By Apoorva Mandhani
In a welcome and long-overdue move, the Army has decided to induct women as junior commissioned officers and soldiers (jawans). The proposed induction of 800 women would be gradual, with a yearly intake of 52. Adjutant-General Lt. Gen. Ashwani Kumar made the announcement at the Army Chiefs’ Conclave, saying that the decision to induct women in the Corps of the Military Police (CMP) was taken keeping in view the “increasing needs for investigation against gender-specific allegations and crime”.
Another official said that a few of the inducted women will gradually be posted in the Kashmir Valley. They will facilitate tasks like frisking of women, currently performed by women constables of the Jammu and Kashmir Police. The move was in process for some months now. However, it came just a day after Ms Nirmala Sitharam got appointed as the country’s first full-time female Defence Minister.
Mending the skewed ratio
The CMP is basically responsible for maintaining order in Army establishments, controlling traffic and investigating minor offences. Its role further includes policing cantonments and army establishments, preventing the breach of rules and regulations by soldiers, and maintaining their movement. Besides, it also handles logistics, extends aid to Civil Police whenever required, and looks after the prisoners of war. Those recruited will undergo at least 42 weeks of training at the Corps of Military Police Training Centre, Bengaluru. They will then formally join the service as Lance Naiks, which is the entry-level rank given to a soldier.
At this juncture, it would be worthwhile to take a look at the current position of women in the forces. It was only in 1992 that women were permitted to join the military as officers outside the medical stream. The present initiative to induct women in military police comes at an interesting time. This is because India’s first female pilots are currently completing the last leg of their training to fly warplanes.
The IAF had to deal with quite a lot of internal resistance to granting equal opportunity to women. Such efforts are, however, still to show results in terms of statistics. Presently, women constitute a meagre 13% of the officers in the Air Force. The conditions are worse with 4.49% in the Navy and a negligible 3.64% in the Army. The proposal for induction of women in the CMP is, therefore, rightly being hailed as a game-changer. The move would certainly challenge the claims of the physical and mental weakness of women when it comes to combat.
Induction into combat on the cards?
The announcement is being viewed as a step towards the eventual opening up of doors to combat roles for women. This possibility was communicated by General Bipin Rawat in June this year. The prospect was enthralling for the several proponents of the proposal. It could have made India a part of the small league of countries which have made combat roles gender neutral. Norway, Sweden, US and New Zealand are a few of them.
However, experts have refuted the current development as amounting to an indication of women getting into combat roles. Brigadier S.K. Chatterji (retired) has pointed out that “The nature of the job in the combat units is so different that other considerations come into play. In case of a woman on frontline being captured, will she be dealt with dignity or not—those are issues that come in.” Despite such assertions, he did agree that it is a manifestation of increased acceptance of women in the force. Nevertheless, the induction of women into the CMP does address two lingering challenges in the Indian Army: the shortage of officers and equal opportunity. These are, hence, exciting times.
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