India paves way for more women in armed forces
India's top court has cleared the way for more women to join the armed forces.
On Wednesday, the government told the Supreme Court that women can join military colleges and be eligible for permanent commissions.
The decision comes less than a month after the top court allowed women to sit for examinations to India's National Defence Academy (NDA).
Women make up a miniscule 0.56% of India's 1.4 million army personnel.
Their representation is somewhat better in the air force (1.08%) and navy (6.5%).
On Wednesday, the government sought time to frame guidelines for women candidates to take courses in the NDA, a joint defence service training institute of India's armed forces.
"The armed forces play an important role... but need to do more for gender equality in the forces. We want them to take a proactive approach themselves in ensuring gender equality rather than waiting for courts to intervene," the Supreme Court said.
In August, the court had criticised the government of having a "regressive mindset" for not allowing women to sit for NDA examinations. "It is a policy decision which is based in gender discrimination," the court had said.
Women at the moment are inducted into the army through the Short Service Commission (SSC) and don't qualify for a permanent commission - which allows an officer to serve a full tenure.
So women are initially meant to serve for five years, but have the option of extending their tenure. However, they don't get the same benefits as their male counterparts.
The only exceptions are the army's legal and education wings, where women officers have been eligible for permanent commissions since 2008.
So women have worked in the armed forces as doctors, nurses, engineers, signallers, administrators and lawyers. They have treated soldiers on battlefields, handled explosives, detected and removed mines, and laid communication lines.
Experts say women have ended up doing almost everything except combat roles: they are still not allowed to serve in infantry and the armoured corps.
In 2019 the government agreed to give permanent commissions to women but said this would only apply to those officers who had served less than 14 years, citing physical limitations of older women officers.
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