On July 3, in his address to soldiers in Nimu, barely 40 km from Leh, Prime Minister Narendra Modi, while referring to women personnel of the Army and paramilitary, said, “I am looking at women soldiers in front of me. In the battlefield at the border, this view is inspiring.”
With the Indian Army deploying ‘Rifle Women’ — the women’s unit of the Assam Rifles, a paramilitary force over which the Army has operational control — near the Line of Control in Jammu and Kashmir, the debate about women being allowed in combat roles in the three forces has come back in focus.
Earlier this year, when the Supreme Court asked the Army to open the doors of Permanent Commission to women in all non-combat streams, it had elicited a similar debate about the possibility of women participating in combat roles, including as leaders, in the future.
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In a first step, the government had last year announced that it would start recruiting women in the Corps of Military Police, which is responsible for the security of military establishments.
The government started the process in April 2019, by recruiting the first batch of 100 women on soldier general duty in the Military Police. The Army has now sought applications for the second batch of women personnel. The government intends to recruit 1,700 women soldiers in a phased manner over the years till they make up 20 per cent of the Corps of Military Police.
On November 18 last year, responding to a question in the Rajya Sabha, Defence Minister Rajnath Singh mentioned that the “Indian Army has a plan for phased induction of women in below Officer Rank in the Corps of Military Police,” and added that “presently, there is no proposal for additional recruitment of women in Army”.
Even as women are recruited in all other non-combat streams in the Army, the options for women in Navy and Air Force are broader. Prime Minister Narendra Modi mentioned this on Saturday, in his speech for the 74th Independence Day.
“Today if women are working underground, in coal mines, then the daughters of my country are also kissing the limits of the sky by flying fighter planes. Today India is one of those nations where women are being included in combat roles in Navy and Air Force.”
At different stages, women have been given combat roles in the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF), Border Security Force (BSF), Central Industrial Security Force (CISF), Indo-Tibetan Border Police (ITBP) and the Sashastra Seema Bal (SSB), with all these forces now allowing women entry at the officer level.
The last force to do so was ITBP, which notified rules for entry of women officers in 2018. Among the five paramilitary forces, called the Central Armed Police Forces (CAPFs), the CRPF and the CISF have been allowing women to apply as direct-entry officers through the UPSC for a long time.
Two other forces — BSF and SSB — were allowed to directly induct women officers in 2013 and 2014 respectively.
The Union Home Minister, Rajnath Singh, had in 2016 announced that women would account for 33 per cent of constable-rank personnel in CRPF and CISF, and 15 per cent in the BSF, SSB and ITBP.
However, no force has so far been able to give more than 5% representation to women.
The five CAPFs have around nine lakh personnel. However, only 25,878 of these are women, according to an answer provided by the Ministry of Home Affairs in Lok Sabha on November 19, 2019.
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