2021-09-22 13:56:13 Women in India Win More Military Opportunities

Women in India Win More Military Opportunities

NEW DELHI (AP) — The Supreme Court of India opened the door for women to pursue military careers at the highest levels on Wednesday, a major step forward in a country where gender inequality is rampant and women are leaving the labor force in droves.

The court ordered the government to allow women to take the entrance exam to India’s premier defense academy, the pipeline for the country’s top army, navy, and air force commanders, for the first time in November. While the court upheld the government’s decision to keep women out of most combat roles, the ruling may encourage more women to join the military.

According to Anju Bala, a former major in the Indian army, it “gives a sense of victory.”

“They have one more opportunity to compete on an equal footing with men,” she said.

Women make up only a small proportion of India’s 1.3 million-strong armed forces, which are among the world’s largest. They can serve as officers, but their opportunities are limited because they were unable to attend the elite military academy. Women were first admitted to similar schools in the United States, such as the Naval Academy and the Air Force Academy, in 1976.

They can now join the military straight out of high school and aspire to the highest ranks. The ruling may also provide them with more legal support as they fight for equal access to combat roles.

Women have been pushing for more roles in the workplace all over India. According to the Center for Monitoring Indian Economy, only 9% of working-age women are employed. At a Group of 20 meeting of the world’s largest economies in June, India pledged to do more to reduce gender discrimination in hiring, wages, and working conditions.

Since British colonial rule, women have served in India’s armed forces. During the two world wars, they served as nurses. In 2007, Indian women officers served as the United Nations’ first all-female peacekeeping force in postwar Liberia.

Women have been eligible for short-service commissions in the armed forces’ education and legal departments since the early 1990s, in response to court cases. Women had gained access to eight additional departments over the years, including engineering, intelligence, and logistics.

Women’s access to other areas has expanded in recent years, including the Assam Rifles, India’s oldest paramilitary force, in 2016, and the army police in 2019.

However, their tenure was largely limited to 14 years, and opportunities for higher leadership were limited. At the age of 17, only men could join the armed forces by enrolling in the National Defense Academy, a four-year program that provides the core of India’s military leadership. After graduating from college, women were allowed to join through a less prestigious 11-month training course.

With fewer opportunities for advancement, many people were forced to leave the military earlier than they would have liked.

Sowmya Narayani, 34, was a member of India’s air force for 11 years before her short-term commission expired. Ms. Narayani briefly worked for Infosys, an Indian technology behemoth, but would have considered a military career.

She is now a stay-at-home mother in Chennai, a city in southern India, and she claims that the possibility of a long-term commission would have provided her with financial independence and the ability to better plan her future.

“You finish your tenure by your mid-30s,” she explained. “With a young family, relocating at that age is very difficult.”

For decades, women have challenged the limits in court. The government agreed two years ago to give permanent commissions to women, but only to those officers who had served for less than 14 years, citing physical limitations of older female officers.

In response, serving female officers petitioned the Supreme Court, claiming that the policy was not only “highly regressive,” but also “completely contradictory to the demonstrated record and statistics.”

According to Ms. Narayani, physical training for female cadets is just as rigorous as it is for men.

“There is no such discrimination once we enter our training that says, ‘Okay, you are a lady, so you will be excused from doing this,’” she said.

The court decision on Wednesday stemmed from a public interest litigation filed with India’s Supreme Court that was not tied to a specific plaintiff. The suit claimed that not allowing women to take the academy’s entrance exam violated India’s Constitution, which forbids sex discrimination.

In an earlier ruling, the court agreed, and Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government announced in early September that the academy would be open to women.

“Deliberate planning and meticulous preparation are required to ensure smooth induction and seamless training of such female candidates,” Shantanu Sharma, a defense ministry official and captain in the Indian navy, wrote in an affidavit filed this week with the Supreme Court.

The timetable is outlined in the ruling issued on Wednesday. The government announced this week that women will be able to take the defense academy exams beginning in May 2022. However, the court insisted that the process begin in November, when admission exams for the defense academy are scheduled to take place.

According to the justices, the armed forces, which are well-trained to respond quickly to emergencies, should be able to implement the decision sooner.

Ms. Bala, who is now a security consultant in the northeastern city of Shillong, hailed the court’s decision as a “landmark judgment.”

Ms. Bala, a veteran of postings in the army’s logistics branch along India’s borders with China, Pakistan, and Bhutan, said the disparity in commission lengths for men and women has always bothered her.

“They should be given equal opportunity to succeed,” she stated.

According to Nithi C.J., 34, a risk management consultant who served in the Indian army’s intelligence corps, admission to India’s defense academy, based in Pune, central India, brings women one step closer to proving their combat readiness.

“The ball is now in our court,” she said, “and it is up to the female candidates to prove their worth.”

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Women in India Win More Military Opportunities