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Women in armed forces: new strides, miles to go

The Indian Navy announced on Monday that for the first time, two women officers will operate flying missions from warships. A look at what these developments mean for women in the Navy, how the situation has evolved and the road ahead.

Written by Sushant Kulkarni , Edited by Explained Desk | Pune | Updated: September 23, 2020 8:34:59 am
Women in Indian Navy, Role of women in Navy, Indian RAmy, women army, women airborne combatants, express explained, indian expressSub Lieutenant (SLt) Kumudini Tyagi and SLt Riti Singh would, in effect, be the first set of women airborne tacticians in India who would operate from the deck of warships. (PTI)

The Indian Navy on Monday announced selection of two women officers as Observers in the helicopter stream, making them first women airborne combatants who would be operating from warships. In another significant development in March, the Supreme Court had upheld that the women Short Service Commission officers in the Navy were eligible for Permanent Commission. The Navy had also inducted the first woman pilot in December last year. A look at what these developments mean for women in the Navy, how the situation has evolved and the road ahead.

Women in Indian Navy

Prior to 1992, women officers were inducted in the Navy only in the medical stream from the Armed Forces Medical Service. From July 1992, the Navy started inducting women, initially through a special entry scheme and later through the Short Service Commission, in only select branches of the Navy. Over the years, various branches were added to the list, and currently women officers can join the Navy in the streams of Air Traffic Control, Observers, Law, Logistics, Education, Naval Architecture, Pilots in Maritime Reconnaissance Stream only and the Naval Armament Inspectorate. It needs to be noted like in the Army and the Air Force, women are currently only inducted as Commissioned Officers and not in Other Ranks which are of categories of Junior Commissioned Officers and Non-Commissioned Officers.
In the early 2000s women officers from the Medical and Logistics stream were deployed on board Naval ships. While these deployments went on only for four-five years, they were discontinued for various reasons.

Women officers in new streams

Last December, the Navy announced the induction of a woman officer as pilot of Dornier aircraft, which are fixed wing aircraft operating from ashore establishments. On Monday, the Navy announced induction of two women officers as observers for the helicopter stream. Observers are airborne tacticians who fly on board helicopters or fixed-wing aircraft operated by the Navy. Till now women were inducted as observers for fixed wing aircraft which take off and land ashore. Entry in the helicopter stream means that women officers can now be deployed on frontline warships from which helicopters can operate.

In terms of various challenges towards deployment of women onboard warships, the logistics part is not as challenging as one would imagine, especially as most of the large warships of the Navy do have basic living arrangements that can be allocated for women. The question of mindset and gender sensitization, on the other hand, is something many believe would require concerted efforts, and concrete steps are being taken in that direction.

Serving and retired women officers from Armed forces in general and Navy in particular, sound a precautionary note against the celebrations about latest developments. They believe that the developments will have to actually result in more women coming into operational streams and new streams being opened for women in coming days. Some are also concerned that too much media and public attention on these new entrants can put unwanted pressure on them.

While women officers appreciate the support of many male military leaders in these processes, they also highlight the resistance from the system as a whole.

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Permanent Commission and the road ahead

In yet another milestone for women in the Navy, the Supreme Court in March this year upheld the right of serving women officers from the Short Service Commission in the Navy to be eligible for the getting permanent commission (PC). Short service Commission tenures in the Armed forces are of 10 years, extendable by four years after which officers can be eligible for permanent commission.

In the said ruling in the matter of case Union of India & Others Vs Annie Nagaraja & Others, Apex Court bench of Justices DY Chandrachud and Ajay Rastogi have said, “The battle for gender equality is about confronting the battles of the mind. History is replete with examples where women have been denied their just entitlements under law and the right to fair and equal treatment in the workplace.

In the context of the Armed Forces, specious reasons have been advanced by decision makers and administrators. They range from physiology, motherhood and physical attributes to the male dominated hierarchies. A hundred and one excuses are no answer to the constitutional entitlement to dignity, which attaches to every individual irrespective of gender, to fair and equal conditions of work and to a level playing field. A level playing field ensures that women have the opportunity to overcome their histories of discrimination with the surest of responses based on their competence, ability and performance.”

Women officers hope that these developments would result in them being posted at commanding positions on the ships which are a key for career advancements in the operational streams and also some day lead to women being deployed for most challenging of the deployments including that in the submarines.

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