Insisting that there was no gender bias in the armed forces, Defence Minister Pranab Mukherjee said on Sunday that women were being encouraged to join the defence services in large numbers.
"I can assure you there is no bias against the women officers," Mukherjee told NDTV, amid a raging controversy over allegations that women in the defence forces are being discriminated against. "We are proud of them (women). They are making valuable contributions and more and more we like to encourage them to come into the armed forces."
On the issue of women being given combat roles, the defence minister said, "That depends upon their willingness and their wishes. But it will be more hard work, there is no doubt in this. But they are getting ready."
A controversy was triggered last week after Vice Chief of Armed Forces Lt Gen S Pattabiraman reportedly said that the Army could do without women. His remarks came after a lady officer committed suicide in Jammu, apparently because she was given some insignificant duties.
To a question on creation of the post of Combined Defence Services, Mukherjee said, "It is yet to be decided whether there is a need for a CDS or not, at least at the level which matters in the decision-making."
On Indo-Pak relations, the Defence Minister said the progress in talks could have been 'faster if there was lessening of cross-border terrorism'. He said infiltration needed to be stopped and no country's land should be used for supporting cross-border terrorism.
"The infrastructure, which is available to the terrorists from the other side of the border should be dismantled," he said. "Unless these things have been done, it becomes difficult to control terrorism."
Asked about delays in acquisition of modern weapon systems, Mukherjee said these are caused because the government wanted to be 'extremely careful' in making selection and ensuring transparency.