Women can join and be part of all the three wings of the Indian Armed Forces i.e., the Army, Navy and the Air Force. But women are prohibited from serving in combat roles and are only allowed to perform combat support services and supervisory roles in the Indian Army.
There are currently 9,118 women serving in the Indian Armed Forces. 3.8% of the world’s second largest army, 13% of the Indian Air Force and 6% of the Indian Navy comprises of women. Representation of women is indeed a miniscule percentage.
The role of women in the Indian Armed Forces can be first dated back to 1888 when the Indian Military Nursing Service was formed under the British Raj. Indian Military nurses were of a great asset to the Britishers during both the world wars. During this period, 350 Indian Military Nurses either died or were taken as prisoners of war. This was followed by the establishment of the Women’s Auxiliary Corps (India) in May 1942.
On 12 July 1943, Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose set forth the formation of the Rani of Jhansi Regiment, an all-women’s regiment of the Indian National Army. The unit was led by Lakshmi Sahgal and comprised of women from Indian towns and rubber plantations. Recruits underwent military, combat and weapon training. The Rani of Jhansi Regiment had its first passing out parade on 30 March 1944 at the Singapore training camp.
The Army Act of 1950 denied women regular commissions to join the forces except in corps, branches and departments specified by the Central Government. On 1st November, 1958, the Army Medical Corps became the first branch of the Indian Army to permit regular commissions to women to work as doctors.
It was in January 1992, when women were first inducted into certain branches of the Army, Navy and the Air Force under the Women Special Entry Scheme (WSES) which granted a commission of five years.
In 2006, the WSES was replaced by the Short Service Commission (SSC) which permitted women officers a commissioned period of 10 years which could be extendable to an additional 4 years of service.
From 2008 onwards, permanent commissions were entitled to women in the Judge Advocate General (Legal) branch and the Army Education Corps. One of the biggest turning points for women in the military came in 2015 when the Indian Air Force decided to induct them as fighter pilots. May 2019 onwards women aviators were allowed to undertake combat missions.
This was followed by women receiving permanent commission in Artillery, Army Aviation Corps, Engineers, Signals, Electrical and Mechanical Engineers (EME), Army Service Corps, Army Ordnance Corps and Intelligence Corps in 2020.
In 2021, for the first time, soldier ranks were initiated for women in the Corps of Military Police. The Supreme Court on 18 August, 2021 took a landmark decision by allowing female aspirants to avail admission into the tri-service National Defence Academy.
Despite all of this, women are still prohibited to join the Parachute Regiment/Special Forces. But in 2020, they became eligible to join the paratrooper’s wings but by working in support arms like EME, Signals and ASC.
Female doctors of the Armed Forces Medical Services have been promoted up till three-star ranks: Lt. Gen for the Army, Vice Admiral for the Navy and Air Marshal for the Air Force. Non-medical lady officers have reached the rank of Colonel, Group Captain and Commander in the Army, Air Force and the Navy.
What Lies Ahead?
Countries like the United States, Israel, North Korea, France, Germany, Netherlands, Australia and Canada have women serving in combat roles for their militaries. With the rise of women in the military upon gradually providing them equal opportunities, in no time women will also be allowed to be part of combat services.
After all, it is only after both men and women work together obscene upliftment of the country will take place.