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Tuesday, 6 June 2017

Revolutionary move: Army’s willingness to open combat roles to women is a welcome development (The Times of India - 6 June 2017)

     Army chief Bipin Rawat has said that the army will open up combat roles to women. This announcement comes a year after the air force inducted three women pilots into its fighter stream. These are welcome developments and signify dismantling of gender barriers in defence services, a move that’s especially revolutionary in a patriarchal country such as India.

     Women have been engaged in combat roles in a handful of armies across the world, mainly in parts of Europe, North America, Australia, New Zealand, Israel and Eritrea. Israel, which conscripts both men and women, even has mixed gender infantry battalions. The Indian army’s aim is to start the process by first inducting women into the military police. The induction of women into combat roles will necessarily have to be done in a gradual manner and military police is the best place to begin the process. Given the unique nature of the role of combatants and their need to function as a cohesive unit, it is essential that everyone meets the same qualifying standards. Experience in other armies shows that women can meet the same standards as men and their presence needs neither dilution in qualifying standards nor any other compromise.

     Currently, around 300 women are inducted as officers every year across the three arms of defence forces, but in roles that complement combat positions. The positive experience India has had in the last 25 years of inducting women officers on short service commissions provides enough evidence that women are as effective as men in defence services. It is to the credit of the army and General Rawat that they are opening up new avenues for women soldiers. Given changes in the army and air force, it is reasonable to expect the navy will soon deploy women in warships.

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