NEW DELHI: It will be a major operational challenge for the Army to grant permanent commission (PC) to women
across the board in ‘combat support arms and services’ because the force has till now largely restricted it to legal and education branches that do not involve ‘command and control’ of male troops.
Moreover, the almost 13-lakh strong force, which includes almost 43,000 officers, has neither trained women officers for command nor given them the responsibility till now. Women officers, unlike their male counterparts, were not mandated to undergo the ‘junior command course’ and other ‘adjunct courses’ as young captains or majors till now.
Sources said the Supreme Court’s order to end the prevailing gender bias in the overwhelmingly male military environs will immediately open the doors for about 600 short service commission (SSC) women officers, who have completed 10 years in service, to opt for PC in the Army. “They will have to apply for it and then undergo a board to assess their suitability,” a source said.
The country’s military brass has for long opposed PC and command roles for women due to what they call “operational, practical and cultural problems”. A senior officer said on Monday, “Women officers have been trained only as support cadre for staff appointments because they exit the force after 10 or 14 years as SSC officers as per their terms of engagement. They have not been groomed for command appointments.”
Several officers argued that grant of PC or command appointments to women officers must be based on “military needs and organisational requirements”, not social considerations or pressure exerted by some groups.
“The Army, which is heavily deployed along the borders and in counter-insurgency operations, has a limited number of ‘sheltered’ or peace station postings. With more women PC officers occupying such positions, hard or field postings for male officers will be more prolonged,” another officer said.
But it’s equally true that the armed forces have so far indulged in mere lip service on the crucial question of gender equality despite many women officers serving with distinction in uniform over the years.
Though women officers (they are not recruited in lower ranks) have been inducted into the armed forces since the early 1990s, they number just 1,653 in the Army, 1,905 in IAF and 490 in Navy in the 65,000-strong officer cadre of the 15-lakh strong armed forces. These figures do not include women officers in the medical, dental and nursing streams, who are inducted through the PC route.
Women are also not allowed to join combat arms like infantry, mechanised infantry, artillery and armoured corps (which together constitute about 70% of the Army) or serve on board warships and submarines. The IAF, which already had women transport aircraft and helicopter pilots, has commissioned eight women as fighter pilots since 2016 to break yet another glass ceiling.
But the ongoing battle was more for PC and command positions, rather than combat roles. Under pressure from the courts, the defence ministry-Army combine had last year opened PC for women SSC officers in eight arms/services (Signals, Engineers,
, Air Defence,
and Intelligence) in addition to two earlier existing streams of Judge Advocate General and
The MoD order said only new women SSC officers would be considered for PC based on availability of vacancies and subject to “willingness, suitability, performance, medical fitness and competitive merit”, but they would be employed only in “various staff appointments” if found suitable. But the SC has now directed that even serving women officers will be considered for PC, with command appointments also being opened for them.