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Special Content


Issue no 49, 05 March - 11 March 2022

Gender Inclusivity In Indian Armed Forces Marching Ahead

Major Harsha Pandey (Retd)

Indian Armed Forces are representative of military values, commitment, nationalism and the collective culture of our nation. They are a reflection of our society, and as our society is moving forward on the path of gender inclusion, so are they. The once considered 'male dominated workplace' in our country has been gradually but effectively opening up to embrace 'the other' equally competitive gender. The presence of women in the Indian Armed Forces is no more limited to traditional medical services. All wings of the Indian Armed Forces now allow women in combat roles (junior ranks) and combat supervisory roles (officers) except Indian Army (support roles only) and Special Forces of India (trainer role only). In July 2021, the strength of women was 0.56% in the Indian Army, 1.08% in the Indian Air Force and 6.5% in the Indian Navy. While it is encouraging to see the IAF taking a lead in deploying women in combat as fighter pilots, the Indian army is yet to deploy women in combat, something I eagerly wish to see in future.

Let us have a closer look at how gender inclusivity shaped up in the Indian Armed Forces since the pre-Independence era till date. It is pleasantly surprising to see that the perfect example of women inclusivity comes from preindependence era when the Rani Jhansi Brigade of Indian National Army under Captain Lakshmi Swaminathan was formed. In 1943, this force operated in the jungles of Malay very effectively and displayed valour of the highest order. Let us also remember the Nursing Corps of the Indian Army which was raised in 1883 and by 1940 had grown its strength to 6000 women who aided the soldiers during World War I and II.

Post independence, on 13th September 1947, Mrs. D. G. Howard, an Indian Nursing Officer, was appointed the first Indian Director of the Military Nursing Service in the rank of Chief Principal Matron, becoming the first Indian woman officer to hold a rank equivalent to Colonel. In August 1955, Vijayalakshmi Ramanan was commissioned into the Indian Army Medical Corps on a short-service commission, and became the first woman to be seconded to and hold a commission in the Indian Air Force. On 1st November 1958, women were granted regular commissions in the Army Medical Corps, marking the first time of women becoming eligible for permanent commissions in any branch of the armed forces outside the Military Nursing Service. In 1959, all members of the Military Nursing Service were given standard army ranks, formally recognising them as part of the regular army. From 1992, the government started recruiting women as officers in logistics branches (ASC, AOC, JAG, AEC, and Intelligence Corps) as well as in technical services like EME, followed by technical arms and aviation. In 1994, the Indian Air Force started recruiting women pilots in support roles. In 2015, the IAF inducted women as fighter pilots. In early 2021, the Indian Navy started deploying women officers on warships too. The decision was also taken in 2021 to open the National Defence Academy (NDA) to girls where they would undergo three years of training which includes graduation. However, representation in soldiers' ranks is still miniscule. The Indian Army started taking women (in limited numbers) as soldiers in Military Police Corps only in 2020.

Women in Paramilitary Forces

The role of women in our paramilitary Forces has been growing substantially too. Women are commissioned as both officer and soldiers in Paramilitary Forces of India. While the Indian Coast Guard commissions women in officer rank, the Assam Rifles inducts female soldiers as rifle-women and the Special Frontier Force inducts female soldiers in medical, signal and clerical role. In March 2016, the government allowed directentry of women officers in all five Central Armed Police Forces, namely Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF), Border Security Force (BSF), Indo-Tibetan Border Police (ITBP), Sashastra Seema Bal (SSB) and Central Industrial Security Force (CISF). It allowed direct entry to women in junior rank via direct recruitment and also to women officers via Union Public Service Commission in supervisory combat roles. Women also serve in other Indian Forces such as the National Security Guard (NSG), the Special Protection Group (SPG), the Railway Protection Force (RPF), the National Disaster Response Force (NDRF) and the Border Roads Organisation (BRO). While NSG (Black Cat Commandos) inducted female commandos for the first time in 2011, the SPG inducted female commandos in 2013. The RPF has a female unit, Shakti Squad of RPF women constables.

As an ex woman officer and an active advocate of diversity, inclusion and equity (DEI), I proudly welcome the recent move of Indian Military Services to include more women in both officers' and soldiers' ranks. I am proud that India keeps setting examples for women empowerment in the world, one being in 2007, when India became the first country to provide All-Female Formed Police Unit (FFPU) for UN peacekeeping mission in Liberia. But, what is sometimes disappointing is the constant need of intervention of our judiciary to ensure women get equal opportunities. Why did our women officers need to take up the case with judiciary for getting permanent commission despite having spent the prime years of their life in service of the nation? Why was this opportunity not provided to them proactively? It is thoughts like these which make me feel that we still have a long way to go when it comes to gender inclusivity in Indian Armed Forces, although we are heading on the right path. It is high time our forces consider gender inclusion as a norm rather than exception, and as a society we step forward to provide equal opportunities to all irrespective of their diversity. It is high time we accept that no country can reach its maximum potential by denying half of its work force opportunity to participate in a field of their choice, even if the choice is to lead a soldier's life. Every citizen should have a right to live and a right to die for her motherland, if she chooses so!!!

(The author is a retired Major of the Indian Army and served in the Corps of EME as a Technical Officer. Post retirement, she is pursuing a successful career as an IT expert)

Views expressed are personal.