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  Women in the Indian Armed Forces

 (By-Sajita Nair)

In the modern world, there are no domains of work that women haven’t delved into. Words such as chairman and cameraman have been rephrased as chairperson and cameraperson, to accommodate women. Many a male dominated work place has crumbled under the power of the woman - her spirit and energy. The Indian Armed Forces, which for long was considered a male dominated workplace, now has confident, bold women, molding into every role and setting examples for everyone. Lieutenant General Puneeta Arora, a lady officer from the Army Medical Corps, heads the prestigious defense institution, the Armed Forces Medical College (AFMC), in Pune.  In the land of Razia Sultana and Rani of Jhansi, it comes as no surprise that women make their mark in the Armed Forces.

Indian Armed Forces

The Indian armed forces comprises of Army, Navy, Air Force and Coast Guard. The Coast Guard was set up as an Armed Force more recently in 1978. Due to their unique roles as protectors of the nation’s land, sea and airspace respectively, the nature of work in each service is different. Apart from their main roles of defending the country, they may also be required to perform tasks to ease civil administration during times of crisis. The Indian president is the supreme commander of the armed forces. In carrying out the primary role of defending the nation, the armed forces personnel are bound by certain rules that govern their conduct. But, they also enjoy certain privileges that their civilian counterparts do not have access to. Passion for adventure activities and sports can pay off, as one can represent the defense teams and even the country.

Bright, young and energetic men and women make up the bulk of manpower in the armed forces. Recruitment is voluntary, which implies that every citizen of India is eligible to be a part of it, provided he/she fulfils the specified criteria for selection. Caste, region or religion, do not come in the way of the selection process, thereby making it a heterogeneous work place. Personnel retire earlier than many other government sectors, to keep the armed forces team, young and dynamic. Manpower in each of the services is broadly divided into ‘Commissioned officers’, ‘JCO’s (Junior Commissioned Officers)’ and ‘Other Ranks’ based on their qualifications and seniority.

Entry of Women

The role of women in the armed forces for a long time, was limited to the medical profession i.e. doctors and nurses. In 1992, the doors were thrown open for women entry as regular officers in aviation, logistics, law, engineering and executive cadres. Thousands of spirited young women applied against advertisements and it was a turning point in the history of time. These women chose a new field where they had to painstakingly pave a path for the others to follow.

The initial adjustment problems weren’t as much for the women as it was for the men. Wrapped in their tradition of chivalry and respect to women, most gentlemen officers could not treat their female counterparts at par with themselves. Their subordinates too, were men who came from conservative families where they saw women playing only traditional roles. The emergence of these women into totally male dominated bastions did initially create embarrassing moments for both. Men hushed their talks and behaved courteously, while women had to do with makeshift arrangements to suit their needs within units. Over the years and having come a long way now, men have realized that these women in uniform are their efficient and able co-workers. The time is not far when we may use the term ‘sisters-in-arms’ as equivalent to ‘brothers-in-arms’.

Currently, women in the non-medical cadre, serve as Short Service Commissioned (SSC) officers. Under this type of commission, they can serve in the armed forces for a period ranging from 5-14 years. On release they can pursue a career in the civil sector. SSC officers are released with gratuity and can avail some benefits as ex-serviceperson, but they do not get pension.  Women in the medical branch i.e. doctors and nurses can serve as Permanent Commissioned (PC) officers and are eligible for pension after retirement. They also have the option to serve as Short Service Commissioned officers.

Eligible women, who qualify various tests successfully, serve as Short Service Commissioned officers in the following branches of the Armed Forces.

ARMY: EME, Signals, Engineers, Army Education Corps, Army Ordnance Corps, Army Service Corps, Intelligence and Judge Advocate General’s branch.

NAVY: All branches of the Navy (except submariners and divers).

AIR FORCE: Flying (transport aircraft and helicopters), Technical and Administration branches.

COAST GUARD: All branches of the Coast Guard.

An Officer and a Lady

 In the modern day of electronic warfare, it’s more about overcoming stress in warfare than physical combat. It has been proven scientifically that women handle stress better and are also mentally tougher. This is not to undermine a woman’s physical capability. Women have done extremely well in physical training as well. In the first few batches at the armed forces training academies women displayed more endurance and some even outran their male counterparts in cross-country runs and long distance marches. They carry on this tradition and keep setting new records.

As commissioned officers at the age of 22-23 years, they may often have subordinates older than their parents. Hence, from day one, it is a challenge and leadership qualities are under test. The color of their crisp uniforms and the stars/stripes they adorn differentiate them from each other. Despite the good quality of life, they may sometimes undergo hardships due to the nature of work. An officer may have to work in tough terrains or difficult circumstances. Most women however, who undergo training as cadets in various military academies, cope up with various difficult situations, easily. Being a transferable job, transfers and movements are seen as unique travel opportunities to travel to remotest locations in the country. Every unit is a mini-India with people and cultures as diverse.

            As most lady officers are married to gentlemen officers in the armed forces, as per government policies, they are transferred together. Women officers can also avail of maternity leave; furlough and annual leave in succession, to cater to pre and post-natal care. On retirement too, they enjoy medical facilities and coveted club memberships. They can afford to maintain the same quality of life due to the various benefits they can avail of. Their experience and qualities imbibed while in service make them much in demand in the private sector.

Although the path these women have chosen is tough, they have proved that they have the spirit, the courage and the will to carry on. Presently, women do not serve in combat arms nor do they fly fighter aircrafts, but it won’t be long before these forbidden avenues are thrown open to them.