Sunday, 6 November 2011

Military dead against permanent commission for women across the board

NEW DELHI: At a time when the US is now allowing women to serve on board submarines and countries like Australia are dismantling all gender barriers to allow female troops to serve on the frontlines, India remains extremely reluctant to even give them permanent jobs in the military.

Leave alone allowing them to serve on operational warships or fly fighter jets, or join infantry, artillery or armoured corps, Indian armed forces do not want women even to serve in all non-combat and support arms on a permanent basis.

Army has reiterated to the defence ministry thatpermanent commission (PC) to women officers should be "restricted" to only the legal (judge advocate general) and education ( Army Education Corps) wings as of now, sources said.

This came after defence minister A K Antony earlier this year asked Army, Navy and IAF chiefs to re-examine granting PC to women officers in other non-combat streams as well. "IAF and Navy's responses are somewhat similar. The entire issue is being studied,'' said a source.

Induction of women officers into the overwhelmingly male-dominated environs of the armed forces, incidentally, has also remained largely stagnant. If Army and IAF had 1,072 and 957 women officers in 2008, the numbers have actually dipped to 1,055 and 936 this year.

Navy has recorded a slight jump, increasing from 173 in 2008 to 232 in 2011. In effect, women constitute just 3% to 8% of the total officer cadre, and they are not allowed to serve in the ranks below officer level in the 13-lakh strong armed forces.

Since the early-1990s, women have been serving in wings like legal, education, engineering, ordnance, intelligence, signals, air traffic control and the like but only as short-service commission (SSC) officers for a maximum of 14 years. Women have been getting PC only in the medical stream as doctors, dentists and nurses.

After a lot of struggle and court cases, the government in 2008 decided to give PC prospectively to women officers in the legal and education branches, as also the 'naval constructor' department and IAF's accounts branch, from the 2008-2009 batch onwards.

"The forces perpetually crib about the acute shortage of officers but still keep women out. Women must get PC in all non-combat wings, if not in combat ones at present, because it's difficult to find an alternative career in the mid-30s,'' said a woman officer.

The military top brass, however, for long has contended that granting PC to women officers across the board is unfeasible due to "operational, practical and cultural problems'' at this stage.

"Legal and education wings do not involve command of men or battalions. If PC is granted to women in other streams, then they will have to be given command at some stage, for which they are not currently trained. The decision has to be based on military needs and organizational requirements,'' said a senior officer.

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