Women have struggled a lot to secure their position equal to men in all aspects and proved themselves a wheel for the development of their country and society. They are leading in every sector and achieved various heights which have been never predicted by this patriarchal society. But still they are suffering this male dominated mindset in our armed forces. But gradually things are changing in favour of women in our defence forces too. Finally the landmark judgement of Supreme Court on 17 Feb, 2020 has cleared that in our defence forces soon women will also get a equal position and privilege as a man do.
On 17 Feb, 2020 the Supreme Court of India made a historic and landmark judgment in which it ruled that all women officers in Indian Army are eligible for Permanent Commission and should be allowed for the command roles in the Indian Army. The government has approached to Supreme Court to overrule the decision of Delhi High Court on this matter. The army presented their view for not allowing women officers in command roles by saying “The composition of rank and file being male, and predominantly drawn from rural background, with prevailing societal norms, the troops are not yet mentally schooled to accept women officers in command”. However the court rejected there statement by stating that right to equality is a right to rationality. Supreme Court rejected the government’s petition against Delhi High Court’s decision on this matter. It was a long way fight of women officers to be allowed for permanent commission, as a male officer has an option for getting permanent commission in all the branches. Women are inducted through Short Service Commission in army for a term of 5 years and can extend their tenure, but they don’t get the benefits after retirement as other officers do. Justice DY Chandrachud while reading court verdict said “The contentions of centre regarding the issue of physiological limitations and social norms to deny opportunity to women officers is disturbing and cannot be accepted,” and stated it as a clear discrimination.
Even on 19 Nov, 2019 Justice DY Chandrachud asked centre to grant permanent commission to women officers joined before March 2019, because army had notified to grant option for permanent commission to women joining after March 2019. At that time he told centre that he can pass an order in relation to this, but wants army to take this opportunity and take credit for this historic step and world will see India in a different way.
On 15 Aug, 2018 Prime Minister Narendra Modi supported granting of Permanent Commission to women officers in armed forces. Only women officers in Armed Forces Medical Services were getting permanent commission since 1968. In some other branches they were inducted through Short Service Commission since 1993.
There is a history of women in armed forces in India, which began from ‘Indian Military Nursing Service’ in 1888. The British Indian Army Nurses had participated in both the world wars in which 350 nurses were either martyred, captured as prison of war or gone missing. Then in 1942 Women’s Auxiliary Corps (India) was formed for clerical and domestic duties in armed forces. There were 11,500 women in this corp in which maximum were from mixed race of Anglo Indian community because at that time Indian women didn’t socially mix and work with men.
Today in Indian Army women were inducted in all the branches except infantry, mechanised infantry and armoured corps, through Short Service Commission in Signals, Engineers, Army Aviation, Army Air Defence, Electronics and Mechanical Engineers, Army Service Corps, Army Ordinance Corps, Intelligence, Army Education Corps and Judge Advocate General. They were granted permanent commission in two branches Judge Advocate General and Army Education Corps.
Lt. Col. Sophia Qureshi is the first women to lead an Indian Army Contingent at ‘Exercise Force 18’ a multi-national military exercise, largest military exercise ever hosted by India. She had also served in UN Peacekeeping Operation in Congo for ensuring peace in conflict affected areas in 2006.
Major Mitali Madhumita from Army Education Corps is the first woman in the Indian Army to be awarded Sena Medal in 2011 for showing extraordinary courage during attack on Indian Embassy on 26 Feb, 2010 in Kabul, Afghanistan and rescuing injured civilians and military personnel, where she was posted for the army’s English Language Training Program, and for operations in Jammu and Kashmir and North-Eastern states.
Among 170 male and 57 women officers Lt. A Divya got the Sword of Honour in OTA, Chennai in September 2010. In UN mission in Burundi Lt. Col. Anuvandana Jaggi had served as the women’s team leader of the United Nations Military Observers Team for which she was awarded United Nations Force Commander’s Commendation and Appreciation Epistle from the Chief of Army Staff.
Lt. Bhavna Kasturi became first women to lead an all men army contingent of the Indian Army Service Corps and Captain Tanya Shergil became first woman parade adjutant of all men contingent in Army Parade ground on the occasion of Army Day on 15 Jan, 2020. Anjana Bhaduria is the first woman officer in the very first batch of women officers to win Gold Medal at the Officers Training Academy, Chennai and Alka Khurana from the same batch is the first women from Indian Army to participate in Army Day Parade and Republic Day Parade in 1994.
Secretary General of the United Nations awarded United Nations Peacekeeping Medal to Major Gopika Ajitsingh Pawar for her role as a military member of the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon. United Nation Medal were awarded to Major Madhu Raja, Major Preeti Singh and Major Anuja Yadav for qualifying as a military member of the United Nations Mission in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Since 2004 women officers in Indian Army are participating UN Peacekeeping force and have been deployed in Syria, Lebanon, Ethiopia and Israel.
In 2007 Sewa Medal were awarded by the President of India to Captain Ashwini Pawar and Captain Shipra Majumdar.
Sapper Shanti Tigga joined in 2011 is the first female jawan in Indian Army.
Priya Semwal, whose husband martyred in a counter-insurgency operation in Arunachal Pradesh in 2012, had joined army in the Corps of EME as an officer.
In Indian Navy women officers are inducted in all non sea going branches through Short Service Commission. In Education, Law, Naval Constructor and Naval Armament branch women officers are eligible for permanent commission. There is a proposal for induction of three new training ships which provide infrastructure for the training of both men and women. After induction of these ships women will be inducted in all the branches. Dr. Punita Arora commissioned in 1968 is the first lady to become a Vice- Admiral in the Indian Navy. Sub- Lieutenant Shivangi became the first female pilot of the Indian Navy on 02 Dec, 2019. Lt. Commander Vartika Joshi, Lt. Commander Prathibha Jamwal, Lt. Swathi Patarpalli, Lt. Aishwarya Boddapati, Lt. S Vijaya Devi and Lt. Payal Gupta had circumnavigated the globe in eight months and covered 21,600 nautical miles on INSV Tarini. They all were conferred for Nau Sena Medal.
In Indian Air Force including fighter pilot all branches are opened for the women. Since 1994 women are inducted as a pilot in Indian Air Force. Gunjan Saxena among the first batch of women pilots flew combat support sorties during Kargil war. Sarang display team got its first woman pilot, Deepika Misra in 2006. Flt. Lt. Nivedita Choudhary climbed the heights of Mt. Everest in 2012. IAF got its first women fighter pilots Mohana Singh, Avani Chaturvedi and Bhawana Kanth commissioned on June 2018. Sqn. Ldr. Minty Agarwal was awarded Yudh Seva Medal in 2019 on Independence day for her role as a fighter controller when Pakistan Air Force Jets violated the Line of Control on 27 Feb, 2019 to retaliate for Balakot Airstrike. Padmavathy Bandopadhyay is the first women officer in IAF to hold the rank of Air Marshal. Wing Commander Shaliza Dhami became the first Flight Commander in August 2019 and she also became the first woman (other than medical branch) to get permanent commission in IAF.
Till now women are not allowed to be a combatant in the Special Forces in all the services. Dr. Seema Rao have trained more than 15000 personnel of various Special Forces in India since 20 year. She has an expertise in Close Quarter Battle.
In the above article I have tried to focus on the very vital role of women, their history and their current situation in the defence of our country. We have seen that whenever they got chance to serve our nation they have either proved them equal or more than their male counterparts, no matter whatever task or role they have been offered. In armed forces women officers have proved themselves worthy in non combat roles they had been offered, representing their country and when required they have shown their best in combat zones too either in India or abroad. With their full dedication, honesty and courage they are playing a very vital role in defending their country, in spite of the fact that they were not getting any benefits after retirement as a male officer do. They never demanded for any exemption in physical standard and merit for them. All they demanded is an equal chance to prove them worthy and have a career in the Armed Forces like a male officer without compromising the merit. The latest judgement of the Supreme Court has shown us a bright future of women in Armed Forces, in which there career will be decided by their merit instead of gender. Not only in Army, Navy and Air Force; they are serving our nation in various Police and Paramilitary forces, that we will try to discuss in an another article.