In a landmark move to usher in fairer gender representation in the Indian army, the country’s top court has permitted women to take the National Defence Academy (NDA) entrance examination this year. The ruling announced earlier this week had to be mandated by the court to push the armed forces to acknowledge and correct the gender skew. Until this juncture, women were only allowed entry into the forces through Officers’ Training Academy and the Indian Military Academy (IMA). The NDA, which recruits cadets between 16 and 19, remained an avenue reserved for men.
LiveLaw reported that senior advocate Chinmoy Pradip Sharma who appeared for the petitioner said that the counter affidavit filed, mentioned that the policy decision to not allow girls into the NDA did not necessarily hinder their career progression. This was met with strong opposition from Justice SK Kaul who said that this was unfounded and that the policy decision was based on gender discrimination. Justice Kaul cited Justice Chandrachud’s judgement to extend permanent commission for women in the army. He criticized the army for not making substantial changes until judicial orders are passed and remarked that the navy and the air force are more forthcoming in this regard.
This measure follows the decision of the central government to allow girls to apply for the 33 Sainik Schools across the country. These are schools affiliated with the Ministry of Defence which prepare students physically and educationally for entry into the armed forces. Despite the NDA decision currently being an interim order, combined, they lay the foundation for significant changes in the space. It is a pity that the apex court had to intervene here too to direct the government to grant permanent commission to women officers of the army serving under the Short Service Commission last year.
A report from earlier this year stated that there were only 9,100 female officers currently serving in the army, which is abysmal considering that the country has one of the largest defence forces in the world.
The inclusion of women and girls into these institutions which have long been male bastions could present some infrastructural and mindset challenges that will need to be addressed quickly. From hostels to washrooms and changes to training modules and gender sensitization, this could be the catalyst for change right from the roots for the armed forces. Such a transformation is crucial to ensure that women are not looked at as an exception but will be integrated into processes from early on. Their presence should no longer be seen as tokenistic but as a necessary representation to improve the diversity within these forces. Women have consistently proven to be valuable additions to any institution and now with the opportunities to hone their skills and train at the best facilities in the country, they will have the chance to go further in their defence careers.
As women continue to shatter the glass ceilings, it is heartening to see that the decisions being made by the top court provide the pedestal for them to break the barriers and set the base for generations of women to come.
(Edited by Amrita Ghosh)