India Intelligence Report

   Services Oppose Ministry Equality Diktats


There is growing evidence that the three services are opposing Defense Ministry diktats to offer permanent commissions to women personnel unless they make voluntary choices to combat roles and meet demanding physical standards expected of fighting forces.

Services say that different standards of training, lack of exposure to commanding troops, and a preference among the women cadre for peace station postings go against the operational logic and orientation of the armed forces. With the limited number of peace station posts available, commanders are left with limited posts to post officers after stressful operational assignments. As an example, an officer who has done his assignment of a minimum three months in touch posts such as the Siachen Glacier or Kashmir Valley is generally accepted to have earned the right to a less stressful staff posting in a peace station. But because peace station postings may be taken by female officers, the authorities will have a hard time finding a suitable office for battle-hardened veteran and may have to let such a valuable asset go.

At the root of many of these issues is a public interest litigation (PIL) filed by a civilian demanding equal treatment of women. In a response to this PIL, the services point out important perspectives:

    The Ethos, customs, norms, conceptual planning, training, etc. in the services are designed to the development of combat leaders. The organizational hierarchies, lack of mobility, coupled with insignificant career progression, in view of limited role played by women officers in the service, do not permit extensive assignment possibilities. The existing policy consciously excludes women from serving in combat, whereas the core principles and training values are directed at combat training. Therefore, unless and until a policy decision is taken on combat role for women in service, no regular commission can be granted.

The services also say that training for women “is structured in such a way that it is less demanding physically and therefore the female officers generally receive lower ratings than men in physical training, leadership and tactical subjects”. Due to this inadequacy, there were “assignment constraints on utilization of women officers to a great extent”. As a result, they are not placed in direct command of troops and are not exposed to combat.

The services also emphasize that the Indian army is “command-oriented” geared to awarding higher ranks to officers selected on the basis of their performance in command. Therefore, the difference in physical standards, the lack of combat training such as an infantry attachment (which is compulsory for all gentlemen cadets), consequent lack of direct command exposure there is an inherent discrimination subjecting them to unfair competition even if the women serve alongside the men in staff appointments.

Currently, women are not allowed in combat roles in the army and unless there is a policy change, their roles will have to be limited to non-combat peace postings. Furthermore, the since most of the troops raised come from rural areas, the services expect great resistance to accepting a woman officer without combat skills or background. Then there are social issues where services wonder if families are ready to accept men and women to work alongside in confined spaces and close proximity such as bunkers, submarines, or combat missions. They say that in such situations, it is often impossible to have separate personal facilities. As has been seen in the Kargil War, enemies do not respect Geneva Convention in treating prisoners of war and often hand out inhuman treatment. Since India’s enemies treat their own women badly, services fear that India women combatants, who may become prisoners of war, may be dealt harshly.

One option may be to raise an all women commando or fighting force to deal with internal strife such as the Naxal or insurgency issues, patrolling (coastal, maritime, or border), and reconnaissance. This will at least eliminate the threat of abuse from external forces.