Indian women are set to turn career soldiers. Breaking a 300-year-old tradition, the armed forces have agreed “in principle” to secure their careers by granting them permanent commission — but without combat duties.
The move comes after HT carried a series of reports highlighting gender bias in the forces and triggered a debate.
Air Marshal Sumit Mukerji, Air Officer-in-charge Personnel, said on Tuesday, “The COSC (chiefs of staff committee) is fine-tuning modalities and identifying non-combat arms that women officers could be assigned to.”
Permanent commission will allow lady officers to climb command echelons and assume higher responsibilities, a privilege that did not come with their limited tenure ranging from five to 14 years (outside the Army Medical Corps).
With this, the National Defence Academy and other service-specific training institutions will no longer be the exclusive domain of male cadets. Mukerji did not rule out the possibility of the NDA, the cradle of military leadership, churning out an all-women batch if they outperform the boys in the entrance exam and interviews.
Lieutenant General Punita Arora (retd), the first lady to don the three-star rank in India’s military history, told HT, “The girls have proved their worth in the armed forces. They deserve it.”
However, women will continue to be accepted only in responsibilities more in tune with generally accepted notions of gender. Close combat would essentially imply serving in the infantry, armoured corps, flying a fighter aircraft or sailing on a warship.
A senior army officer said the existing cadre of women officers is unlikely to benefit as permanent commission would come with its own terms and conditions. Defence ministry figures show there are just 945 women out of 35,377 officers in the army, 739 out of 10,563 officers in the air force and 236 out of 7,336 officers in the navy. HT had recently reported that several lady officers were opting for corporate sector with the government dithering on permanent commission.