While responding to an RTI, the Ministry of Defence, GOI produced some statistics related to the ratio of men and women employed in the Indian Army as of 2021. According to this report, women make up for only 0.56% of India's 1.4 million army personnel. IAF have hitherto been criticised for having extended the stereotype that discourages women from taking part in combative roles and indulging in discriminative practices. The recent rulings by the Supreme Court, which has now allowed women to take the National Defence Academy examinations, as well as, upheld the right of serving Short Service Commission (SSC) women officers to be granted Permanent Commissions (PC) just like their male colleagues. Together, these and such other rulings are being seen as ways to pave way for women to have equal representation in the armed forces.
The two World Wars brought the strongest impetus for admitting women into the armed forces, not just in India but across the world. The demands of industrialization and the war effort transformed the roles of women as they acquired relevant professional skills that were highly valued both in the civil and military spheres. In India, the formation of the Indian Military Nursing Service in 1888 allowed the role of women in the Indian Armed Forces to take shape. The nurses of the Indian Army served in World War I
. Later, Women's Auxiliary Corpswas formed in 1942.
And the woman’s regiment was formed under Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose’s Indian National Army called the Rani of Jhansi Regiment during World War II.
Post-independence, under the Army Act of 1950, women were ineligible for regular commissions except in “such corps, departments or branches which the central government may specify by way of notifications.” Surprisingly, despite the many instances of valour exhibited by Indian women in the country’s pre-independence, the Constitution formally prohibited them from participation in the Indian armed forces. The only part of the armed forces that continued to welcome women was the Military Nursing Service, and Army Act of 1950 formalized their roles, granting them regular commissions and ranks from lieutenant to colonel.
What are the recent developments?
The Supreme Court of India on February 17 2020, upheld the right of serving Short Service Commission (SSC) women officers to be granted Permanent Commissions (PC) just like their male colleagues. Recently, in June 2021, two women officers were selected to undergo helicopter pilot training for the first time in the Army Aviation Corps. They will join front-line flying duties on completion of their training in July 2022. This was followed by the Supreme Court of India allowing women to sit for examinations to India's National Defence Academy (NDA) in August 2021.
Earlier, several women had expressed their desire to be part of the armed forces, only to be dismissed on grounds of law. It was only in the early 1990s that the 3 services opened their doors to women. In the beginning, women were only inducted into a short service commission of 5 years, and even then, only in specific branches and cadres. In the 30 years since, women in the military have had to battle it out at every stage.
The 2020 ruling by the SC allowing women to become PC officers is significant. This is because an SSC is an officer whose career in the Indian Armed Forces is limited to usually 14 years while a PC can serve till they retire.
Significance of these recent steps taken
In today’s times, when women are walking shoulder to shoulder with men in all occupations, it is only inevitable that the military too must revisit its old regulations to update them in sync with changing times. Women have proved their mettle and performed extremely well in peace locations and in hostile zones, but it was only in 1992 that the organisation opened doors and started inducting women in non-medical roles. In 2015, India also opened new combat air force roles for women as fighter pilots.
Employment of women in combat forces has become a paramount issue in the present day, and there are two schools of thoughts - the first professing that women officers are on par with the male officers while performing the job, on the other hand, those who claim that it is the exploitation of women to deploy them in combat areas since they are not physically and psychologically fit to perform the job.
With the new ruling, women can enter the military after high school and aspire to the top brass. The ruling also gives them more legal backing as they fight for equal access to combat roles. This is significant because:
·Ability: as long as an applicant is qualified, gender should not count as a hindrance
·Military strength: mixed gender military force strengthens the readiness of the force
·Rather than gender, any applicant’s mental endurance and quick decision making should determine their position in the forces
·An equal playing field in the armed forces is in line with the Right to Equality outlined in our Constitution.
·Breaking the glass ceiling: the ruling can shun the stereotype of treating females as a ‘weaker gender’
·It also helps increase the talent pool of the army by enabling women to participate and showcase their skills
Hurdles and apprehensions
For years, the government and many others have expressed apprehensions in allowing women a more combative role within the army. Infact, when the SC directed the govt to allow women to take the NDA exams, the Centre responded by asking for time to prepare for the incoming female students. Later, the request was negated and the Centre asked to take quick actions. Some reasons that have been given for years against allowing women to enter more permanent positions are:
·It is felt that male troops were not yet ready to accept their orders.
·Many also argue that it is the exploitation of women to deploy them in combat areas since they are not physically and psychologically fit to perform the job.
·Family and maternal commitments may cause difficulties for women to accept frequent transfers.
·The existing conditioning of mindset in our society can act as a hurdle if women are sent for combat to far off areas.
·Requisite infrastructure to help make the process easier for women may also take time to be created.
Way forward – conclusion
The changes are significant in a country where gender discrimination and inequality remains deeply entrenched, especially when the United States, Israel, North Korea, France, Germany, Netherlands, Australia and Canada are among the global militaries that employ women in front-line combat positions. The decision can however only be considered the first step towards achieving the desired goal. There is a lot left to be done:
·It remains to be seen how the NDA will implement co-ed measures
·Foremost requirement is the creation of adequate infrastructure for inclusion of women in the NDA and later in the army ranks
·A blueprint of structural reforms within the army to ensure smooth workspace conditions
·Those in-charge of training in the NDA must also be briefed accordingly and adopt requisite methods of training.
Ministry of Defence, GOI