Ex-Serviceman is now Ex-Service Member : Ordered High Court

The term Ex-serviceman is not gender-neutral : Ordered High Court

Recently,The Punjab and Haryana HC has issued notice to the central government on a pet­ition filed by a former woman of­ficer of the Indian Army seeking directions that the term “ex-ser­viceman” be replaced by gender-neutral and gender-inclusive terms such as “ex-service mem­bers” or “ex-service personnel”, reports Ajay Sura. Her main contention is that she is a woman, and thus former woman officers like herself should not be called ex-servicemen.

The plea has been filed by former Army Woman Officer Captain Sukhjit Pal Kaur Sanewal, one of the Indian Army’s earliest woman officers. She has prayed before the court for replacing the term “ex-serviceman” with gender-neutral and inclusive alternatives such as “ex-service members” or “ex-service personnel.”

Captain Sanewal highlighted that women have been integral to the Indian Army, serving as nurses and doctors in the initial years and later in various arms and services since the 1990s. Women have even held command appointments, she noted. It is also notable that Girls are being enrolled in the Indian Army in other ranks / agniveer cadre. The similar situation will be raised after retirement of the lady soldiers also.

The petitioner has mentioned that despite this, all former army officers and Jawans  are still consistently referred to as “ex-service man” or “ex-service men” in government policies and schemes. Captain Sanewal argued that this practice not only leads to mis-gendering but also appears outdated and reinforces gender stereotypes.

“While much progress has been made in opening up military roles for women, the continued use of gendered language remains a significant, yet easy to remove stumbling block, to a more inclusive environment in the defence services. The Petitioner is obviously not a man, and is a woman, hence there should be no occasion to call the Petitioner or any other women officer an ‘Ex-Serviceman.’ Yet, the Identity Card of the Petitioner addresses her with the male gender, which is incongruous,” the petition said.

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In natural rules, use of words ‘men’ or ‘man’ in the titles such as “ex-serviceman’” or “ex-servicemen” is discriminatory, outdated, against the very principle of equality and ultimately against the Constitution of India, the plea added. A division bench comprising acting Chief Justice Ritu Bahri  and Justice Nidhi Gupta, issued the notice on the plea filed by Captain Sukhjit Pal Kaur Sanewal (Retd), who was among the initial Short Service Commission woman officers in the Army.

She said while women were al­ways a part of the Army as nurs­es and doctors, they have also been serving in other arms and services since the 1990s, and now are even holding command ap­pointments after judgments to this effect by HCs and the SC. However, former women officers continued to be referred to as “ex-serviceman” and “ex-service­men” in government policies and schemes, she said.

Advocates Navdeep Singh, Apoorva Pushkarna and Akanksha Duvedi represented the petitioner, Captain Sanewal. On behalf of Union of India, Additional Solicitor General Sat Pal Jain and Advocate Shivani represented.

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