Women in combat roles in armed forces: Wait gets longer

Women in the country’s armed forces will have to wait longer to get into combat roles. The defence ministry has said it has no proposal as of now, including recruiting women as fighter pilots.

New Delhi: Women in the country’s armed forces will have to wait longer to get into combat roles. The defence ministry has said it has no proposal as of now, including recruiting women as fighter pilots, a distinction that even Pakistan has.

"There is no proposal to induct women into combat duties in the defence forces including as fighter pilots in Indian Air Force (IAF)," the government has asserted before parliament twice in the last two months.

For rejecting the combat role demand, the government has cited the studies on women in combat roles carried out by the Delhi-based Integrated Defence Staff (IDS) headquarters in 2006 and the tri-services committee which gave its report in 2011.

"Induction of women in combat duties has not been recommended by the studies carried out by the IDS headquarters in 2006 and the High level Tri-Services Committee in 2011," the government has said.

Though India began recruiting women as short-service commissioned (SSC) officers into the armed forces in 1992, it is yet to make up its mind on allowing them to participate in combat. It has only in recent years relaxed its norms on having women as permanent officers.

But countries like New Zealand, Canada, Denmark, Finland, Israel and Sweden, however, allow women to serve at all army positions. The US and the UK too allow women to join combat roles, but with a few restrictions. Neighbouring Pakistan too has women fighter pilots in its air force now.

India`s women are recruited initially as SSC officers for five years, but are offered to extend the commission up to 14 years of service.

In certain branches of the three services, though, they are offered permanent commission on a par with men SSC officers, provided they complete the criteria laid down.

The defence ministry, after considering a comprehensive policy paper on induction and employment of women submitted by the armed forces and keeping in view the role and responsibility of the armed forces in defending the nation and protecting its territorial integrity, issued in November 2011 a letter laying down the policy framework including granting permanent commission.

Permanent commission has been offered to women officers in Judge Advocate General (JAG) and Army Education Corps (AEC) of the army and their corresponding branches in the navy and the air force, apart from the naval constructor branch in the navy and the accounts branch in the air force since September 2008.

Additionally, women in the air force are eligible for consideration of permanent commission in technical, administration, logistics and meteorology branches.

"The grant of permanent commission will be subject to willingness of the candidate and service-specific requirements, availability of vacancies, suitability, merit of the candidate as decided by each service," the government said.

At present, a petition filed by some short-service women officers regarding offering them permanent commission and against their release from service is pending before the Supreme Court.
"Women serving in the Indian armed forces is an evolving process. Till 1992, women were never recruited. Now we get permanently absorbed into some of the streams of service. We have come far ahead since the time we started out. I am sure time will come when we will do combat roles too. But it is still a little far away," a serving woman officer in the rank of an army captain said.

"Over these 20 years, we are now rubbing shoulders with men officers at every level of service. It is more so in the air force and navy than in the army. But there are practical issues, which need thought and resolving, such as living quarters in forward areas," according to an air force woman officer.

"I know women officers who have laid mines in border areas. I know women who flew planes better than men during training. Once mindset changes, things will fall in place. It is just a matter of time," says another woman army officer.
According to figures available, there has been a 67 percent increase in recruitment of women officers into the army, navy and air force since 2009. As many as 781 women joined the armed forces as officers during this period. The army alone inducted 343 women, the navy 129 and the air force 309. These figures do not include the women officers joining the armed forces medical services.

There is no separate fixed sanctioned strength for recruitment of women officers in the armed forces and they are recruited within the overall sanctioned strength of the respective services.

"Both society and armed forces are reconciling to women in uniform, donning roles traditionally performed by men. I am sure, not only combat roles, even commanding units may become a reality in the future," said a woman squadron leader from the air force.