Women have been serving in the defence forces of developed countries for a long
time. India as a nation isn't all that experienced concerning the introduction
of women in the armed forces. Women have crossed various milestones in all
aspects of life. They are also actively coming forward in large numbers to join
the defence services but the role of women in combat forces is still a matter of
Earlier they were allowed to only serve for a limited period after
joining the service through Short Service Commission. While delivering its
verdict to grant permanent commission to women in the armed forces the Supreme
Court shattered the glass ceiling for lady cadets and came down heavily on the
gender stereotypes employed by the government. This paper concludes that as long
as a candidate is qualified for the post, their gender is arbitrary.
change over time and the male subculture can change as well. This nullifies the
governments' argument about the readiness of soldiers mostly from rural
backgrounds to take orders from a female officer. Administrative issues should
not be cited as a barrier to women's entry. There is a need to mould the
attitude of society at large particularly of male soldiers to enhance the
acceptability of women in the military. The daughters of our country are kissing
the skies on their fighter aircraft. The battle for gender equality is about
confronting the battles of the mind.
Gender equality in India has always been a troubled and controversial subject.
Women and the third gender are struggling for their rights and are still
fighting in this patriarchal society. Gender stereotypes still create barriers
for the third gender and women in professional spaces and also worsen gender
discrimination in the workplace, one such example of this is the Indian defence.
India has the most powerful and extremely capable military power after the US,
Russia, and China and has been ranked fourth in the world, but gender disparity
has always been a part of armed forces since it was established. The supreme
judicial body of India, The Supreme Court of India in many of its recent
judgments has set aside such patriarchal notions by granting women officers
permanent commission and allowing women to take NDA (National Defense Academy)
Recently, it was found out that there has been an increase in the number of
women and it is rising consistently. It is rising to a level that we can say
that the Indian army has a lot of women, in comparison to men. There is just
0.56 per cent of them, but if we talk about the number of women it has increased
in recent times especially after 2015.
The lowest number of women in percentage
is in the Indian army that is 0.56%, in the Indian air force there is only 1% of
women, and in Indian naval forces there are 6% of women which is slightly
greater than the other two forces. Women's participation in defence services
has taken an upturn lately, which is a piece of good news for the country. Many
developed countries have women as officers who are serving in defence services
for their country for a long period.
Role of women in defence
The Indian army has a total of 1,455,550 active troops making it the fourth
country with the highest military power in the world. The role of women in the
Indian Army began in 1888 when the Indian Military Nursing Service was formed
during the British Raj. In 1992, the Indian military started admitting women as
officers in non-medical roles but was and still are not allowed to participate
in combat units such as infantry, armoured corps, and mechanized infantry other
than specialized combat forces such as Garud Commando Force, MARCOS, Para
But over the years, women have been inducted into various
branches of the three services. In 2015, India also opened up new roles in
combat aviation for women as fighter pilots and inspired women to become
helicopter pilots in the Indian Air Force.
The first female peacekeeping
force for the United Nations was in 2007, which involved 105 Indian women
deployed to Liberia. The part of women in defence expanded with the
establishment of WAP (Women Auxiliary Corps) which gave them the opportunity to
serve in non-combat roles i.e., communications, interpreters, administration,
Noor Inayat Khan is one of the legendary names who served during World War
II in Special Operations Execution. The involvement of women in the armed forces
has been tremendous during the time of war. When Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose's
Azad Hind Fauj was established, a women's combat regiment known as Rani of
Jhansi Regiment was made wherein female warriors were seen fighting in the
battlefront versus the Japanese army. Barbara Ghosh was the only female officer
who attained the position of commander in the Indian Navy.
She served as the
first woman medical officer who received a permanent naval commission. Dr Punita
Arora became the first female officer who reached the second-highest rank as Lt.
General and first woman Vice Admiral. Many legendary names like Gunjan Saxena,
Sreevidya Ranjan, Deepika Misra, Nivedita Choudhary, Priya Jhingan, Ruchi Sharma
made it to the list with their astounding work and dedication towards their
Recruitment into the Indian Army is voluntary, which means that every Indian
citizen is eligible regardless of caste, religion, gender, etc. Young, bright,
and energetic men and women constitute the bulk of the military force. India is
gradually moving towards optimistic change, but there is still a long way to go.
The Indian government should realize that the nature of war in the future will
be completely different from the war India has experienced in the past. For
sustained growth, a strong nation like India must strengthen its military
capabilities by bringing more women into the military with the shifting domain
of the battlefield in mind.
Grounds for under-representation of women
Women have faced plenty of challenges for their rights and to get what they
deserve. This long legal battle of equality and equal opportunity will not end
until justice has been served accurately. One such example of the
under-representation of women in the professional sector is the Indian defence
in which the low number of females has become an alarming situation. Various
issues cause hindrances for women to be inducted in the combat operations, the
reasons for such problem are:
Permanent Commission or Short Service Commission
- The natural physical differences in stature, strength, and body
composition between the sexes make women more vulnerable to certain types of
injuries medical problems, particularly during rigorous and intensive
training. There is a stereotype against women that they are physiologically
weaker and they are much more vulnerable to be captured as Prisoners of war.
- Lack of privacy and sanitation can result in increased incidents of
genital urinary infections.
- Women tend to be more attached to their families, thus there is great
mental stress in them. Requirement of social support to sustain themselves
during prolonged separation from their families.
- Prospects of women in combat roles are also discouraged by conventional
- The patriarchal notion, the idea of patriarchy that says that women are
the primary caretakers of the family. They will need to lead to the call of
marriage pregnancy and childbirth.
- Some women have been moulded in such a way that they have accepted the fact
that they are the only caretakers and have the entire responsibility of taking
care of the family, nurturing the child falls only upon them.
This topic has been in the news lately as there has been a lot of discussion
regarding the granting of permanent commission and short service commission to
the existing as well as upcoming female officers. Plenty of judgments has also
been passed by the Supreme Court in this matter. In the army, there are two ways
through which a person can join the service. The first way is through the
Permanent Commission and the other way is through the Short Service Commission.
As the name suggests, a Permanent Commission means a career in the army until
one retires which varies between 54-60 years.
Officers opting for PC are trained
in NDA (National Defense Academy), Pune and IMA (Indian Military Academy),
Dehradun. On the other hand, Short Service Commission is a path through which
officers are inducted for 10 years. They also have the option of a 4-year
extension. After the end of this duration, they are provided with two options
i.e., to elect for PC or opt-out from the service. Officers who are appointed
through SSC are trained in OTA (Officers Training Academy).
Women officers who joined the armed forces through SSC were not offered ab
initio permanent commission in any of the forces. While the male officers who
joined armed forces through SSC could opt for PC at the end of 10+4 years of the
service, this option was not available to women officers and was highly
discriminatory. Thus, they were kept out of any commanding appointment. This
led to numerous litigations which brought vital changes in the field of defense.
Judiciary has played an important role in explaining this issue correctly. In
the Indian Navy in the year 1999 February, a letter was sent to the chief of the
naval staff by the Union Government specifying the rules and regulations that
opened a path for the female officers for getting a Permanent Commission. In the
case of Lt. Cdr. Annie Nagaraja & Ors. v Union of India
, Delhi High Court
stated that SSC officers of the navy who opted for but were not granted PC
should be granted PC within six weeks.
This decision of the High Court was
contradicted by the AFT (Armed forces tribunal) saying that it does not have
enough materials to decide the grant of PC and further decisions will be left to
the suitable authorities. Further in this case the decision was taken in favor
of the petitioner and PC was granted to the female officers same as their male
counterparts. Indian Air Force started enrolling females in November 1991. They
were only appointed through SSC and not PC.
In the case of Jasmine Kaur vs.
Union of India
, Wg. Cdr. Jasmine Kaur was the first female officer who filed
a writ petition asking for the grant of PC to all the female officers on SSC.
The judgment was in favor of the female officers and PC was granted, thus making
the way forward.
In January 1992, the Union Government of India made amendments in the Indian
Army by making females eligible in specific branches of the army on SSC. In
2003, a case was first filed in Delhi High Court by women officers seeking a
permanent commission. Many senior officers namely Major Leena Gaurav and Lt.
Col. Seema Singh also moved to the court regarding the same issue. Delhi High
Court in 2010 ruled in favor of the female officers and held that women who were
already serving under SSC shall be granted PC after 5 years of service with all
the benefits within 2 months of the order. Later in 2011, this judgment of the
Delhi High Court was challenged in the Supreme Court as the appeal was filed by
In February 2019, in the case of Secretary, Ministry of Defence v. Babita Puniya
., the Union Government ordered to grant PC to all SSC recruited female
officers in eight combat support services with less than 14 years of service.
Later in February 2020 Supreme Court finally regulated a notice to the Union
Government regarding the grant of PC to female officers and further steps were
taken to grant all women the right to be on the same level as their male
counterparts resulting in a 17 years-long court battle coming to an end. This
was only about permanent commission and command roles in non-combat streams of
the army. Women officers are still not allowed to serve in combat units like the
infantry, the armored corps, mechanized infantry, etc paving the way to another
battle for women officers to conquer.
Breaking the stereotypes
The number of female officers in the Indian Defense service is comparatively
less than male officers. The reason behind this is the patriarchal
thought-process of the society and the restricted participation of women in this
sector. But after the Supreme Court's Judgement regarding the same issue, the
participation of females has increased drastically. The government has come down
strictly on the gender stereotypes and has cleared the way for females to
participate fully in this sector without any hindrance.
Table 1 explains the
insights according to the 2020 report, the number of male officers in the Indian
army is nearly around 12 lakh which is greater than the number of female
officers that constitute only 3.89%. In the Indian Air Force, there are 13.28%
of female officers (Excluding Medical and Dental personnel). On the other hand,
the Indian Navy has 6.7% female officers, which is more as compared to the other
Recently, a petition was filed in the Supreme Court in which
violation of Articles 14, 15, 16, and 19 were raised by denying the eligible
women to join NDA. In this matter, the apex court passed an interim order
stating that women will be allowed to take an exam to NDA (National Defense
Academy) from the year 2022 as before it was not available for females to take
admission in NDA. The Supreme Court bench of Justices Sanjay Kishan Kaul and
Hrishikesh Roy criticized the Indian army and its policy's decision as gender
discrimination for not allowing females to participate in NDA exams and
proclaimed to change their mindset.
Number Of Females (%)
India as a developed country needs to think about opening the opportunities for
females to serve in combat roles as well because many countries such as Canada,
Israel, North Korea, Germany, France are open to women being inducted in combat
positions and to keep pace with the other developed economies, this needs to be
done. There is a change that is being brought about step by step but we need to
By striking at the core of the patriarchal notions that only females have to
take care of the family as it is their primary responsibility and everything
else including their career is secondary and especially a career in the armed
forces is out of their reach.
We need to understand and look at it from a different perspective that women and
men stand equally when we talk about being the fulfiller of domestic
obligations. Thus, expecting and putting everything on one gender is not
justifiable. This needs to be taught to the youngsters of the society that women
are no less than men when it comes to being physiologically, mentally, and
emotionally equal. Until and unless the government is supporting the cause of
women and thrusts its belief through different reforms this can't be achieved.
- Subhasish Chakraborty, Women in Indian armed forces. She is unique,
Economy and Politics (19/09/2021), available at https://wsimag.com/economy-and-politics/66942-women-in-indian-armed-forces-she-is-unique,
last seen on 20/11/2021.
- Preethi Amaresh, Regendering Equality: Women in the Indian Armed Forces,
Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary Diplomatist (11/05/2020), available at
last seen on 20/11/2021.
- SUPRA 2.
- Women in Indian Armed forces, Wikipedia, available at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Women_in_Indian_Armed_Forces,
last seen on 25/11/2021.
- Kruthika R and Mihir R, Court Recognises indirect discrimination &
strikes down army's gender discriminatory promotion practices, Supreme Court
Observer, (2021), available at https://www.scobserver.in/journal/court-recognises-indirect-discrimination-strikes-down-armys-gender-discriminatory-promotion-practices/,
last seen on 12/10/2021.
- W.P(C) 7336/2010, CM Nos. 9348/2012 & 6859/2014
- WP (C) 8492/2009
- Civil Appeal Nos 9367-9369 of 2011
- Supreme Court allows women to take NDA exam, slams Indian Army for
'gender discrimination', The New Indian Express (18/08/2021), available at
last seen on 25/10/2021.