Command Post for Women: SC Order Poses Major Operational Challenge to Indian Army

Indian Army

New Delhi. The Supreme Court order that even serving women officers be considered for Permanent Commission (PC) and also for command appointments, sources indicated that it would pose a major operational challenge for Indian Army in granting women officers across the board in ‘combat support arms and services.’

One of the reasons for this is that the force has till now largely restricted women to legal and education branches that do not involve ‘command and control’ of male troops.

Moreover, the almost 13-lakh strong force, which includes almost 43,000 officers, has neither trained women officers for command nor given them the responsibility till now. Women officers, unlike their male counterparts, were not mandated to undergo the ‘junior command course’ and other ‘adjunct courses’ as young Captains or Majors till now.

The sources said that the apex court order to end the prevailing gender bias in the overwhelmingly male military environments will immediately open the doors for about 600 short service women officers, who have completed 10 years in service, to opt for PC in the Army. “They will have to apply for it and then undergo a board to assess their suitability,” sources said.

The country’s military brass has for long opposed PC and command roles for women due to what they call “operational, practical and cultural problems.”

“Women officers have been trained only as support cadre for staff appointments because they exit the force after 10 or 14 years as SSC officers as per their terms of engagement.

They have not been groomed for command appointments,” sources said.

“The Army, which is heavily deployed along the borders and in counter-insurgency operations, has a limited number of ‘sheltered’ or peace station postings. With more women PC officers occupying such positions, hard or field postings for male officers will be more prolonged,” an officer said.

Though women officers (they are not recruited in lower ranks) have been inducted into the armed forces since the early 1990s, their number in the Army is just 1,653, 1,905 in IAF and 490 in Navy in the 65,000-strong officer cadre of the 15-lakh strong armed forces. These figures do not include women officers in the medical, dental and nursing streams, who are inducted through the PC route.

Women are also not allowed to join combat arms like infantry, mechanised infantry, artillery and armoured corps (which together constitute about 70 per cent of the Army) or serve on board warships and submarines. The IAF, which already had women transport aircraft and helicopter pilots, has commissioned eight women as fighter pilots since 2016 to break yet another glass ceiling.

But the ongoing battle was more for PC and command positions rather than combat roles. Under pressure from the courts, the defence ministry-Army combine had last year opened PC for women SSC officers in eight arms and services (Signals, Engineers, Army Aviation, Air Defence, Electronics and Mechanical Engineers, Army Service Corps, Army Ordnance Corps and Intelligence) in addition to two earlier existing streams of Judge Advocate General and Army Education Corps.

The Defence Ministry order said only new women SSC officers would be considered for PC based on availability of vacancies and subject to “willingness, suitability, performance, medical fitness and competitive merit”, but they would be employed only in “various staff appointments if found suitable.