Asserting that women were not being discriminated against in the armed forces, Defence Minister AK Antony said on Wednesday the question of granting them permanent commissions would be "positively" re-examined.
"I understand the sentiments in an era of women's empowerment. Trends around the world are changing. The government will positively re-examine the issue (of granting women permanent commissions) and try our best to find a solution to the issue," Antony said during question hour in the Rajya Sabha.
The response came on a query from Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M) member Brinda Karat on "whether it is a fact that SSC (Short Service Commission) women officers in the IAF (Indian Air Force) are facing gender based discrimination which is affecting their service terms and conditions, whereas the similarly placed male SSC officers are being considered for permanent commissions".
"At the moment, both (men and women) are equal," Antony replied, adding that this had been the rule since 2006.
In the 13 years prior to that, he said, 179 male SSC officers had been granted permanent commissions in the IAF. Thereafter, a high-powered committed that had considered the promotion structure of armed forces officers had recommended that this practice be stopped.
Karat was quick to rise to the occasion.
"This clearly shows that the minister's statement is false and that women have been discriminated against. Are you prepared to undo this discrimination and grant them permanent commissions?" she demanded.
Antony's assurance came at this stage.
Women are currently eligible for permanent commissions only in the medical, nursing and dental services of the armed forces. They are also eligible for short service commissions in these services as also in the support arms of the armed forces.
Currently, 5,137 women officers serve in the armed forces. They include 4,101 in the Indian Army, 784 in the IAF, and 252 in the Indian Navy. This includes women granted permanent commissions in the Army Medical Corps, the Army Dental Corps and their equivalents in the other two services, as also in the Military Nursing Services.
In the army, women serve in support arms like the Corps of Signals, Army Ordinance Corps, the Corps of Electronic and Mechanical Engineers, and the Army Service Corps.
In the Indian Air Force, women are inducted in all streams barring the fighter stream. In the Indian Navy, there are restrictions on posting women officers aboard ships and submarines.
Most militaries worldwide induct women but only a few allow them to perform active combat roles. Among these countries are Canada, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Norway and Switzerland.
Countries like Britain and Israel allow women to serve in combat arms positions like artillery roles but exclude them from infantry units.
The US allows women in most combat flying positions.