Defence minister Rajnath Singh on Thursday said women officers will soon command army units and battalions following being accepted for permanent commission (PC). The opportunity to command battalions forms part of natural career progression for women officers after the army began granting them PC following a Supreme Court ruling last year.
Singh’s comments came during his address at a Shanghai Cooperation Organisation webinar on Role of Women in the Armed Forces.
“Our approach to the induction of women in the police, central police, paramilitary and armed forces has been progressive. We have taken the evolutionary path of moving from support to combat support and thereafter to combat arms within the armed forces,” Singh said.
The armed forces are preparing to induct women into the National Defence Academy (NDA), thus far a male preserve, following a landmark verdict by the SC. Women will be able to join India’s premier tri-service pre-commissioning training institute NDA from next year, Singh said.
One of the turning points for women in the military came in 2015 when the Indian Air Force decided to induct them into the fighter stream. Earlier this year, the Indian Navy deployed four women officers on warships after a hiatus of almost 25 years. But tanks and combat positions in infantry are still no-go zones for women.
“We have found that the process of induction, given its broad-based and progressive path, has also simultaneously prepared the society and the armed forces for this change. This is an important aspect to ensure a smooth and successful transition,” the minister said.
He said women had proved themselves in every field and excelled in the duties assigned to them. “Many barriers have been broken and many more imagined barriers should break in the years to come.”
The headcount of women in the military has increased almost three-fold over the last six years, with more avenues being opened to them at a steady pace. As of February 2021, there were 9,118 women serving in the army, navy and air force.
In his welcome address at the SCO seminar, chief of defence staff General Bipin Rawat said cyberspace and outer space were the new “revolutionary domains” of war fighting. He said the distinction between the roles of men and women in modern day war fighting was getting blurred by the day. “The notion of gender gap is passé. Women are no less suited to braving such challenging conditions and have proven themselves in the past,” Rawat said.
In August, the army announced that a selection board had cleared the promotion of five women officers to the time-scale rank of colonel after the completion of the mandatory 26 years of service. It was the first time that women officers were promoted to the rank outside the medical, legal and education wings of the army.
With PC being approved, women are now picking up the rank of colonel and it shows they are no less than their male counterparts, Captain Shalini Singh (retd), a former short-service commission officer had then said.