Equal to all, less than none Bringing Equality for Women in Armed Forces

Dr Ajay Kumar
While the entry of women in Indian Defence Forces has been there to different degrees since British India days, their roles were more related to nursing and Medical Officers, or to look after the troops, families and public during deployment. However, women did not have equality due to concerns within some sections of the Indian Armed Forces regarding physiology, motherhood and physical attributes.
Government recognized women as proud and essential members of the Indian Defence forces and the potential they bring in. Therefore, in last six years, Government has taken several steps to bring in more opportunities for women in Indian Defence forces as well as create equality in service conditions of women and men. Today, women are greatly empowered within the Indian Defence Forces, whether it is the Indian Army, Indian Navy or the Indian Air Force. This is consistent with the vision of the Government captured in the words of the Defence Minister Shri Rajnath Singh, “The Government of India is working to strengthen the ‘Stree Shakti’ in our Armed Forces and we stand committed to move forward in this direction.”
Post-independence, the Induction of women officers into the Indian Army through Women Special Entry Scheme (WSES) started in 1992. In February 2019, Army granted a permanent commission to women officers in eight streams viz.- Signals, Engineers, Army Aviation, Army Air Defence, Electronics and Mechanical Engineers, Army Service Corps, Army Ordnance Corps and Intelligence. Earlier it was granted in 2008 for JAG and AEC streams. The Government has also made sure that differing conditions of service for women officers and their men counterparts are removed. Women in Indian Army are leading from the front.
Even in Indian Navy, while permanent commission to women was approved with effect from 2008 in the Education Branch, Law and Naval Constructors Cadres the same has been implemented only in October 2020 due to certain litigation in the Courts. As a result, for the first time, 41 women have been granted permanent commission based on merit. In fact, the permanent commission in Indian Navy is now available for practically all branches of Indian Navy.
Not only grant of permanent commission, enhanced opportunities for women officers have been created by Government viz.- first woman officer as a Naval pilot for the Dornier Aircraft selected in December 2019, two women Observer officers have been streamed into Sea king helicopters in September 2020 for the first time, four women officers have been appointed to serve onboard IN ships, one woman officer has been streamed into Remotely Piloted Aircraft for the first time and Navika Sagar Parikrama, the first ever Indian circumnavigation of the globe by all-women crew on Indian Navy sailing vessel INSV Tarini was conducted in 2017-2018. The expedition showcased women power in naval field.
The first batch of women officers in IAF was inducted in 1993. The first batch of women pilots in the transport and helicopter streams were commissioned in December 1994.
However, IAF opened all branches for women in 2016. As a result, India got its first women fighter pilots in June 2016 breaking glass ceiling. As of September 2020, there are 1,875 female officers in the IAF including 10 fighter pilots and 18 Navigators.
Several women in IAF have made the country proud with their achievements. On 29 May 2019, Flight Lieutenant Bhawana Kanth became the first woman fighter pilot to be operational by day and night. The Sarang Formation Aerobatic Display team had its first woman pilot in Flight Lieutenant Dipika Mishra.
In May 2019, Flight Lieutenant Parul Bharadwaj, Flying Officer Aman Nidhi and Flight Lieutenant Hina Jaiswal became the first “all woman” crew to fly an IAF aircraft. Squadron Leader Minty Agarwal, a fighter controller, earned a Yudh Seva Medal for her role in foiling the enemy’s designs in the skies over Kashmir in 2019. Wing Commander Asha Jyotirmai holds the record for having the largest number of para jumps in the country.
The Government opened admission to girls in Sainik School in 2017. Sainik School, Chhingchhip, Mizoram became the first Sainik School to admit girls for the academic session 2018-19. Girl Cadets actively participated in all activities be it sports or academics and they excelled in all the activities.
Five other schools, viz. Sainik School Bijapur and Sainik School Kodagu in Karnataka; Sainik School Chandrapur in Maharashtra; Sainik School Ghorakhal in Uttarakhand and Sainik School Kalikiri in Andhra Pradesh were asked to start admitting girls from 2020-21 and the rest of the Sainik Schools from the academic session 2021-22.
As a result of these steps by Government, gender bias against women officers in Indian Defence forces is set right.  More women are today getting into Defence Forces and serving the Nation and making the country proud.
The writer is the Defence Secretary