India seems to be taking steps to crush all gender barriers in the armed forces to allow women to serve on-board submarines, in ground combat positions and tank units. Even the US army does not have women in infantry and armoured units.
Indicating an imminent radical overhaul in the Indian military, President Pranab Mukherjee, who is the supreme commander of the armed forces, said on Tuesday that the government would allow women to serve in all fighter streams.
“In the future, my government will induct women in all fighter streams of our armed forces,” the President said.
He made the significant announcement during his address to the joint sitting of the Lok Sabha and the Rajya Sabha, barely four months after the government approved an Indian Air Force (IAF) plan in October making women eligible to fly warplanes from June 2017.
As first reported by Hindustan Times, three IAF women are undergoing stage-II training at Hakimpet near Hyderabad to become India’s first female combat pilots.
The decision — a watershed in the airforce’s 83-year history — has been taken on an “experimental basis” and the government will review it after five years.
The IAF had to crush internal resistance to grant women equal opportunity in the service. Women were allowed to join the military outside the medical stream for the first time in 1992.
“Shakti, which means power, is the manifestation of female energy. This shakti defines our strength,” the President said.
However, a cross-section of armed forces officers HT spoke to appeared clueless about any plan to open all combat roles to women. The armed forces account for more than 3,300 women officers, all of whom are in non-combat roles. The Indian army does not induct women at the level of jawans, unlike the paramilitary forces.
Sceptics have raised questions about having women in close-combat roles and feel mixed-sex units may not be able to deliver in a war or even during counter-terrorism operations.
Other concerns revolve around women being taken as prisoners of war and their ability to serve in extreme conditions such as Siachen where a deadly avalanche killed 10 soldiers recently. “Even the US and the UK do not have women in front-line ground combat as of now. Gender equality is fine, but you may have to draw the line somewhere in the armed forces,” a source said.
Navies of the US, the UK and France have recently allowed women to serve on-board submarines. Navy sources said they were unaware of any proposal to allow women to serve on-board warships, including submarines.
“We do not have warships that can accommodate mixed-gender crews,” a source said. Military officials, however, said women officers were doing a splendid job in their current roles and were in no way lagging behind their male counterparts.