The Indian military is moving forward in creating more equitable opportunities for women. Some of the changes have come through court intervention while others are being facilitated by forward-thinking military leaders. Regardless of the sources, the result is that Indian women who have been fighting for a more equitable distribution of responsibility and authority are beginning to see results.
The new changes aren’t major modifications in Indian society or culture. But they are indicative of a subtle shift in the willingness of the conservative culture’s slowly evolving openness to bringing women into more important roles in the country’s leadership.
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Two of the major changes involve the military:
India’s top court has ruled that an elite military academy must accept women students. Last week the Supreme Court set a deadline for the National Defense Academy (NDA) to admit women. The ruling is believed to open the door for women military personal to achieve high-ranking military positions which, until now, were traditionally open only to men.
In August the court ruled that women be allowed to take entrance exams for the NDA, a highly-selective institution that trains
cadets for the Indian navy, army and air force. The government had requested that the ruling allow them another year to prepare – to build additional dormitories, create health fitness criteria for women candidates, adjust its physical course to be suitable for women, etc.
The court, however, refused to extend the deadline. Women will be allowed to sit for the November exam which will open the door for eligible candidates to enter the academy in 2022. Chinmoy Pradip Sharma, one of the senior lawyers representing the petitioner said, “The court said, ‘We have given hope to the girls and we cannot take that away. Just because you filed the affidavit that there are difficulties, we cannot take that hope away.'”
Women have been trying to gain entrance to the NDA, which produces a large percentage of the country’s top military leaders, for many years. Now, women have the possibility of achieving permanent commissions and command positions in the armed forces. Sharma said, “It is a victory for women. In 2021, women are as good as men.”
First Woman Pilot in Indian Navy
Sub Lieutenant Shivangi, a woman, has broken a new barrier in the Indian armed forces by being commissioned as a navy pilot, tasked with flying a Dornier aircraft as part of naval operations. Shivangi completed her basic training at the Indian Naval academy in 2018 and has been waiting for her commission, which came through this year.
Shivangi’s operations will include maritime reconnaissance and transport, rescue missions and medical evacuations.
Shivangi was raised in India’s eastern Bihar state. She completed a degree in mechanical engineering degree at the Sikkim Manipal University of Technology and went on for further studies at the Malaviya National Institute of Technology in Jaipur. From there she went to the navy where her childhood dream of becoming a pilot was to be realized.
It wasn’t all smooth sailing at the naval training facility but Shivangi’s says that she received “massive support” from her naval squadron. “People were very supportive, I never felt like I am the only lady here, so that was because of my squadron and my instructors and all the people here.”
Shivangi is leading the way for other woman to join the ranks of navy pilots. Two women are set to complete their pilots courses on December 21st and join squadrons of their own. For now, the women can’t be placed on ship because the ships need to be readied, with special sections for women’s living accommodations. In the meantime, piloting navy aircraft is now an option.
Shivangi said, “You know every time somebody is doing something for the first time there is a lot of pressure, there is a lot of expectation so obviously the pressure will be there.”
The recent advances in women’s opportunities in the Indian armed forces follow a February 2020 Supreme Court ruling in which the Court ruled that the government must grant permanent command and commission positions to female officers on par with male officers.
Women in the Indian army are now eligible for the same ranks, promotions, pensions and benefits as their male counterparts. The ruling is retroactive, meaning that retired women officers have access to the same retirement packages as do their male counterparts.
Prior to the ruling, women could only serve for 10 to 14 years via short service commissions. Now, women in the military can achieve higher ranks, sure full tenures and enjoy greater leadership and salary potential. Women are still barred from serving in army combat units including the artillery and infantry corps but they will be able to assume command positions in the intelligence department and to command entire battalions.
The military had argued against women’s promotions to command positions, telling the court, “Women officers must deal with pregnancy, motherhood and domestic obligations towards their children and families and may not be well suited to the life of a soldier in the armed forces.”
But the court found that such arguments were based on discriminatory gender stereotypes and ruled that a 2010 Delhi high court order that gender discrimination in the military was unconstitutional should stand.
The ruling opens the door for further changes in India’s armed forces. The court wrote, “The time has come for a realization that women officers in the army are not adjuncts to a male dominated establishment whose presence must be ‘tolerated’ within narrow confines.”