AAPI Convention 2022


Growing presence of women in India’s armed forces: An issue that should not be politicized

One major reason the Indian Army has not allowed women officers in fighting arms and would not like to do so is that it does not want them captured by the enemy, writes Col Anil Bhat (retd) for South Asia Monitor

Col Anil Bhat (retd) Feb 14, 2022
Women in India’s armed forces

The advent of women in the Indian Army was in 1888 when the Indian Military Nursing Service was formed by the British. Indian Military Nurses turned out to be a great asset to the British in both the World Wars. During that period, 350 Indian Army nurses either died or were taken prisoner of war or declared missing in action. This figure included nurses who died when SS Kuala was sunk by Japanese bombers in 1942. 

The Women's Auxiliary Corps (India) was formed in May 1942. Noor Inayat Khan, (Jan 2, 1914 – Sep 13, 1944), of Indian and American descent, was a British Special Operations Executive in World War II who was renowned for her service and awarded the George Cross. Kalyani Sen was the first Indian woman in the Women's Royal Indian Naval Service of The Royal Indian Navy during WW II.  

Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose raised a women’s regiment as part of the Indian National Army, called the Rani of Jhansi Regiment. A lot of India’s actual history suppressed or twisted by Nehru and the Congress is slowly getting discovered. One shocking revelation is about Neera Arya of the Rani of Jhansi Regiment.  

British barbarity 

A staunch Bose loyalist, she was married by her father to Shrikant Jairanjan Das, an investigating officer very loyal to the British and one who was ordered to kill Bose. His bullet missed Bose, hitting the driver. Later, Neera killed her husband, was tried by the British and underwent long imprisonment under very brutal and horrendous torture, which included her being clamped to a frame and her breasts being cut off because she would not disclose the whereabouts of Bose.   

Under the Army Act of 1950, women became ineligible for regular commissions except in "such corps, departments or branches which the central government may specify by way of notifications". On November 1, 1958, the Army Medical Corps became the first in the Indian Army to grant regular commissions to women as doctors. 

It was in 1992 when women were first inducted into certain branches of the Indian Army, Navy and Air Force and only in short service commission. In 2008, when women officers became entitled to permanent commissioned in the Judge Advocate General (Legal) branch and Army Education Corps and in 2020, they became entitled to permanent commissioned into Artillery, Army Aviation Corps, Engineers, Signals, Electrical and Mechanical Engineers (EME), Army Service Corps, Army Ordnance Corps and Intelligence Corps. 

Although women are not allowed in the Parachute Regiment/special forces of Indian Army, but in 2020 they became eligible  to join the paratroopers wings of their respective arms like Para EME, Para Signals and Para ASCRuchi Sharma, commissioned in 1996, became the first operational paratrooper in the Indian Army. 


Also, since 2020, lady doctors of the Armed Forces Medical Services started getting promoted to three-star rank: Lt Gen-Army/Vice Admiral-Navy/Air Marshal-Air Force. Non-medical lady officers of the Army and Air Force have reached the rank of Colonel and Group Captain while in the Navy they have so far reached the rank Commander, which is equivalent of Lt. Col. 

In 2021, for the first time in the Armed Forces, soldier ranks in the Corps of Military Police were opened for women with 83 of them inducted as military policewomen in May. The other was the announcement of a major decision that the tri-service National Defence Academy (NDA) entrance exam was opened up to female cadets. 

An interesting difference in the uniforms of medical and non-medical lady officers is that the former wear saris and the latter wear trousers - both with regulation pattern shirts. While the trousers for non-medical lady officers are a functional requirement, when this writer saw some of them wearing trousers and neckties as civvies (civilian attire) and asked them, the general response was that trouser-based dresses gave them a feeling of equality and identifying with their male colleagues. 

However, the aspect of equality is not possible in all activities. During training in academies, PT (physical training), BPET (battle physical efficiency test), swimming and horse-riding are activities in which standards differ. These activities have to be organized in different classes/squads.  Although lady officers want to match male officers in many activities and have been very enthusiastic to join adventure/daring sports like mountaineering, adventure-sailing on the high seas, special formation flying, motor racing and trick motorcycling and have excelled in them, there are restrictions in their daily duties in peace and field areas. For instance, in the unit a duty officer’s tasks include inspection of soldiers living quarters.  

Women dare 

However, apart from such like restrictions, while women officers have not hesitated to take on heavy risk duties, the Army is very clear about not allowing them/exposing them to direct combat situations. 

Colonel Mitali Madhumita, commissioned in Army Education Corps in 2000, is the first woman officer in India to receive a gallantry award. She received the Sena Medal in 2011 for exemplary courage shown during the attack by terrorists on the Indian Embassy in Kabul on February 26, 2010. She was posted in Kabul as an education officer but reacted bravely in a terrorist attack situation. 

The Indian Navy has women posted on all warships and naval women aviators fly on maritime patrol aircraft like P8I and IL 38. Six women naval officers who sailed around the world in INVS (Indian Naval Sailing Vessel) Tarini in 2019 were awarded the Nari Shakti Puraskar.   

In 2015, the Indian Air Force opened combat air force roles for women as fighter pilots, adding to their role as helicopter pilots. Since May 2019, women aviators were allowed to undertake combat missions. The first three women fighter pilots were awarded Nari Shakti Puraskar on International Women's Day in 2020. 

Not in combat 

One major reason that the Indian Army has not allowed women officers in fighting arms and would not like to do so or allow them to be in combat situations is that it does not want to risk their being captured by the enemy. While British brutality has been mentioned in INA’s Neera Arya’s case, the horrendous brutality that the Chinese and Pakistani personnel have unleashed on their Indian Army counterparts, particularly officers, in 1962 (by Chinese), 1965 and 1971 (by Pakistani), 1975 (by Chinese, at Tulungla, Arunachal Pradesh), 1999 (by Pakistan Army in Kargil) and by the Pakistanis many times in the past decades and more has not and will not be forgotten. The plight of women officers in such situations would only be more humiliating. 

Women joining/being admitted in India’s armed forces must not be politicized. The priority of any professional army has to be of maintaining its effectiveness to defeat the enemy. While the entry of women cadets into the NDA has been pushed through, it remains to be seen how they will bear the very tough three years' training followed by another year of pre-commission training at respective services academies/ships.   

(The author is a former spokesperson, Ministry of Defence and Indian Army. Views are personal. He can be contacted at wordsword02@gmail.com)


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