In a recent development, the Punjab & Haryana High Court made a significant move by addressing a plea that urges the Union government to adopt gender-inclusive language while referring to former members of the defense services. The plea specifically targets the terminology “Ex-service man” currently used and emphasizes the need for a more gender-neutral approach within various schemes and benefits offered by the Central Government.

The division bench, led by Acting Chief Justice Ritu Bahri and Justice Nidhi Gupta, acknowledged the arguments presented in the plea and subsequently issued a notice to the Union government along with other pertinent authorities. The petitioner, Captain Sukhjit Pal Kaur Sanewal, a retired Short Service Commissioned Officer, represented by Advocate Navdeep Singh, sought directions to use more inclusive language when referring to former women members of the defense services, instead of the gender-specific “Ex-service man” presently employed.

At the heart of this plea lies the critical concern of gender inclusivity in governmental policies and communications, particularly within departments dedicated to the welfare and resettlement of ex-service personnel. The petitioner highlighted a disparity in nomenclature observed within the “Department of Ex-servicemen Welfare” and rules governing reservation for ex-service personnel, such as the ‘Ex-servicemen (Re-employment in Central Civil Services and Posts) Rules, 1979.’ These titles and rules, argued by the petitioner, perpetuate gender-specific language, effectively excluding recognition for women who have served in the defense forces.

Referencing a precedent set by the Karnataka High Court in the case of Priyanka R Patil v. Kendriya Sainik Board [WP No.19722 of 2021], the plea underscores the necessity for a change in terminology. The Karnataka High Court recommended the adoption of ‘ex-service personnel’ in place of ‘ex-servicemen’ within policy formulations by both the Union and State Governments. This proposed change aims to inclusively address retired army, navy, and air force personnel, irrespective of gender, thereby ensuring a more equitable representation.

Furthermore, the plea draws attention to the Handbook on Combating Gender Stereotypes issued by the Supreme Court, advocating for the identification and elimination of gender-loaded words and phrases from judgments and court language. This initiative aligns with broader efforts aimed at promoting gender inclusivity and eliminating stereotypes prevalent in legal discourse.

Citing international practices, the plea points out that countries like the UK, the USA, New Zealand, Canada, and Australia have already embraced gender-neutral terminology for individuals who served in the military. This serves as a benchmark, illustrating how these nations have transitioned to inclusive language to acknowledge the contributions of both male and female veterans.

The case, titled Captain Sukhjit Pal Kaur Sanewal (Read.) v. UOI & Ors., is slated for further consideration on January 25. The legal team representing the petitioner, including advocates Navdeep Singh, Jasneet Kaur, Himani Makkad, AproovaPushkarna, Akansha Duvedi, and Roopan Atwal, remains committed to advocating for gender inclusivity within government policies and communications.

The High Court’s issuance of notice reflects a crucial step towards recognizing and rectifying gender bias in terminology, specifically concerning ex-service personnel. This legal endeavor underscores the urgent need to ensure fairness, equality, and inclusivity in acknowledging and representing the service of women who have contributed to the defense services.

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