Women’s participation in the armed forces


    In News

    • The Supreme Court directed the Centre and the Indian Air Force to consider granting Permanent Commission (PC) to 32 retired women Short Service Commission (SSC) officers based on their suitability with the purpose of giving them pensionary benefits.
      • The court refused to order their reinstatement in service.

    Background :

    • The court was hearing pleas by some women Short Service Commission Officers from India Air Force seeking Permanent Commission and consequential benefits.

    Supreme Court’s Observations 

    • The bench said the women IAF officers, if found eligible by the IAF for grant of permanent commission, will be entitled to grant of one-time pensionary benefit from the date when they would have completed 20 years in service if it had continued.
      • These women’s IAF officers’ pensions will be equivalent to the officers who went on to serve for 20 years. 
    • Babita Puniya case:
      • Apex court relied on the 2020 Babita Puniya case, which said that the armed forces have discriminatory recruitment practices for women who were being excluded from positions that they were otherwise entitled to.
      • It paved the way for an increase in the intake of women officers into the defense forces. 
      • Women in the armed forces have the option to serve a full career, which earlier was restricted to a maximum of 10 or 14 years.

    Scenario of Women’s participation in India’s Armed forces

    • Evolution:
      • The armed forces, traditionally thought of as a male bastion, have in the past 30 years seen success in the induction of women, though the journey has not been smooth.
      • The military opened its doors to women in 1992 when the Air Force inducted its first batch.  
    • Limited combat roles:
      • In 2008, a permanent commission was extended to women in streams of Judge Advocate General (JAG) and Army Education Corps.
      • In 2015, India also opened new combat air force roles for women as fighter pilots. 
      • Women have been allowed in combat in the Air Force, but we are yet to see women in combat roles in the army and navy. 
        • Even though women have been in the forces since 1992 all roles and career options are not offered to them.
    • Significance of inducting women in defence forces in India:
      • Women officers will be given equal opportunity to contribute to the nation.
      • The armed forces play an important role and need to promote gender equality in the forces. 
      • Providing women with a more challenging and fulfilling career
      • It would change the “regressive mindset” for not allowing women in the armed forces. 
      • It will challenge a strong stereotype that assumes that domestic obligations rest solely on women.
    • Challenges:
      • Military’s universal perception is that it would lead to “operational, practical and cultural problems”. 
      • Officers in combat branches have to fight together & there is no privacy which could be an issue for a female. 
      • It’s tough to maintain proper living conditions for women in combat situations, especially given social norms in India.
      • It is often seen as a challenge by society for women to meet the requirements of service owing to their prolonged absence during pregnancy, motherhood and domestic responsibilities.

    Way ahead

    • The women of the Armed Forces are undoubtedly viewed as role models for all women and the Supreme Court along with the Indian Government have played a stimulating character in achieving this end. 
    • The Armed Forces must take a proactive approach themselves in ensuring gender equality rather than waiting for courts to intervene.


    More about PC & SSC

    • Short Service Commission: It provides an option to women for joining the Army and serving as a Commissioned Officer for 10/14 years. After 10 years, a woman officer can either opt for a PC or opt-out or have the option of a 4 years extension, during which they can resign any time.
    • Permanent Commission:  It means a career in the Army till the retirement age. For PC, the entry is through National Defence Academy (NDA), Pune, Indian Military Academy (IMA), Dehradun and OTA, Gaya.
      • Permanent Commission for Women:
        • The Ministry of Defence has taken steps to ensure the implementation of the grant of PC to women officers in the Armed Forces.
        • Indian Air Force: 
          • All Branches, including Fighter Pilots, are open for female officers.
        • Indian Navy: 
          • All non-sea going Branches/Cadre/Specialisation has been opened for induction of women officers through SSC.
        • Indian Army: 
          • Women officers are granted PC in the Indian Army in all the ten branches where women are inducted for SSC.
    • Recent Developments :After the Supreme Court paved the way for women to take the National Defence Academy (NDA) exam last year, the first batch of 19 cadets have joined the tri-services academy in Khadakwasla, Pune.