The Indian Navy on Tuesday said 20 per cent of soldiers recruited under the first batch of Agnipath scheme would be women.
"20 per cent of candidates will be women to form the first batch of Agniveers for the Agnipath recruitment scheme. They would be sent to different parts and branches of the Navy," said Navy officials quoted by ANI.
Earlier in June, the Navy in a landmark June announced they would recruit women as sailors and would also post them on ships in the sea. But this is the first time that they have given a number for women recruits.
20% of candidates will be women to form the first batch of Agniveers for the #AgnipathRecruitmentScheme. They would be sent to different parts and branches of the Navy: Navy Officials— ANI (@ANI) July 5, 2022
Here we explain the history of women in military in India and the world, the roles women are allowed in the military, and the movement for greater participation of women in military and equal and fair treatment.
Women in Indian military
While women continue to serve in Indian armed forces in a variety of roles, they are still barred from many roles — particularly most frontline and combat roles.
Moreover, women were earlier only commissioned as officers in the military until 2021 when the first batch of 83 women were inducted into the Indian Army as soldiers in the Corps of Military Police (CMP).
The Corps of Military Police Centre & School (CMP C &S) at #Bengaluru held the attestation parade of the first batch of 83 #Women soldiers at the #Dronacharya Parade Ground.— ADG PI - INDIAN ARMY (@adgpi) May 8, 2021
We welcome these valiant Soldiers to the #IndianArmy.#IndianArmy#StrongAndCapable pic.twitter.com/jEZbhhR072
Even as officers, women were not granted permanent commission (PC) in all wings. In 2008, women began receiving PCs in the Judge Advocate General Corps and Army Education Corps, according to a report in Hindustan Times, which adds that women officers were until then only offered PCs in the medical wings.
A short service commission (SSC) is one in which officers serve for 10-14 years, according to The Tribune. Under PCs, they are eligible to serve until the retirement age. Women have been commissioned as SSC officers in the military since 1992. The HT report adds that women SSC officers initially served only for five years, which could be extended by another five years, and it was in 2006 that they were allowed to serve for a maximum of 14 years.
In July 2020, the Ministry of Defence opened PCs to women in eight other wings of the Indian Army — Army Air Defence (AAD), Signals, Engineers, Army Aviation, Electronics and Mechanical Engineers (EME), Army Service Corps (ASC), Army Ordnance Corps (AOC), and Intelligence Corps.
In Indian Air Force, women are allowed permanent commission under certain piloting branches, navigation branch, Aeronautical Engineering (Mechanical), Aeronautical Engineering (Electronics), Administration, Logistics, Accounts, Education, and Meteorological, according to the Defence Ministry.
In Indian Navy, women are allowed permanent commission in Executive (Logistics), Executive (Observers), Education (General Service), Education (Met), Engineering (Naval Constructor) branches, according to the Defence Ministry.
What's changing with Agnipath recruitment
In a landmark move, the Indian Navy in June announced that it would recruit women as sailors —at the rank of soldiers— who would also be posted on ships in the sea.
Until now, women are only taken in as officers. Only 30 women officers serve on ships in the sea, according to the Navy. This is now set to change.
Announcing the landmark move, Vice Admiral DK Tripathi had said, "It's time to recruit women sailors in every trade, including those who'd go to sea. We are working on numbers [of women sailors], kind of ships, and how ready our training facilities are."
Now ANI reports that the number of women sailors in the first batch of Agniveers —soldiers recruited under the Agnipath scheme— would be 20 per cent.
Close to 10,000 women have applied to the Navy under the Agnipath scheme, according to India Today.
In the Army, plans are to recruit 100 women soldiers every year and to have 1,700 women soldiers in all.
Women in combat, frontline roles
Women have been commissioned as fighter pilots in the Indian Air Force, which is a frontline combat role. Women also serve as observers and pilots of Navy's reconnaissance aircraft, which are combat roles.
The first avenues for women in the Indian military were medical and nursing, and women officers in these wings have served as close as 1.5-2 kms to the Line of Control (LoC) in Jammu and Kashmir.
Besides these roles, women have also served in border areas in other roles such as in the Signals corps. However, women in combat and frontline roles are still more of an exception than a norm.
Moreover, women are still not allowed in infantry in the Army and submarines in the Navy.
Issues for women in military, movement for rights
Despite the gradual induction of women in the Indian armed forces, they are still a minority and remain barred from several branches such as submarines and infantry.
The reasoning ranges from lack of gender-appropriate infrastructure to doubts whether the soldier class from rural India would follow women seniors and concerns in some quarters over potential capture of female military personnel by enemy in case of conflict and subsequent ill-treatment.
There are issues of discrimination and harassment as well, with several cases emerging from the forces over the years of women personnel complaining of sexual harassment and discrimination.
There has also been a legal campaign for equal and fair treatment by women officers, which has reached the Supreme Court of India.
The apex court in March 2021 ruled that the evaluation criteria adopted by the Indian Army for the grant of PC for women officers is "arbitrary and discriminatory” and asked it to reconsider it, according to India Today.
"Structure of our society has been created by males for males. Some look harmless but it's a patriarchal reflection of our society. Adjustment and amendment of thoughts needed to create an equal society. It is not correct to say that women serve in the Army when the real picture is different. The superficial face of equality does not stand true to the principles enshrined in the Constitution," said Justice DY Chandrachud as quoted by India Today.
The Defence Ministry's decision to open eight more branches of the Indian Army to women officers in 2020, as noted above in this piece, was also taken five months after the Supreme Court allowed permanent commission for short service commission women officers, according to The Tribune.