In the wake of the Supreme Court’s interim order to allow women to appear for the upcoming entrance exam of the National Defence Academy (NDA), top retired and serving military leaders have highlighted the need to augment existing infrastructure and recalibrate policies towards training standards and curriculum.
The interim order was passed by the SC on Wednesday, while hearing a plea seeking directions to allow eligible women to appear for the entrance examinations of the NDA and Naval Academy, conducted by the Union Public Service Commission (UPSC). The apex court asked UPSC to issue a corrigendum in keeping with its interim direction. The court, however, said that admission of women candidates will be subject to the final ruling on the petition.
Former Chief of Naval Staff Admiral Arun Prakash (retd), who had also served as the Commandant of the NDA in the late 1990s, said, “Immediately implementing the ruling of the Supreme Court would be a difficult task, mainly due to the administrative and infrastructural aspects — for example, construction of new accommodation facilities and changes required to be made in the existing ones. Training modules may also need to be altered.”
At present, students between age group of 16 to 19 and those who are in Class 12 or above can apply for the NDA, which is located at Khadakwasla in Pune. Those who pass the entrance exam conducted by UPSC undergo a Services Selection Board process and later undergo a medical test. After completing three years of training, cadets move to their respective service academies.
There are several women civilian academic officers who are permanent faculty members at the NDA and a number of women officers from the tri-services regularly come on deputations to teach academic or service subjects.
Former Chief of Air Staff, Air Chief Marshal PV Naik (retd), said allowing women in NDA was a good step towards providing equal opportunities in the Armed Forces. “When the Armed Forces started recruiting women officers, 30 years ago, some changes had to be made. The latest ruling by the Supreme Court will have to be followed by policy recalibration and infrastructure changes at all levels — for the selection of women into the NDA, for their training at the NDA and respective service academies and third, their deployment in the services, once they pass out,” he said.
Lt Gen Punita Arora (retd), a former Surgeon Vice Admiral, said it was a “positive step”.
“Everything has to be taken step by step – development for women in the Armed Forces has been gradual but very firm and the government has planned very well on what is the way forward. This is a positive step by the leadership,” Lt Gen Arora (retd), who was the first woman to secure the rank of Lieutenant General in the Indian Armed Forces, told The Indian Express.
In 2005, she was appointed the first woman Vice-Admiral of the Indian Navy. She also became the first woman officer to command the Armed Force Medical College, when she took charge of it in 2004.
Lt Gen (Dr) Madhuri Kanitkar, Deputy Chief of Integrated Defence Staff (Medical), told The Indian Express that training and working conditions in the Medical Corps are quite different and hence she can’t provide a deeper insight into this. “While the final plans will be worked out by the leadership, women may be able to start on a common platform with a permanent commission and a standardised rigorous training. Training together may help develop gender sensitisation at an early stage, making the process of working together shoulder to shoulder easier with better camaraderie. The organisation will need to work out the logistics, including training schedule and support systems,” Lt Gen Kanitkar said.
A senior serving officer from the Army, who has served at the NDA in the past, said on the condition of anonymity, “The NDA, in its present structure, is not meant to admit women cadets. But the women will certainly be better trained at the NDA due to the rigorous training modules. If the academy is to implement the Supreme Court ruling, the preparations will have to be done not just at the level of the academy but also at the Headquarters, Integrated Defence Service, under whose purview the academy falls. While the final order will come in due course of time, we will have to start early to make sure that we do not fall behind schedule. They can initially start the training by adding new squadrons. Over a period of time, we can have squadrons which will have boys and girls training together. We can also look at the service academies abroad for notes on transition from being boys-only institutions.”
The officer added, “We may have to look at setting up a revised set of standards for training and curriculum of physical training. Separate appointments of women officers for new squadrons and those of medical officers will also be required.”
Another officer who served with the NDA in the past said that as part of the outdoor training, a cadet has to undergo a set of physical training activities such as a cross-country race, group games conducted by physical training team, equitation or horse riding and drill. The officer underlined the need to expand these training facilities and revise the training modules.
Lt Gen Satish Dua (retd), who served as the Chief of Integrated Defence Staff among several other key appointments, said, “Women have been serving in the Armed Forces since the last three decades and their participation has increased over the years. But admitting women candidates to the NDA as ruled by the apex court would be difficult to implement with immediate effect, considering the requirement of infrastructural and administrative arrangements for it.”
General Dua added, “In the existing avenues for women candidates’ entry into the Armed Forces, women are admitted to the Officers Training Academy, Chennai or the Air Force Academy after their graduation, when they are in their early 20s. At the NDA, they will be admitted at the age of 16. This factor will also have to be considered when the entry of female candidates materialises at the NDA.”
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