Women can sit for the NDA (National Defence Academy) admission exam - which has been rescheduled for November 14 - the Supreme Court said Wednesday afternoon in a landmark interim order that could allow more women to serve in India's armed forces.
The court slammed a "mindset problem" when it comes to equal service opportunities for men and women in the country's armed forces, and warned the government "you better change". The court also expressed hope that today's interim order would persuade the Army to initiate that change of its own accord, rather than be forced to do so because of a directive from the judiciary.
"This is a mindset problem. You (the government) better change it... don't force us to pass orders," the top court said, adding, "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 endeavour is to persuade the Army to do things itself... We would prefer if the Army did somethings itself, rather than us passing orders," the top court added.
A division bench of Justice SK Kaul and Justice Hrishikesh Roy also expressed displeasure over women being denied equal opportunities despite its other verdicts on the matter, including a ruling by Justice DY Chandrachud and Justice Ajay Rastogi in February last year.
"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!" a displeased Justice Kaul asked of the Additional Solicitor General.
The government had argued that its recruitment policy was not discriminatory and that there were a wide number of ways in which women could apply.
Additional Solicitor General Aishwarya Bhati was also quoted as saying, "... there is a different kind of training" and claimed that "ultimately it (the barring of women) is a matter of national security".
The top court has said the final hearing in this matter will be held three days later - September 8.
The court was responding to a petition that argued that the categorical exclusion of eligible female candidates from the NDA was unconstitutional and done entirely on the basis of their sex.
Men recruited through the NDA exam are presently granted permanent commission in India's armed forces; women candidates, currently however, are recruited as Short Service Commission Officers before being considered for a permanent commission at a later stage of their careers.
Last year - in a watershed moment - the Supreme Court said women officers in the Army could get command positions and permanent commissions on par with men. The court slammed the government's "discriminatory" and "disturbing" arguments, which it said were based on stereotype.
The government had then said "troops are not yet mentally schooled to accept women officers in command of units" since they are "predominantly drawn from a rural background".
"To cast aspersions on gender is an affront to their dignity and to the country. Time has come that women officers are not adjunct to their male counterparts," the court replied, adding, "Physiological features of women have no link to their rights. The mindset must change."