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.
branches of the Navy (except submariners and divers).
Flying (transport aircraft and helicopters), Technical and Administration
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.