Will Nirmala break glass ceiling in military?

Despite the latest move by the Army to induct 800 women into its ranks, cold facts show that the Indian military is the last bastion of male dominance in the government. Many women in uniform are hoping that the country’s first full-time woman Defence Minister will take bold decisions against what they allege are systemic discrimination against women.

Though Indian military has only a minuscule number of women in service, a noticeably large number of them are fighting court cases or complaints against discrimination in various forums.

By information given in Parliament as on early 2017, there are 3,578 women officers in the three services. This broadly represents about 3.64% in the Army, 4.49% in the Navy and 13% in the IAF.

Besides, about 5,000 Military Nursing Service members are also in uniform.

Over the past three years, with the government’s focus on women’s empowerment, the three services have taken some steps for expanding the avenues for women, but several issues still remain. However, recruitment numbers of the past few years are almost at the same level with a decline in women joining the Army.

While the issue of women in combat roles gets traction often, another aspect mostly neglected is the issue of permanent commission.

Permanent commission

“With the new Defence Minister being a woman, I hope something beneficial for the women fraternity will come. We will request time from her once she takes charge,” said Commander Prasannaa Edayilliam, an Air Traffic Control officer who retired from service in 2008 and since 2010 has been fighting a legal battle for permanent commission.

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The case is likely to come up for hearing before the Supreme Court on September 15.

The Navy has since opened up seven streams for women. These include law, logistics, air traffic control, education and Naval Armament Instructor (NAI).

“These were opened for permanent commission prospectively from 2009 onwards. NAI was opened up this year. These are areas where one doesn’t have to go to sea and they can get promoted,” a senior officer said.

Double whammy

The Navy is now taking women as pilots and observers on fixed-wing aircraft. This is the Short Service Commission (SSC) because they cannot be promoted as they cannot do sea service.

The biggest catch is that women officers are taken under the SSC which is up to 14 years. Due to this, those leaving are left without any pension as pensionable service is 20 years.

Commander Edayilliam stated that the ATC officers’ course that they had undergone at the Air Force Academy in Dindigul was not recognised at par with the civil course at the Civil Aviation Training College, Allahabad. “So it is extremely difficult to get a second career based on it,” she told The Hindu.

“Navy is a wonderful service. We want more and more qualified people to join it,” she added, longing for the uniform she once donned.

This is where there would be great expectations from Ms. Sitharaman to understand the intricacies and open the services. A group of Military Nursing Service members have been fighting the government for over a decade, demanding that they be treated as full officers.

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The Supreme Court has taken a firm stand, asking the military to ameliorate their condition. They are also hoping that the new defence minister will appreciate their plight.

Former Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar had stated that the three services would induct women in combat roles in a phased manner as infrastructure had to be created.

The Indian Air Force has long had women pilots in transport and helicopters streams and last year commissioned three women fighter pilots on an experimental basis. Similarly, the Army gives permanent commission for women only in education, law and medical streams. But given the operational conditions and spread, the Army has been the most reluctant to take women in combat roles.

 

 

 

 

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