member of the fairer sex and not based on talent, hard work and professionalism. This myth needs to be busted. Employees and their contributions should be recognized keeping aside the gender they belong to.
Unless we get rid of such a medieval mindset and shrug off the double standards of the patriarchy, we would never achieve any substantial development. Because development is not only a materialistic concept based on higher GDP, industrialization and a strong economy, but its roots lie in the education and the strong and progressive values of the nation and its citizens. I hope that the kind of 21st century we imagined in our childhood does come into existence, with equality and education in all the sectors and with strong willpower to bring the change by those who run the government.