~ Ridhima Yadav
A formal letter is issued by the Ministry of Defence recently granting permanent commission to women officers in the Indian army. On February 17, a Supreme Court of India judgement issued an order to enable women to serve as army commanders. The Government of India opposed the judgement with statements like women have physical limitations and that a lot of jawans in the army belong to the rural areas and hence they will not be mentally prepared to accept women officers in command. The Supreme Court, however, rebuked the government’s misogynistic remarks and asked the government to implement the ruling within three months. The supreme court said that “The time has come for a realization that women officers in the Army are not adjuncts to a male-dominated establishment whose presence must be ‘tolerated’ within narrow confines.” The decision of the supreme court has been praised by people and has been termed as a step in the direction of gender equality and neutrality.
HISTORY OF WOMEN IN ARMY
The role of women in the Indian Army dates to 1888 when the “Indian Military Nursing Service” was set up by the Britishers. Till 1992, women were only appointed within the army as medical professionals. In the year 1992, all the three wings of the defence force I.e. the army, navy, and the air force started recruiting women as Short Service Commission (SSC). The initial decision allowed women to serve for 5 years, after which they could get an extension for 5 more years. In 2006, this policy was revised, and it allowed women to serve a maximum of 14 years as SSC officers.
This landmark judgement by the supreme court has finally granted women officers permanent commission in the defence forces. Even today, there are a few areas of the army were women are not allowed to serve, these areas include Infantry, Mechanized Infantry, Armored Corps and Artillery. Women in all militaries are confronted with social, behavioural, and psychological problems at all levels. According to many surveys, women are not fully satisfied with the ethos of the military profession. Some major issues concerning women in all defence forces are sexual harassment, low acceptance, lack of job satisfaction, poor comfort level and doubts regarding the role definition. There are still many women who are struggling.
Commander Sumita Balooni at the age of 23 joined the Indian Navy and became the first woman from Uttrakhand to join the Indian Armed Forces, and she went on to diligently serve for 14 years. But in exchange for her service, all she got in return was unemployment.
After getting inspired by women like IPS officer Kiran Bedi, Balooni who was from Dehradun in then Uttar Pradesh joined the Navy in ’93 in the hope to serve the country and was inducted into the Education Department through Short Service Commission (SSC). But, even after finishing 14 years of service, Sumita was not allotted a Permanent Commission (PC). Sumita found herself unemployed because she was not getting any benefit like her male friends. Benefits such as a pension, medical insurance, or other retirement benefits were not given to her, despite being dedicated and giving quality service.
Time and again, women have proven themselves in the armed forces. Minty Agrawal a squadron Leader of the Indian air force was a part of the team that guided Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman in the Balakot airstrike. Captain Swati Singh is the only female officer in her 63 brigades of the Indian Army and is the first female officer to be deployed at Nathu La pass as Signals-in- charge. In 2019, Bhawana Kanth became the 1st woman fighter pilot to undertake combat missions. Wing Commander Shaliza Dhami is the first female officer to be given a permanent commission with the Indian Air Force. Sub Lieutenant Shubhangi Swaroop became the first pilot for the Indian Navy. These are some inspiring women of the Indian armed forces.
These are just some examples of the extraordinary contributions of women in the armed forces. The countries like the United States, Israel, North Korea, Canada, Germany, Netherlands, etc are among the global militaries that employ women in front-line combat positions. Therefore, the Indian armed forces must draw inspiration from them and move towards gender mainstreaming in the Indian armed forces. This gender equality can be achieved by establishing professional standards and adhering to them without any bias. The judgment needs to be complemented by a change in the mindsets of male officers who see women as best suited for adjunct roles and not as equals.
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