The International Women’s Day is celebrated across the globe on 8th March every year to recognise the achievements of women without regard to divisions, whether national, ethnic, linguistic, cultural, economic or political. It provides an opportunity to reflect on the progress made, to call for change and celebrate acts of courage and determination by those women who have played an extraordinary role in the history of their countries and communities. The theme of International Women’s Day 2020 is, ‘I am Generation Equality: Realising Women’s Rights’. It is aligned with United Nations Women’s new multigenerational campaign, Generation Equality, which marks the 25th anniversary of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action, the most progressive roadmap for the empowerment of women and girls all over the world.
The Government of India, led by Prime Minister Shri Narendra Modi, gives utmost importance to the women empowerment and strives to provide them with equal opportunities as their male counterparts. ‘Beti Bachao Beti Padhao’, launched by Prime Minister Shri Narendra Modi, is a prime example of Government’s resolve to empower women across all platforms.
In line with the Government’s vision, Ministry of Defence has taken a slew of initiatives to increase women participation in various departments and field operations. The borne strength of women officers in the Defence Services, including Army Medical Corps (AMC), Army Dental Corps (ADC) and Military Nursing Service (MNS) is 10,247. As on July 01, 2019, the strength of women officers in Army was 6,868, while the number of women officers in the Air Force stood at 2,302 as on November 01, 2019. The number of women officers in the Navy as on November 15, 2019 are 1,077.
A significant step to induct women in more branches has been the commissioning of Short Services in 1992. Initially the Short Service Commission was granted for 5 years, which was eventually extended to a total of 14 years in 2007.
One of the historic decisions taken by the Ministry of Defence was granting a permanent commission to women in all 10 branches of the Indian Army. On February 25, 2019, the Government promulgated policy to extend the grant of Permanent Commission to Women Officers in the eight arms/services in Indian Army viz. Signals, Engineers, Army Aviation, Army Air Defence, Electronics and Mechanical Engineers (EME), Army Service Corps, Army Ordnance Corps and Intelligence, in addition to the existing two streams of Judge Advocate General (JAG) and Army Education Corps (AEC). Prior to this, a significant step to induct women in more branches has been the commissioning of Short Services in 1992. Initially the Short Service Commission was granted for 5 years, which was eventually extended to a total of 14 years in 2007. The Step of increasing tenure of women officers in SSC and improving their promotional prospects in Army have been taken essentially to increase participation of women in the Army.
The proposal for induction of women in Corps of Military Police in Indian Army as soldiers was approved by the Government on January 22, 2019 to recruit a total of 1,700 women Military personnel.
Steps like increasing tenure of women officers in SSC from 10 to 14 years and improving their promotional prospects in Army have been taken to increase participation of women in the Army.
A few of the shining examples of individual officers as given below indicate that women officers are second to none when it comes to fighting for the security of our nation.
Very few would know that Squadron Leader Minty Agarwal was the eyes behind the Balakot airstrikes as fighter controller. She was conferred with the Yudh Seva Medal for her stellar performance during the operation that taught an unforgettable lesson to the enemy.
Captain Tania Shergill also entered history pages by becoming the first Indian female Parade Adjutant to lead an all-male contingent at Army Day function on January 14, 2020. She comes from a family where three generations served in the Indian Army.
Another glass ceiling was broken in 2019 when Lt. Commander Karabi Gogoi became the first woman officer of the Navy to be posted as defence attache in the Indian Embassy, Moscow.
The nation also got its first woman fighter pilot in 2019 when Flight Lieutenant Bhawana Kanth qualified to undertake missions by day on a fighter aircraft. She completed her day operational syllabus as a fighter pilot on the MiG-21 Bison aircraft and was posted to a frontline airbase at Nal in Rajasthan to operate the aircraft with her squadron. In 2016, three women fighter pilots – Bhawana Kanth, Avani Chaturvedi and Mohana Singh – proudly brandished their stripes and wings at the Combined Graduation Parade at Air Force Academy, Dundigal on the outskirts of Telangana. The vanguards of the IAF roared into the sky and smeared the clouds with tricolor as India joined the select few nations in the world that have women fighter pilots in their ranks. The three fighter pilots were conferred with the President’s Commission. Way back in 1997, Major Ruchi Maini raised the bar by becoming the first woman operational paratrooper in the Indian Army. Air Marshal Padmavathy Banerjee, was the first uniformed woman to be a part of a research expedition to the Arctic in the late eighties. A member of the Indian Society of Aerospace Medicines, International Medical Society and New York Academy of Sciences, she was also First woman Air Marshal in The Indian Air Force (IAF) who became the Director General Medical Services (Air).
The basis for these achievements should start right at young age. Realising this, the Sainik Schools which prepare our young boys to join the armed forces were thrown open to girls as well. Approval for the proposal for admission of girl children to Sainik schools w.e.f. academic session 2021-22 in a phased manner was one of the first major decisions taken by Shri Rajnath Singh when he became Raksha Mantri in 2019.
Indian Coast Guard has been inducting women officers since 1997 as permanent appointee Assistant Command in General duty and Aviation Cadre (Pilots) since 1998. The strength of women officers in ICG approximates to about 10% of the total strength.
National Cadet Corps (NCC) special entry was extended to women Air Wing Cadets with ‘C’ Certificate for the first time ever in 2019. This enabled them to directly go for SSB, without any screening test to become a Short Service Commissioned Officer in the flying branch of Indian Air Force. Women pilots have been performing admirably well in the transport and helicopter streams of IAF. As a natural progression, IAF inducted women pilots in the fighter stream as well. Diplomatic posts on Indian mission abroad are traditionally manned by male officers. Wg Cdr Anjali Singh was the first woman officer who was nominated by IAF as Dy Air Attaché in Embassy of Russia.
Defence Research Development Organisation (DRDO) established with a vision to empower India with cutting-edge indigenous defence technologies and systems, has been according equal opportunities for enhancement of their skills and fulfilment of their potentials. This has resulted in many women scientists having top positions in DRDO.
2018 saw the first-ever Indian circumnavigation of the globe, Navika Sagar Parikrama, by an all-women crew. INSV Tarini returned to India on May 21, 2018, on completion of the first Indian all-women circumnavigation of the globe. The expedition depicted ‘Nari Shakti’ on the world platform and helped discard the societal attitudes and mindset towards women in India by raising visibility of their participation in challenging environs. Also, the indigenously built 56-foot sailing vessel, INSV Tarini showcased the ‘Make in India’ initiative on the International forum.