Time India caught up with the world

Time India caught up with the world

Time India caught up with the world

The rank and file in the Army is divided into combat (fighting and support) arms and services. Fighting arms consist of infantry, mechanised infantry and armoured corps, whereas support arms include artillery, signals, engineers and aviation corps.

The services include supply and ordinance corps, electronics and mechanical engineers, postal, medical and dental, wings and physical training. The Navy and Air Force, too, are similarly divided into combat and support units.

Military law provisions forbid employment of women. Section 11 of the Army Act declares that no women shall be eligible for enrolment and employment in the regular Army except when so specified by the Central government. The women were accepted as officers only in the medical and dental corps apart from military nurses who were counted merely as an auxiliary force.

This position underwent a major change in early 1990s when the armed forces opened their doors for women. The policy to allow entry to women officers was taken for all the three wings. A limited number of vacancies was earmarked in ordnance, service corps, engineers and legal branch. The Navy and Air Force, too, chose to accept women for a few branches like education, logistics, air traffic control and naval architecture.

The Army was not forthcoming with its reasons for dragging its feet to grant permanent commission to women officers. It is not known if any survey was conducted to elicit views of senior commanders. The option was never discussed at the Army Commander’s Conference. No study was ever entrusted to premier institutions like College of Defence Management, National Defence College or Military Institute of Work Study to formulate the utilisation policy and identify the desired functions for women in uniform.

Given such lack of clarity, many continue to harbour misgivings about the relevance of women in the armed forces.

The demand for permanent commission (PC) was first viewed as a feminist charter not warranting any serious response. Ironically, such an advice was given by a couple of legal officers who were themselves to benefit if some women officers of legal department were to be kept out of way of those aspiring to climb the promotion ladder. The comments were accepted by senior commanders with little regard to constitutional implications of the matter.

Denial of PC to women after earlier having accepted them for a short stint would be tantamount to violating the constitutional norms. The denial disregarded commendable performance of women officers as discernible from their annual confidential reports.

The Defence Ministry came up with a rather absurd stand before the Delhi High Court when it pleaded that the matter could be better decided by the Armed Forces Tribunal.
Secondly, they could not be given the PC due to management and logistical constraints. But having once accepted them for service in uniform, withholding the benefit of further service emerged as a retrograde step. The high court rejected the government’s stand.

Lack of clear policy

Military hierarchy failed to promulgate a clear policy regarding familiarisation training for women in service ethos and their exposure to field conditions. The tenure of service for women officers was initially for only five years. Later, perhaps as part of a populist measure, it was increased to 10 and then 14 years. This led the women serving in the Army, Navy and the Air Force to nurture a legitimate expectation of selection for PC after successful completion of 14 years service.

A number of women officers received marching orders from service on completion of their terms of engagement. Some of them rushed to the Supreme Court and received reinstatement orders. The apex court asked the government to consider grant of PC to women officers. While the direction is yet to be implemented, the release of women officers has been put on hold. The senior most among them would soon be completing 20 years of service. Col Leena Gurav of the Army’s Judge Advocate General Department heads the list of women officers in the legal branch.

It is noteworthy that women officers have not been commissioned so far in any of the combat arms. In the support arms, they have been excluded from induction in artillery, aviation and engineer regiments.

History records numerous examples of women warriors having displayed acts of great courage and bravery while also exhibiting brilliant leadership in combat. World War II had seen commendable feats by women during French resistance and those recruited under Rani Jhansi Brigade of the Indian National Army.

Women officers in foreign militaries are now being increasingly given combat exposure. Israel and the US allows combat duties. In Norway, women are even posted on submarines. Russian women soldiers have been given roles of machine gunners, tank crew and sniper duties.

In short, history, Constitution and the global trends are all supportive of a permanent place for the women in the armed forces.

(The writer was Judge Advocate General of the Army and is at present Director, Amity Law School, New Delhi)

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