Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s announcement on Independence Day that permanent commission would be granted to serving women officers of the armed forces will change the career paths of more than 3,700 women officers in the three services, besides providing full-length career opportunity for women aspirants in the future. During his address from the Red Fort said, Modi said: “Women officers who have been selected through the Short Service Commission in our defence forces will now have the option to take up permanent commission.”
Women are inducted in the armed forces only as officers and not in subordinate ranks, and currently, there are 1,561 women officers in the Army, 1,594 in the IAF and 644 in the Navy. The announcement came four months after the government told the Supreme Court that it was considering granting permanent commission (PC) to short service commission (SSC) women Army officers. In May, the Ministry of Defence filed an affidavit in the apex court, stating that it requires six months to formulate modalities and enforce the changes and alterations in the three forces.
“All three wings of the armed forces and the Ministry of Defence are actively considering the issue of parity between male and female officers in securing PC in the armed forces,” the affidavit stated. The grant of PC at par with their male counterparts has been a long-standing demand of women officers who are inducted for a period of ten years, extendable by another four years under the SSC scheme.
Under the SSC scheme, women are allowed entry into Army Service Corps, Ordnance, Education Corps, JAG, Engineers, Signals, Intelligence and Electronics & Mechanical Engineering branches of the Army. Only in certain select streams like the Judge Advocate General, Army Education Corps (AEC) and the Military Police are women given permanent commission at par with male officers. Unlike male officers who join under the SSC scheme and can opt for a permanent scheme at the end of ten years, women SSC officers do not have the same option.
The Prime Minister’s announcement now means that SSC women officers in these branches will have the same option as the male officers and can theoretically achieve higher ranks like Colonels, Brigadiers, Major Generals and Lieutenant Generals. Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman immediately tweeted the Prime Minister’s announcement from Red Fort, thanking him for the decision.
As women are so far not inducted in direct combat arms like Infantry, Armoured Corps, Mechanised Infantry, Army Aviation Corps and Artillery, the move will not change the status quo in these branches. Most of the senior operational commanders in the Army are from these fighting arms.
Unlike the Army, the IAF and Navy have opened up select combat roles for women. The IAF has pioneered the entry of women as officers in both flying and ground duties. In the IAF, women SSC officers are now commissioned even as fighter pilots, having been inducted as helicopter and transport pilots much earlier.
They are also being commissioned in legal, education and intelligence branches by the IAF. In Navy, women officers are inducted through SSC in Logistics, Law, Observers, Air Traffic Control (ATC), Pilots (Maritime Reconnaissance Stream), Naval Armament Inspectorate Cadre (NAIC), Naval Architecture and Education Branch.