The armed forces have come a long way in advancing gender integration and the raft of new opportunities opened to female soldiers will increase their representation in the military in the coming years, said women trailblazers in the army, air force and navy.
Speaking at the 21st HT Leadership Summit, the women officers said on Saturday that old mindsets had been rewired and the gender gap bridged significantly since the three services started inducting women more than three decades ago. They hoped that women would fill more roles in the future, including those related to combat.
The officers, Colonel Neha Singh, Group Captain Shailza Dhami and Lieutenant Commander Annu Prakash disagreed with the widely held belief that it would be disastrous if women were taken as prisoners of war (PoW), arguing that they would deal with the situation in the same way as their male counterparts would.
Soldiers are trained to perform their duties and gender no longer counts, all three concurred.
Singh is one of the first women officers in the army in a command role. She is the commanding officer of an air defence unit in Rajasthan near the Indo-Pak border. Dhami, a helicopter pilot, is the first woman in the Indian Air Force in a command role and is heading a missile squadron near the Indo-Pak border. And Prakash, a naval aviator, is one of the first women officers in the navy to serve onboard a frontline warship INS Kochi.
All these roles were traditionally assigned only to men.
On what was the turning point for women in the military, Singh said, “The recent grant of permanent commission to women and the subsequent command roles were big developments. Every officer dreams of becoming a commanding officer. We also had that dream. We never knew it is going to manifest in our service tenure.”
Dhami said there was not one but a series of turning points. “These include allowing women to become qualified flying instructors, offering them permanent commission in flying branch and appointing them as flight commanders of units. I was the first one to hit these milestones.”
Assigning women officers to warships was the game changer, said Prakash.
The armed forces opened their doors to women for the first time (outside the medical stream) to women to fill limited roles in limited streams for a limited time as short service commissioned officers. A lot has changed between then and now. Singh, Dhami and Prakash symbolise that change.
Women are now flying fighter jets, joining the non-officer cadre, they are eligible to join the National Defence Academy (a male preserve for nearly 7 decades), they are joining artillery --- the developments truly a watershed in the country’s military history as far as gender integration and equality go.
On under-representation of women in the military, Singh said, “When we are dealing with national security, I think it is unfair to talk about numbers or male-female ratio. We should talk about gender inclusivity. And that’s happening.”
The induction of women in the personnel below officer cadre will help enhance their representation in the services, said Prakash.
The debate over the consequences of women being taken as PoW also came up during the discussion. “If we land up in that situation, we know what we have to do, we are trained for that. It’s not the gender, it’s the mindset of the individual. They are soldiers and not men or women. They will do what they have been trained to do,” Dhami said.
The Geneva Convention lays down how PoWs should be treated but history shows they are subjected to psychological and physical torture. And if it comes to that so be it. I have joined the forces to defend my nation, and if I am to sacrifice my life in whichever way, I am ready for it,” said Singh.
“One will fight till the very last breath in such a situation. We have signed up for this and taken an oath of allegiance to the Constitution of India. We will fight till the end,” Prakash said.
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