Military & Aerospace

Women in the Indian Army
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Issue Vol 25.4 Oct-Dec 2010 | Date : 29 Oct , 2015

A Reality Check

A reality check as to how women officers are actually employed on ground (as opposed to what is on paper) may be revealing. More often than not, women officers posted (on paper) to perform duties (outdoors only) are assigned mundane, ‘safe’, directly supervised, indoor-only duties. It suits every one: women due to their perceived fears tend to become “work-safe” and male officers’ tend become “daddy- figures” to ensure ‘safe’ conditions to prevent ‘troubles’.

Hence, regrettably, women officers are spoken about in pejorative terms such as ‘merely existing and not soldiering’ and as “passive recipients (of undue favours) or objects of state largesse or protection.”

Issues Concerning “Equality Jurisprudence”

In matters of “sex”, “what was the position of the state and state enacted laws in India …? The king or the state in India had refrained from handling most issues which the society or families could handle. It is the colonial state, with its laws and courts, that began to intrude the sovereign domain of the family and society. The Indian discipline was always built around un-enforced social and family norms; not state laws.

Though Art 15 of the Constitution forbids discrimination based on sex, differences between men and women based on functions and mentality ought to be the deciding factor while considering the eligibility of women in Army and not resorting to litigations for enforcement of equality based on sex. There is a considered need to invoke Art 15(3) (discrimination in favour of women) in conjunction with Art 33 of the Constitution for precluding women in the Indian Army. The following judicial rulings seemingly justify, the Army’s case for precluding women from its fold from a legal perspective.

Linking masculine strength of men with their capability to perform “arduous” work and the inability of women to match men in this regard the Hon’able Supreme Court ruled “Men do work like … which women cannot do. In such cases there cannot be any discrimination on the ground of sex.” [M/s Mackinnon Mackenzie and Company Limited vs Audrey D’Costa and Another].

one of the paramount considerations for the public service must be efficiency of its employees. The state must select and appoint persons most suitable to discharge the duties of a particular job which they are to hold… It is evident that where disparities of either sex, patently add or detract them from the capacity or suitability to hold a particular post or posts, then the state would be entitled to take this factor into consideration with others.” [In Mrs RS Singh vs State of Punjab and Others the ruling by the Hon’able Punjab and Haryana High Court].

However, only legal luminaries (and not the Govt. Counsels) will be able to navigate through the legal labyrinths to obtain judicial pronouncements favouring the Army (for precluding women from its fold) on the on issues concerning “Equality Jurisprudence”.

Issue of Immediate Relevance to Policy

Media Reports on Grant of Permanent Commission to Short Service Commission (SSC) Women Officers. Those Short Service Commission (SSC) Women Officers (presently serving) who were inducted through an “ambiguous selection processes” with “compromised standards”, based on decisions which are alleged as “cavalier, slapdash and hasty” are apparently ineligible for grant of permanent commission. Army’s attitude of sangfroid should not obscure the reality that the SSC women officers find a place in the Army merely due to politeness and courtesy and not by merit (merit alone grants a right for permanent commission). More-over a past precedent exists regarding non-grant of regular commission to those inducted as officers with lower standards. In 1946, of the 10,000 Emergency Commissioned Officers screened, barely 500 were found fit for grant of permanent commission.

Silence of the Sensible. The issue of women in the Army should not be treated as an “extraordinary area of policy where sensible men know they must not ask intelligent questions”. This recourse is pardonable when the stakes are low which is not so in this case. Furthermore, by this approach the malady is permitted to fester and gnaw at the vitals.


Men are not superior to women. However, men alone can discharge the functions in some spheres and women alone in some others. Equating the two as suitable for all spheres is as illogical as attempting to equate an airplane and a ship. Neither survive in the other’s medium but both perform extremely well in their own mediums.

Similarly it is illogical to expect women and men to be equally represented in all spheres; men cannot conceive, deliver or lactate and the attendant respect for ‘motherhood’, vis-a-vis the fathers’. This biological given is not considered as an inequality.

The soldier is not a civilian with a different job and the Army is not an employment generating enterprise to fall back to mitigate the un-employment crisis, a la “a provider of three ‘hots’ and a cot”.

The Profession of Arms cannot be trivialised with “glass ceiling’ arguments. The Army can neither be made the laboratory to experiment social issues nor the battle field for the “battle of the sexes”.

The experience so far is that the current arrangements are highly disruptive. Utmost respect for women is an article of faith in the Indian Army and will continue to be so. However, the issue of women officers, regrettably is viewed in pejorative terms. Standards have been lowered and rules have been bend for women. Facts concerning their efficiency are obscured. The inanity of only ‘soft’ and ‘sheltered’ duties for women, has created a feeling among the rank and file that it does not take much to be an officer, since even women (with the pejorative connotation as the imagined ‘weaker sex’) are able to perform the duties.

Efforts for achieving a “balance” between the two contradictory requirements of having women as officers and yet the Army required to maintain its effectiveness, deserves to be dismissed as wishful thinking.

Policy making on the Army cannot succumb to the pressures of frenzied packs comprising of “enlightened progressive liberals”, the political society, feminists and the media.

The Indian Army is spoken of as the one which the country does not deserve. But if the tweeting and fiddling as of now, goes on without any let or hinder, and it concerns none, the day may not be far off when it becomes one, when the officers and men will be soldiering merely for enjoyment and a lively-hood. Be that as it may, it will be an unforgivable breech of trust with the martyrs who exhort those serving: “We are the dead to you, from failing hands we… (threw) the torch to be yours, to hold it high. If you break faith in us who died. We shall not sleep.


  1. “Women in the Armed Forces : Misconceptions and Facts” by Maj Gen (Retd) Mrinal Suman, AVSM, VSM, INDIAN DEFENCE REVIEW, Vol 25.1; Jan-Mar 2010 (Reproduced in USI Journal of India, Vol CXL, Jan- Mar 2010).
  2. ‘Weak Link: The Feminization of the American Military’ by Brian Mitchell.
  3. ‘Women in the Military: Flirting With Disaster’ by Brian Mitchell.
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The views expressed are of the author and do not necessarily represent the opinions or policies of the Indian Defence Review.

About the Author

Col MN Gopakumar

Col MN Gopakumar ws commissioned into the GRENADIERS in 1974 and was transferred tothe Intelligene Corps in 1986.

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One thought on “Women in the Indian Army

  1. A well researched and argued essay about the unrealistic decision of the authorities about induction of women-officers in the fighting arms has been authored by this thinking-soldier. He has had the moral courage to plainly put across the bitter truth about this unwelcome move where some former three-star officers have not only shied away from stating it but have been rather supportive of the idea.
    I hope it will give rise to a healthy debate and may be a reconsideration of the questionable decision.

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