Some 15 years after the armed forces opened doors for women officers, the Ministry of Defence has decided to grant them permanent commission, but without combat duties. Serving women officers, however, will not benefit from the decision, cleared on Friday by Defence Minister AK Antony, as it will be applicable prospectively.
Permanent commission will allow future lady officers to rise to command ranks, something that didn’t come with their limited tenure-ranging from five to 14 years (outside the Army Medical Corps). The Hindustan Times has carried a series of reports highlighting gender bias in the armed forces.
The first batch of permanent women officers is likely to be inducted in 2012-13. The branches where permanent commission will be granted include Judge Advocate General, Army Education Corps and corresponding branches in the navy and air force.
The accounts branch of the air force and naval constructor service will also absorb them.
The decision is a welcome departure in a male-dominated military culture, but the serving women officers feel let down. A number of officers that HT spoke to said they felt like "guinea pigs" — integral to the 15-year-old experiment, but forgotten in the end.
An officer, who didn’t wish to be named as she is not authorised to speak to media, said, "I’ll complete 14 years in a few weeks and retire with no pension backup. It’s unfortunate that we who proved our worth and helped the military arrive at this decision have been treated like pariahs."
Another lady officer, who, too, didn’t want to be named, said, "After giving our prime to the military, we feel cheated. You’re extending this benefit to the girls who haven’t even made up their mind to don the greens."
Lt Gen (retd) Puneeta Arora, the first lady officer to don three star rank, said, “I admire the courage and hard work of the existing cadre who opened the doors to permanent commission. But the government has to draw a line somewhere."
A defence ministry release said a gestation period of 10-14 years was considered essential "to assess on-ground performance of women officers before permanent commission". They will, however, be denied close combat roles which implies serving in the infantry, armoured corps, flying a fighter aircraft or sailing a warship. Women medical officers have been in the forces for about 80 years when they were first inducted in the Military Nursing Service in 1927 and in the Army Medical Corps in 1943.