The glass ceiling is intact

Armed Forces crack their glass ceiling: allow permanent commission for womenGender parity in militaryNational Defence Academy may let in women cadets

Thus go the headlines in most national dailies today. To look at the positives first, it sounds like a great story… creating the right optics, signalling the right message about equality of women in the services, a long-deserved demand from the liberals and feminists, which has been eventually met.

But a closer look reveals the ugly side of the story, warts and all. At the outset, let us get it clear here that it is not something that the services have done of their own volition. The defence minister, who was under pressure due to his commitment to the Parliament, virtually forced the decision on to the services. The services are, very obviously, making a virtue out of a necessity.

Even if you ignore the volition component, there is a lot of fine print in the story. First and foremost, the women will still be kept away from the mainstream of military officering. These permanently commissioned women officers will be restricted to the peripheries of military, with their employment restricted to auxiliary services, like the legal and education branches. The percentage of total officer seats and appointments available to these women is miniscule — even lesser than the women officers granted the short service commission. The Short service women officers are commissioned into all streams except fighter pilots in the IAF and all arms and services except the fighting arms, viz., infantry, artillery, the armoured corps, etc. in the army. This is a very significant differentiator between the existing short service and the to be permanently commissioned women officers.

A women officer can fly a transport aircraft till 14 years of service but cannot hope to continue further in that cadre. Similarly, she can be leading a combat engineer platoon or company in battle till 14 years of service. However, she can not aspire for a permanent commission, at par with other male officers, to become a unit commander simply because she is a women. Why can’t a women officer who is fit to work from the subaltern to lieutenant colonel at unit level, unsuited for commanding a logistics, maintenance or communications unit in the army? The discriminatory nature and the double-talk of the services is very much in evidence here. The services are saying it loud and clear — “We are not going to treat the women at par with male officers, not even in consonance with the limited manner in which these women have been employed as Short service officers”.

The hackneyed arguments about Indian cultural context and the role of women in Indian society hold no water nowadays. A retired senior officer has very persuasively [and some may say, shamelessly] argued about the need to keep the women away the Indian defence services using the same arguments. However, none of these arguments can take away from the dichotomous and invidious manner in which the so called “permanently commissioned” women officers are going to be kept away from positions available even to their short service women compatriots in the Indian defence services.

It doesn’t need much intellect to decipher the rationale behind this decision by the services. The reasons are amply clear to see: deny equal opportunity to women while paying lip-service to them as the “weaker-sex”; keep the mainstream of higher military appointments solely as a male preserve; keep the command of all units only in the hands of male officers. It shall remain in the male domain to seek promotions and lucrative/ prestigious appointments in the Indian defence services. These can not be shared with the women folk. Who cares for the basic statute of the Indian Constitution which prohibits any discrimination “on the basis of caste, colour, creed, religion or sex”.

Notwithstanding the shenanigans of the Indian military, there is a silver lining to every dark cloud. Even here, this pasquinade of granting permanent commission to women officers may be a false start today. However, once the realties of the charade being enacted by the services become clear to the nation, the political class will end up pushing for some real induction of women officers, at par with their male counterparts, in the Indian defence services. That day is not far…


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14 Responses to The glass ceiling is intact

  1. PS August 6, 2008 at 6:54 pm #

    Give ‘em all the benefits. But separate them in all ranks – Sepoys, Havildars, Battalions, Brigades, Batwomen, Beer, Divisions etc please. The desi military as of now cannot cope with interactive biology.

  2. Veeru August 6, 2008 at 9:34 pm #

    @ PS

    The desi military as of now cannot cope with interactive biology.

    The desi military will never learn unless forced by lack of choice. The learning curve here necessarily involves trial and error before the lessons are learnt. I am sure that AMC and MNS have gone through this learning curve and are doing fine with their female element.

    I will not dismiss the issues brought out by Maj Gen (Retd) Mrinal Sen as shameless. He does reflect the sentiments of serving officers/ soldiers/ COs/ etc. However my counter argument is that how will we learn to fine tune the system unless we are presented with the problem – “it is not that they do not see the solution, it is that they do not see the problem.”

    The only way to see the problem is when it is thrust upon the military.

  3. LaalooPrasad August 6, 2008 at 9:56 pm #

    A retired senior officer has very persuasively [and some may say, shamelessly] argued about the need to keep the women away the Indian defence services using the same arguments

    Having served in Engineer Regiments with lady officers, I have no doubt in my mind (and surely most of the officers ) ,the following comments of Maj Gen Suman in his article are facts:

    *However, they (Gentlemen)want the women officers to do their share of work and duties. They resent preferential treatment given to their women colleague. One officer was outspoken enough to state – “They have joined the military on the plank of equality of sexes but this plank vanishes the day they join the training academy. Thereafter, they again become the weaker sex needing special dispensations.”

    *In army there is a concept of field and peace postings. Every officer looks forward to a good peace posting to be with his family and sort out family issues. But a large number of peace postings at junior officers’ level are held by the women, thereby depriving male officers of their due share. It has become a sore point with many.

    *Most soldiers view women’s induction as a fall-out of Government policies and generally take it lightly. They are convinced that women can never lead them effectively. Some Junior Commissioned Officers were blunt enough to state – “An officer, who cannot run with us, cannot train with us and cannot exercise with us can barely be expected to lead us”.

    The case with MNS or AMC is entirely different compared to other services as their tasks are clearly specified.

  4. abhishek August 6, 2008 at 10:07 pm #






  5. Older Crow August 6, 2008 at 10:14 pm #

    Faulty premise and therefore erroneous conclusion. You have it in you to do better, pragmatic.

  6. Pragmatic August 7, 2008 at 12:06 am #


    Segregation, Nazi style!


    Thanks. You have hit the nail on the head.

    @Laaloo Prasad/ abhishek:

    There are a couple of issues at play here. The first one is the duplicitous talk and actions by the services. This eventually ends up in services tying themselves up in knots and their own convoluted logic comes to haunt them. This is exactly what will happen here with the permanent commissioning of women officers.

    My point is that you can have women as short-service officers in the same stream/ arm, but not as permanently commissioned officer. What logic is that? If you do not wish to have any women officers at all, say it clearly and in a coherent manner. That’d be a better way of handling the situation.

    The second point and I have made it earlier as well is whether we want the Indian military to be a modern organisation, in tune with a twenty-first century India or do we want it be still tied to a proverbial colonial yoke of yore. If this is the attitude of the services and their institutionalised value system, it will reflect on the kind of material we attract.

    Change is inevitable. Whether they adapt to the change or resist it till it is forced upon them, the choice is with the services. Which one, do you think, is the more prudent choice?

    @ Older Crow:

    Which premise and which conclusion, Sire?

  7. contrived August 7, 2008 at 7:11 am #

    Why women as officers only? They should be in the ranks as well.
    Or, do the nation think that officer shortage can be solved with women in the officer cadre? There is no such problem in the other ranks and JCO cadre.

    That is not equality, that is special treatment.

  8. Harish August 7, 2008 at 6:46 pm #

    Thanks for the info one more doubt (sorry), but can any one walk out of the army after 10 years of service (SSC NT) without “recommendations” from army H.Q (influence, etc). Can people be forced (doesn’t necessarily mean with a gun against your head) to opt for permanent commission at the end of 10 or 14 years of service OR Is there a small or minute possibility that i can be held in the army (against my will A.K.A bonded) until i turn 50.
    I can safely say that if you answer this question i, for all practical purposes will stop bugging you about joining the army.

  9. Pragmatic August 7, 2008 at 6:46 pm #


    Point taken. It eventually has to be all ranks. It is also not about whether we like it or not. It is inevitable and fully justified, in most modern societies.


    No they can’t, if you make up your mind. But, with so many doubts to begin with, you may like to reconsider your options.

  10. kkmlhotra August 7, 2008 at 6:51 pm #

    this backward army of colonial instincts cannot outdo our law makers who have been swearing 33 percent seats to women in our is at least honest in saying what they think
    ( with their colonial mindset) but our politicians are very mod&dynamic in their promises but throughbread hypocrites in practice. you must be deluding yorself if you think we will become a modern & developed country by simply allowing permanent commission & entry into combat arms to women. army does not mind letting women to share rank&file if they will make it a more effective & menacing machine able to quell internal insurgencies &external threats . lets do it.sharing carrots with our ladies is not the point but effectivenessof our Amed Forces is.meanwhile how about posting a adicussion on the induction of 33 percent women in our lagislatures to improve their cappability to create consensus for passing some urgently needed laws for good governece save laws effecting their own pensions & perks.

  11. Navdeep August 7, 2008 at 7:33 pm #


    Well said !!
    It’ll just take some time to fine tune the system. And it’s all in the mind – once PRC is granted to lady officers, wait for a couple of years and we won’t even remember if this was an issue at all

  12. menon August 7, 2008 at 9:59 pm #

    Why do we try to be socially correct when even nature differentiates? Females & males of all species have different hormones and biorhythms. They have a specific role to play as ordained by nature so why try to switch roles. Why don’t we try to cut down trees and have oxygen generators to revitalize the atmosphere? Why save the tiger? What difference will it make to nature if they go extinct? Why is it that men of most species are physically tougher while females are delicate even though women are mentally robust as compared to the male? Nature’s patterns?
    Our Politicians and social equality defenders forget that uniformed services cannot encompass the Police, PMF and Armed forces as has been done by the myopic SCPC. The police do not fight to death. A soldier is supposed to fight and his job is supposed to bring out basic animal instincts. Basic animal instincts are survival and procreation.
    Can you tell a soldier who has been through hell in battlefield and survived to be saintly with a female POW? Jessica Lynch went off the air when her true story was too much for pro-females-in-the-army-harpers to digest.
    What happens when a female does not get her way? She accuses the superior of sexual harassment and gains sympathy & mileage. Soon senior officers will be wary of dealing with females and will let out their ire on male soldiers. Having an all women CRPF Bn is not the same as having an all women infantry bn. Even Sigs/ EME/ Engrs where women will not be deployed on the frontline will ensure that men do all the dirty work while women hog the limelight by media reports where they are portrayed as equal to men. Men will get less R&R while females bask in their glory. For politicians it doesn’t matter because those jokers don’t send even their sons to the army so any stupid policy is okay as long it is socially angelic. I think we should have a legislation that at least one child of every politician should do compulsory military service. What happens when a female gets her periods at the SL? Women can be good scientists, teachers, doctors and the most difficult and all important ‘Home Engineer’. It’s not demeaning – her strength and respect lies in that she excels in natures ways. The women in the army thing will be okay as long as we are not into an all out war. In Low intensity conflicts the dust can always be swept under the carpet and the media can be fed with spicy grub.
    As a branded MCP I feel women should not ape man the weaker sex but strengthen social values and the world by improving upon her natural talents.
    I feel that the Indian Armed Forces are the easiest to re-engineer. The Army Act, The Armed Forces Special Powers Act, Armed Forces Tribunals, Women in the Army, Downward Redefinition of Status, AVS – you name it we have modified it. These affect just over 1.5% of the Indian population. What about IPC of 1860 vintage, CrPC, Accountability of Politicians and Bureaucrats, Common Code of Law, Policing for the Judiciary? These affect the majority if Indians, yet re-evaluation of these is seemingly impossible.

    These women – always the epicenter of trouble. (my helmet is on – I luv Harakiri)

  13. Yash November 25, 2008 at 9:46 am #

    Navdeep @ 11

    its very nice to say nice things when ppl saying are not affected. everone skirts the contentious issues. i havn’t seen any responses to quote by Laloo @ 3.

    it is pretty nice to use the army as a guinea pig, try the concept and they will learn. the persons framing the rules do not have to live by it.

    while the infantry and other fighting forces are as of now unaffected by lady officers, ask an officer (not a brig, or higher) from engineers, signals, or other services where they are there.

    rather Navdde, i would say, let the indian society reach the level where the defence forces are not apprehensive of taking them. let it be by choice not lack of choice. a simple but crude example, unit goes for a day long camp with some lady officers also. how long can u hold ur pee. so where do they go. well the unit makes a special arrangement by pitching up a small tent away from the public eye, and keep notice of the area to ensure no one ventures to that side. in contrast the males, just walk 50 metres open the fly and start, no administration.

    so let us reach a level where the female does not feel constrained in pulling down behind the bush (imagine if in deserts). also the males do not feel uncomfortable when she is doing it just 50 m away from them. (this is a very crude but pertinent example of problems with females in india (specific to india and such countries).

    and Navdeep @ 11.

    it still is a issue, after 15 years of starting the process (despite it being at a small scale). it just like put 10 vegetarians in a room with a kg of meat and hope they will learn to eat it. rather let us first continue with our social reforms which are going on splendidly and may be 10 years from now give a rethink on the issue.

    it is a better idea to dedicate a few corps like the education corps, legal corps, record offices, etc completely to lady officers, so that they learn to manage this transition in a more secure environment.

    if a male officer is feeling down, call him and give him a few choiciest ones of MC BC (the military way of MC BC is quite different from the civil and for god sake it is not HR violation) , and u find he perks up and restarts with new vigor. what do u do with a lady officer, call a psycho and let him talk to her. so unless the equality comes naturally let it not be forced on the army.

    let them become confident to handle the sexual overtures in an even-tempered manner (which happen even in the corporate world very often), and not send a few more Gen Lals home then it would be OK (the girl could have easily told gen Lal, that she was not interested and walked off). because as i have mentioned in some other of ur posts, that the army officers life is the most unprivate one.

    so while the decision has been taken, do not rub it in for the army. let it deal with it in a manner it finds fit. (i find it funny, so many ppl who are not even aware of the problems try to give nice solutions). and please do not try to compare the army with other paramil organisations Mahila battallions.

    see the difference in the understanding of the rule of sexual harassment in the indian and US context

    (Unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature constitute sexual harassment when this conduct explicitly or implicitly affects an individual’s employment, unreasonably interferes with an individual’s work performance, or creates an intimidating, hostile, or offensive work environment.)

    in contrast

    (According to The Supreme Court definition, sexual harassment is any unwelcome sexually determined behaviour, such as:-

    Physical contact
    A demand or request for sexual favours
    Sexually coloured remarks
    Showing pornography
    Any other physical, verbal or non-verbal conduct of a sexual nature.)

    anyway, enjoy armchair journalism.


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