'Entry and qualification must not be through concession and must be reserved for only those who meet the stringent standards of the institution.'
Armed Forces veterans discuss the entry of women cadets into the National Defence Academy with Rediff.com's Archana Masih.
"As long as there are women in the armed forces there is nothing wrong in having women in the National Defence Academy. Women need to be part of the organisation, else it is too harsh and gung-ho with no personality," says an Indian Army officer about the Supreme Court's decision to permit women into the all-men premier tri-services armed forces training academy in Khadakvasla, Pune.
"But the initial phases will be crazy!" continues the infantry officer who does not want to be named in this report.
The Supreme Court decision paves the way for big changes at the National Defence Academy which trains future officers of the Indian Army, Indian Navy and Indian Air Force.
For the last 65 years, it has inducted male cadets in the age group of 16-19. The three years of rigorous training, as many ex-NDA officers say, turned them from 'boys to men.'
All this is set to change after the Supreme Court's interim order allowing women into the academy.
This year onwards, women will be eligible to appear for the NDA entrance examination. The decision follows the prime minister's Independence Day announcement that all Sainik Schools will be open to girls as well.
Sainik Schools in Kerala and Mizoram have already admitted girl students this month.
The Supreme Court decision is a follow up to its earlier decision to grant permanent commission to women officers of the Indian Army.
Till now women officers could only serve a short service commission unless they belonged to the medical or education branch.
"The Officers Training Academy, Chennai, originally only a men's training institution, commenced training women in 1992 to be officers through the Short Service route, so precedence does exist," says Lieutenant General Syed Ata Hasnain (retd), former commander of the XV Corps in J&K and one of the country's leading military minds.
"Opening entry to NDA for women to train them has been further qualified; it will be for the purpose of granting them Permanent Commission, as has been recently indicated by the Armed Forces. These decisions are bound to cause some consternation in a tradition bound system but it should be welcomed with a caveat," cautions General Hasnain.
The general who has over four decades of service in the Indian Army and is a second generation military officer, points out that training standards cannot be lowered to allow women to qualify.
"In other words, entry and qualification must not be through concession and must be reserved for only those who meet the stringent standards of the institution," he says.
Giving the example of the OTA which trains both men and women future officers, he says female cadets have often proven themselves on equal terms and won the coveted Sword of Honour in open competition against their male counterparts.
"There is no reason why it cannot eventually happen at NDA too," adds General Hasnain.
"It is conceptually good, but needs to be foreseen in detail for implementation," says Lieutenant General Ashok B Shivane (retd), former director general, mechanised forces.
General Shivane was in charge of perspective planning and future restructuring of the Indian Army. He believes that while the decision for the entry of women into the NDA is a positive development, the implementation must be deliberate, progressive and adaptable to gender physiology without sacrificing training standards.
"Thus military training, psychological tuning of mindsets and administration must be a deliberate thought through process based on the 'womb to tomb' concept of combat realities," continues General Shivane.
"Land conflict in the diverse Indian operational environment is particularly challenging and peculiar in character. There remain multiple gender-specific challenges in combat and peace."
Yet as society progressively advances in all walks of life, the general feels these challenges do not remain "unsurmountable any longer."
Looking at the career progression of women who will graduate from the NDA in the next 3-4 years, General Hasnain feels the entry to the NDA must not be considered as an opening towards commissioning into Combat Arms (Infantry, Armoured Corps and Mechanised Infantry) and even Artillery, a restriction which continues to exist.
"The time for that will come when it has to, but not yet," he says.
"In my perception both the direct PC (Permanent Commission) and the SS (Short Service Commission) entry must cater for female aspirants into the cadre of woman officers. Command oriented training and progression should form a part of their subsequent career management," he continues.
The Supreme Court decision has resulted in a lot of discussion, especially in the Armed Forces fraternity.
Some officers point out that it would lead to restrictions on daily NDA activities to accommodate lady cadets, especially outdoor camps.
Major issues will have to thought through -- for example, the number of seats open for girls in the initial batches; whether there will be separate squadrons created for girls; physical training routine; uniforms and a host of other issues.
"There is a do or die competition between squadrons in the NDA. Cadets are singularly devoted to making their squadrons excel. If there is a pure girls squadron, will it be able to compete with the boys' squadrons?" asks a former instructor at NDA.
Along with that the nature of official and unofficial physical punishments will also have to change -- what punishments can be given and by whom will also be laid out like in the OTA.
"The consternation and objections by a segment of the serving and veteran male officer community is temporary and a psychological mental block as the NDA has been a purely male bastion for 65 years," adds General Hasnain.
"The army needs to grow up too and treat women as equally tasked officers. Additionally, women in the ranks also need to be adopted," says a serving officer.
"It may take time for the initial pangs to die down, let's wait and watch."
Feature Presentation: Aslam Hunani/Rediff.com