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Around 50 women officers set to head army units in forward areas

ByRahul Singh, New Delhi:
Feb 22, 2023 01:27 AM IST

The development comes a month after the army conducted a special selection board to promote 108 women officers to the rank of select-grade colonel — a move aimed at bringing about gender parity

The Indian Army has begun assigning women officers to command roles for the first time, outside the medical stream, and around 50 of them are set to head units in operational areas, including forward locations, in the operationally critical Northern and Eastern Commands that are responsible for guarding India’s borders with China, officials familiar with the development said on Tuesday.

Over 1,000 Indian peacekeepers, including five female Army personnel, honoured with UN medals for their vital work in the UN Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) in January. (UNMISS Twitter)

The development comes a month after the army conducted a special selection board to promote 108 women officers to the rank of select-grade colonel — a move aimed at bringing about gender parity, offering them command assignments in select branches, and giving them new hard-earned identities. A total of 244 women lieutenant colonels were considered by the board for the 108 vacancies.

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“Out of the 108 women empanelled for promotion to colonel by the selection board, those officers, who have cleared the requisite medical criteria, have now been placed in similar command assignments as their male counterparts from February 20,” said one of the officials cited above, asking not to be named.

The women officers assessed by the selection board were from the 1992 to 2006 batch and were commissioned in various arms and services including Engineers, Signals, Army Air Defence, Intelligence Corps, Army Service Corps, Army Ordnance Corps, and Electrical and Mechanical Engineers.

Around 50% of the selected women officers will command units deployed in operational areas, said a second official, who also asked not to be named.

The opening of command roles to women became possible only after the army began granting them permanent commission (PC) in 2020.

“Assigning women to command roles is natural career progression after they started getting PC. You can’t give them PC and deprive them of certain important roles. You have to be prepared to give them command responsibilities in the branches they are serving in, and that’s happening now,” said former Northern Army commander Lieutenant General DS Hooda (retd).

The development has shattered the stereotype that women can’t be placed in command roles, said Lieutenant Colonel Sarita Satija (retd), who served in the Army Ordnance Corps for almost 21 years. “It reflects a change in the system and, more importantly, the mindset. It also brings women on an equal footing with men. I am sure women will shoulder even higher responsibilities in the times to come,” she added.

To be sure, women officers from the Army Medical Corps have been commanding field hospitals, military hospitals, and other medical establishments for decades. Also, a few women doctors in the armed forces have risen to the three-star rank (lieutenant general and equivalent in the other two services).

In January, army chief General Manoj Pande said the commissioning of women officers in the regiment of artillery was on the cards, while stressing that their empowerment was a focus area in which the army had made good progress.

In early January, the army for the first time deployed a woman officer, Captain Shiva Chouhan, at Siachen, the world’s highest and coldest battleground. It also deployed its largest contingent of 27 women peacekeepers in Sudan’s disputed region of Abyei, where they will provide relief and assistance to women and children, and perform security-related tasks in a challenging mission as part of the United Nations Interim Security Force (UNISFA).

To be sure, tanks and combat positions in infantry are still no-go zones for women in the army.

Still, the military has come a long way since it began inducting women as short-service commissioned officers in the early 1990s. Following a gender-neutral approach, the three services are now offering women officers a raft of opportunities to empower them and bridge the gender gap.

The Indian Air Force and navy have allowed women officers to join their special forces units — the Garud commando force and Marine Commandos, respectively, to promote gender equality within their ranks, provided they meet the selection criteria.

Women are being assigned central roles on a par with their male counterparts — they are flying fighter planes, serving on board warships, being inducted in the personnel below officer rank (PBOR) cadre, and also undergoing training at the National Defence Academy.

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