The last symbol of male supremacy in the Indian navy could soon be consigned to history. The navy is laying the groundwork for putting women on warships, a role they have never been considered fit for in an overwhelmingly male-dominated military culture.
Though the government is yet to give its approval to deploy women in combat roles, the naval headquarters is thinking ahead. A senior navy officer, wishing not to be named, said all future warships would have exclusive berthing facilities for women.
The armed forces began inducting women in the early 1990s. There are only 258 women among 7,336 officers in the navy. Some of them could find themselves serving aboard the largest warship to be ever built in India — the Indigenous Aircraft Carrier (IAC). The carrier, likely to be inducted in 2014, would have berthing areas separated by gender, the officer said.
The IAC’s keel-laying ceremony, marking the beginning of its construction, will be held in Kochi on February 28.
Once commissioned, the Rs. 3,260-crore warship will carry 1,600 sailors and 30 embarked aircraft — including MiG-29 fighters and the indigenously developed light combat aircraft. The 40,000-tonne carrier will be 14 storeys high. Only the United States, Russia and France have built aircraft carriers of this size.
The Shivalik-class stealth frigates, set to undergo sea trials shortly, and the latest Kolkata-class destroyers have also been designed to accommodate women.
The Defence Ministry decided to grant permanent commissions to women officers last September.
They continue to be excluded from close-combat responsibilities, which include serving in the infantry, armoured corps, flying fighters and serving aboard warships. The branches opened for permanent commission include Judge Advocate General, Army Education Corps and corresponding branches in the navy and the air force.