Women have been working in Indian Armed Forces since 1888. The women have been primarily working as nurses until 1992. Since 1992 all wings of Indian Armed Forces allowed women in combat supervisory roles (officers) and support roles, except Indian Army. Females are not allowed to serve in combat units like the Infantry, the armored corps and Mechanized infantry.
Priya Jhingan was one of the first 25 women inducted as commissioned officers in Indian Army in 1993. Women joined Indian air force as pilots in support role in 1994. Gunjan Saxena was the first women to fly support sorties in a combat zone during Kargil war. Even though women are not yet allowed s combatant in the combat specialist forces, such as Ghatak Force, Garud Commando Force, MARCOS, para commandos, etc. but they can join paratroopers wings of their respective arms like para EME, para signals, para ASC, etc.
In February 2016, President Pranab Mukherjee announced that women will finally be allowed to take up combat roles in all sections of the Indian armed forces, signalling a radical move towards gender parity in one of the world’s most male-dominated professions. Soon women will be seen in combat roles in all streams of Indian Armed Forces like fighter pilots. In 2019, Opening up a new avenue for females, the Indian Army on Thursday kicked off the process of inducting women as jawans by starting their online registration for recruitment in the corps of military police. This is being seen as a major breakthrough for women in armed forces as so far, they were being inducted only as officers and this is the first time they would be taken in as soldiers.
During his 72nd Independence Day address, Indian Prime Minister, Narendra Modi announced that women officers with SSCs in the Indian Armed Forces would be eligible for PCs through a transparent selection process. As a result, women now also have the option of taking up PCs in all the 10 branches of the Indian Army where they are already being inducted as officers under SSC.
Recruitment of women into Indian armed forces is similar to that of men. Women have to qualify defence entrance exams like CDS, AFCAT and CAPF followed by SSB interview. Age and educational requirements for different arms of the Indian Armed Forces can be found at their respective websites.
Despite several reforms in last three decades, there are still several challenges before they are completely accepted and assimilated in Indian armed forces. These challenges include:
- India is largely a patriarchal society with a traditional mind-set. Thus, the men might not be very comfortable being commanded by women in the field.
- It is a biological fact that on average women are weaker than men. In combat units, which are necessarily intensely physical, any perceived weakness would lead to loss of respect of the subordinates. Which would make the task of women officers that much harder.
- The risk of getting captured as Prisoners of War (PoW’s) is highest for combat units. A women PoW could be a psychological blow.
- Due to biological differences, women need long mid-career breaks as maternity leave. Not only does this disrupt training, but also puts restrictions on the type of physical work that they can do before and after the leave. This would be a major challenge for combat roles.
Women have overcome several obstacles; several more are yet to be overcome.