India is just a step closer to having women as permanent commissioned officers in its armed forces, with the tri-services giving their consent to a proposal from the government in this regard.
"The armed forces have in principle accepted the proposal to have women as permanent officers in the tri-services. The Chiefs of Staff Committee has to take a call on the proposals, after which the government will have to clear it," Indian Air Force's Air Officer (Personnel) Air Marshal Sumit Mukerji said in New Delhi on Tuesday.
The government's decision on the matter was likely to come in a month or two, and from around 2013 onwards the country's military academies would start enrolling women as officers on permanent commission, Mukerji said.
The four years time (till 2013) was required to work out modalities of the permanent commission and to customise the Academies' courses and infrastructure to accommodate the women cadets, who would be brushing shoulders with their men counterparts at these academies on an equal footing, he said.
At present, the Indian armed forces offer only short service commission for women of five years service, extendable to a total of 14 years.
India started enrolling women as officers in the armed forces in 1992 and at present the tri-services have a cumulative strength of about 2,000 women officers mainly in the non-combat streams, with the Army employing half of the pack.
"Yes, it is theoretically possible for a batch in the National Defence Academy to have 100 per cent women recruits sometime in the future. That is certainly a possibility," Mukerjee said to a query.
"The permanent commissioning would be open for all and there will be no reservations specifically for women from among the seats in the military academies and hence it is quite possible to have all women batches if no men qualify to the academies," the Air Marshal said.
However, the debate at present over the permanent commissioning of women was over the streams they could be accommodated, as combat streams increase the possibility of
coming in contact with enemy during conflicts.
The COSC is currently discussing possible streams, arms and services of the Army, Navy and Air Force, where women could be given permanent commissioning.
Currently, women officers are given short service commission in streams such as Education, Signals, Ordnance, helicopter and transport aircraft flying, navigation, and such arms and services.
"There certainly are differences between war- and peace-time duties. Yes, permanent commission for women will be in non-combat streams till we accept the fact that they will come in contact with the enemy if in combat streams," Mukherjee said.
"However, if women officers are not to be in combat arms, then it is certainly feasible to provide them permanent commission," he added.
Suggesting that the hurdle before women getting a permanent commission in combat streams of the armed forces was both psychological and cultural in nature, Mukerjee said the predominantly-male armed forces have made several adjustments in its structure to welcome women officers into the services.
However, he disagreed to the suggestion that existing short service commission women officers too should be provided an opportunity to get a permanent commission.
"It is not possible because permanent officers generally go through higher courses keeping in view their long tenure of service and the expectant promotions they may pick up during the course of their service. SSC officers do not do those courses," he said.
But once the permanent commission proposal was cleared, the option to choose to continue in service as permanent commission officers would be available for SSC women officers and higher defence courses offered to them too.
Demands have been mounting from various quarters that women officers should be treated equally and allowed to perform combat duties also, citing the examples of Israel, US, Canada, Finland and Norway.
The government is not likely to heed to the demand for combat roles for women, though it is likely to clear the permanent commission in non-combat roles, with Defence Minister A K Antony spelling out his support for the latter recently.
With the Armed Forces are already facing a shortage of about 13,000 in officer cadre and the military academies suffering from fall in number of new recruits, the move of the government to provide permanent commission for women could well turn out to be the answer to the recruitment troubles of the academies.