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Women get command roles in the Indian Army

  • Published
    21st Jan, 2023

The Army has begun the process for selection of women officers for command postings in the rank of Colonel, which has so far been the domain of male officers.

Journey of Women’s inclusion in Indian Army:

  • Women were inducted in the Army as early as 1992.
  • Women officers who were inducted into the Army were inducted as Short Service Commission (SSC) officers in 1992, did not have the choice to opt for permanent commission.
  • JAG and Army Education Corps were exceptions, where a permanent commission was opened for them in 2008.
  • For other arms and services, women could not become permanent cadre, and had to retire much before they completed the service period that is mandatory to become a Colonel.
  • With the landmark Supreme Court judgment of February 2020, permanent commission was granted to women officers with retrospective effect.
  • This opened the doors for their further growth and promotions in the Army, which has been of late opening leadership and higher management courses for women.

In the recent move, Army has decided that Women officers in many streams of the Army, including the Army Air Defence, Signals, Engineers, Army Aviation, Electronics and Mechanical Engineers, Army Service Corps, Army Ordnance Corps, and Intelligence Corps will be selected for command postings.

Supreme Court order on the issue:

Supreme Court judgment in 2021 upheld an earlier judgement granting permanent commission as well as command postings to women officers in all arms and services other than combat.

What is the present situation for women in Army?

  • Women are still not eligible in core combat arms such as Infantry, Mechanized Infantry and Armored Corps, as the Army is not open to women fighting wars at the borders as foot soldiers. Much of this resistance stems from past instances of male soldiers being taken as prisoners of war and tortured by the enemy.
  • However, the Army has recently decided to open the Corps of Artillery, a combat support arm, to women.

What exactly does commanding a unit mean?

  • Once promoted to a Colonel, an officer is eligible to command troops directly in the Army, which is an acknowledgment of the leadership qualities of the officer.
  • It is considered a coveted appointment because in no other rank, including higher ranks like Brigadier or Major General does an officer interact directly with troops on the ground.

Benefits of women being in combat role:

  • Ability vs Gender: As long as an applicant is qualified for a position, one’s gender is arbitrary.
  • Military Readiness. Allowing a mixed gender force keeps the military strong. Widening the applicant pool for all jobs guarantees more willing recruits. Women, who choose to become active combat soldiers, are unlikely to shirk their duty by becoming pregnant after a call-up as these women have willingly joined the army.
  • The blanket restriction for women limits the ability of commanders in threat to pick the most capable person for the job.
  • Training will be required to facilitate the integration of women into combat units. Cultures change over time and the masculine subculture can evolve too. Many previously masculine professions have been successfully opened to women over the past century
  • Modern warfare and public support. In the modern world of combat (Afghanistan, Iraq), all women serving in the military are exposed to “front-line risks”. Support for women serving in the armed forces has not wavered as warfare has changed a clear sign that the necessity of women serving in combat is recognized.
  • Cultural Differences & Demographics: Allowing women to serve doubles the talent pool for delicate and sensitive jobs that require interpersonal skills not every soldier has. Having a wider personnel base allows militaries to have the best and most diplomatic soldiers working to end conflict quickly.
  • Career advancement. As combat duty is usually regarded as necessary for promotion to senior officer positions, denying female personnel this experience ensures that very few will ever reach the highest reaches of the military and so further entrenches sexism.
  • Not allowing women in commanding roles violates the right to equality and lacks reasonable ground for discrimination.

Challenges for Women being in combat role:

  • Physical Ability: combat units engage in activities designed to suit more muscular capabilities. Women serving in integrated units will suffer higher injury rates as a result of this.
  • Efficiency: Some women will be able to meet the required standards, but most will not.
  • Morale & Cohesion: Having women serving in direct combat will hamper mission effectiveness by hurting unit morale and cohesion.
  • Military readiness: Pregnancy can affect the deployability of a unit when the unit has a disproportionate number of women or is understaffed.
  • Tradition: Men, especially those likely to enlist, maintain traditional gender roles.
    • Harassment and resentment of the presence of women in a hyper masculine military subculture would likely become a problem.
  • Abuse by Enemy: Both male and female prisoners are at risk of torture and rape, but misogynistic societies may be more willing to abuse woman prisoners.
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