One more glass ceiling has been broken with the government’s decision to let women appear for admission to the National Defence Academy (NDA). Once they qualify, they will be able to get training at the academy and, eventually, permanent commission in the Indian Army. At present, women are entitled to get only short service commission, which means they cannot have full service in the Army. In other words, they will have restricted service, which is against the principle of both equity and equality.
Though the government has virtually portrayed the decision as one of its own initiatives, the fact remains that it is a Supreme Court-inspired step. In fact, the apex court had, on a petition, allowed the girls to appear for the NDA admission test, because of which the examination had to be postponed.
Whether the girls will have as many career opportunities in the Armed forces as the boys will be known once the government finalises the procedures for granting them permanent commission. To put it differently, will a girl, who gets selected to the NDA or the Naval Academy and is given permanent commission, be able to become a full-fledged general and command the whole Army or an Admiral of the Indian Navy? Since the taste of the pudding is in the eating, one will have to wait for all the details to be in place.
As the decision has far-reaching consequences, the government would do well to draft the rules and regulations which can not only stand judicial scrutiny but also the test of time. Just as Rome was not built in a day, so is the move to grant gender equality in the Armed Forces.
It is in the fitness of things that some seats have been reserved for girls in the 33 military schools in the country, as promised by the Prime Minister in his last Independence Day speech. The one in Mizoram was the first to admit girls to such a school as early as in 2018. Nobody can question the fact that women have proved that they are as capable as men in all walks of life. On the day the government told the apex court about the decision to give girls admission to the NDA, a Gujarati girl became the youngest full-fledged pilot in the country worthy of a felicitation by the state chief minister. In fact, women have proved more than equal to men in many sectors, not just health and education.
To wit, India had a woman prime minister in Indira Gandhi under whom the Armed Forces achieved the greatest victory in a war that resulted in the vivisection of Pakistan and the emergence of Bangladesh as a sovereign nation. Gender was not a disability for the then Prime Minister who took on the might of the US which tried to intimidate her by rushing the Seventh Fleet led by the aircraft carrier USS Enterprise to the Indian Ocean. She proved that in modern warfare it is the brain, not brawn, that matters.
The only aspect in which women have a disadvantage, if at all it can be called a disadvantage, over men is in physical strength. However, in terms of endurance and many other attributes, they are better placed than men. Physical combat is no longer a part of modern war, which is more technological than physical. Modern weapons and equipment are technology-driven. Women are as competent as men in handling them. If the Army has at last found them equal to its challenges, the Air Force and the Navy should have no hesitation to take them on board.
If women can be good pilots who can fly sophisticated aircraft, there is nothing to restrain them from flying fighter aircraft. And if they can take care of hundreds of passengers and take them from one destination to another, they can as well drop the payload from a fighter aircraft wherever it is intended to be dropped. Equally important, there is no job in the Navy or the Air Force that they cannot perform with distinction.
Women of Indian origin like the late Kalpana Chawla, Sunita Williams and Sirisha Bandla have proved their mettle as astronauts. All that women require is opportunity and a level-playing field. It is a pity that the judiciary had to show the way to accord equality to them in admission to the NDA. In fact, the government should have taken the initiative. Anyway, it is better late than never.