(GS 3: Various Security Forces, Agencies & Their Mandates)
As many as 108 women officers in the Army are set to be cleared for the rank of Colonel (selection grade) which will make them eligible to command units and troops in their respective arms and services for the first time.
The Army, being the largest of the three services, has the largest number of women officers at 1,705, followed by 1,640 women officers in the IAF, and 559 in the Navy.
Commanding a unit:
- Once promoted to a Colonel, an officer is eligible to command troops directly in the Army, which is an acknowledgment of the leadership qualities of the officer.
- It is considered a coveted appointment because in no other rank — including higher ranks like Brigadier or Major General — does an officer interact directly with troops on the ground.
- Women officers in many streams of the Army, including the Army Air Defence, Signals, Engineers, Army Aviation, EMEs, Army Ordnance Corps, and Intelligence Corps will be commanding units.
Women in commands: Significance
- Leadership opportunity: Despite working at the grassroots level as junior officers, women officers hitherto did not get an opportunity to prove their leadership skills as they were not eligible to command a unit.
- Gender parity: Most importantly, it grants women officer’s parity with their male counterparts.
- Higher ranks: Earlier promotions were staff appointments — which are more administrative in nature and not purely command appointments in which an officer commands troops on ground.
- Benefits after permanent commission: With a longer career in the Army, women officers will be considered for promotions, including to the rank of Colonel and beyond.
Why did their Colonel promotions come so late?
- An officer in the Army is promoted to the rank of Colonel only after serving between 16 and 18 years, based on certain criteria such as annual confidential reports and various courses.
- Women officers who were inducted into the Army were inducted as Short Service Commission (SSC) officers in 1992 and in the years after did not have the choice to opt for permanent commission.
Supreme Court order affirming Permanent Commission
- In 2019, the Army changed its rules allowing SSC women officers to opt for permanent commission who would have otherwise retired after 14 years of service.
- However, this was not retrospective and applied only to the batches of women officers starting their career in the Army in 2020.
- With the landmark Supreme Court judgment of February 2020, permanent commission was granted to women officers with retrospective effect.
How are women still discriminated?
- Women are still not eligible in core combat arms such as Infantry, Mechanised Infantry and Armoured Corps.
- Indian Army is not open to women fighting wars at the borders as foot soldiers.
- Much of this resistance stems from past instances of male soldiers being taken as prisoners of war and tortured by the enemy.
- However, the Army has recently decided to open the Corps of Artillery, a combat support arm, to women.
Navy and Air force:
- Women officers have been inducted into all branches of the Navy, and they will be eligible for permanent commission in the future.
- Women officers can command shore-based units and, as they join the service and become eligible for permanent commission, they would be able to command ships and air squadrons.
- The IAF has opened all branches for women officers, including the fighter stream and the new weapon systems branch.