No toilets? No excuse: India's top court orders gender equality in navy

by Annie Banerji | @anniebanerji | Thomson Reuters Foundation
Tuesday, 17 March 2020 16:31 GMT

ARCHIVE PHOTO: Indian Navy sailors are reflected in a puddle as they take part in a ceremonial parade during the Republic Day celebrations in the southern Indian city of Kochi January 26, 2012. Image has been rotated 180 degrees. REUTERS/Sivaram

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The government had argued that women could not be sailors because there were no separate bathrooms on ships

By Annie Banerji

NEW DELHI, March 17 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - India's top court on Tuesday ordered the navy to treat male and female officers equally, rejecting the government's argument that women could not be sailors because there were no separate bathrooms on ships as "illusory".

The Supreme Court also instructed the government to give all women officers permanent contracts with the same benefits as men, including arrears, promotions and pensions, in a move towards gender parity in the traditionally male sphere.

The government had defended its policy of only allowing women to work for a maximum of 14 years in most branches of the navy by saying that sea-sailing duties were ill-suited for women officers as there was no return to the base, unlike in the army.

"In vessels of a Russian origin which are deployed by the Indian Navy, no provision has been made for women as sailors and there are no bathrooms to accommodate them," said the judgment, summarising the government's submission to the court.

The Supreme Court rejected this argument.

"(The government's) reasons are illusory and without any foundation ... it is impossible to countenance a submission that women cannot sail alongside men," the landmark ruling said.

"A 101 excuses are no answer to the constitutional entitlement to dignity, which attaches to every individual irrespective of gender, to fair and equal conditions of work and to a level playing field."

India, with one of the largest armies in the world, began recruiting women to non-medical positions in its defence forces in 1992. Women make up about 7% of the navy's nearly 70,000 personnel, government data shows.

Tuesday's ruling followed a similar one in February, when the Supreme Court ordered the more than 1 million-strong army to give women equal opportunities and benefits. The army had argued that many male soldiers could not accept women being in command.

The court granted pension benefits to retired women officers who had not been given permanent commission in the navy.

(Reporting by Annie Banerji @anniebanerji, Additional reporting by Suchitra Mohanty, Editing by Katy Migiro; Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers the lives of people around the world who struggle to live freely or fairly. Visit

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