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Two cheers for women

As India heads into a two-month-long election process to elect its next Prime Minister, two decisions by the Modi government cannot be missed: one, to post women officers as defence attaches in overseas missions, and two, to give them permanent careers in all 10 branches of the army. One must not forget that India’s first fighter pilots – Avani Chaturvedi, Mohana Singh and Bhawana Kanth – got commission during this government after the Indian Air Force opened the combat roles for women in October 2015.

In a historic first, the Indian armed forces have been asked to identify officers who could be posted as defence attaches, who are military officers posted in foreign countries as part of diplomatic and military relations. This position has always been male dominated in India.

The decision to post women officers as defence attaches was taken earlier this year, and the first batch could go out as early as the next rotation. Twitterati hailed this as “an idea whose time has come”.

India’s defence diplomacy has assumed a crucial role in diplomatic engagement in recent years. Many said inducting women officers in this role could be really effective for securing the country’s defence interests.

Earlier this year, the defence ministry announced that women could get permanent commission in 10 branches of Indian army.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi, in his speech from the ramparts of the Red Fort on August 15, 2018, had said: “I want to give good news to our brave daughters. Women officers who have been appointed through the short service commission in the armed forces will get permanent commission through a transparent process. It is a gift for them.”

Until now, women officers are allowed permanent commission in two branches only – Judge Advocate General (JAG) and Army Education Corps. On 5 March, the defence ministry said in a statement that the SSC officers will be eligible for PC in all 10 branches of the army. This includes Signals, Engineers, Army Aviation, Army Air Defence, Electronics and Mechanical Engineers, Army Service Corps, Army Ordinance Corps and Intelligence branches.

“SSC women officers will give their option for permanent commission before completion of four years of Commissioned Service, and they will exercise option for grant of permanent commission and their choice of specialisation,” the ministry statement said.

Under SSC, officers are allowed tenures ranging from five to 14 years of services. Permanent commission allows them to serve till the age of retirement.

“SSC women officers will be considered for grant of permanent commission based on suitability, merit etc and will be employed in various staff appointment,” the statement added.

“The Ministry of Defence has taken steps to ensure implementation of announcement made by the Prime Minister on August 15, 2018 regarding grant of permanent commission to women officers in the armed forces,” the ministry said in the statement.

In the Indian Air Force (IAF), all branches, including that of fighter pilots, are open for females. In Indian Navy all non-sea going branches/cadre/specialisation have been opened for induction of women officers through Short Service Commission. In addition to education, law and naval constructor branch/cadre, women SSC officers have been made eligible for grant of permanent commission in the naval armament branch, at par with male officers.

These developments seem to undo the statement of Army chief General Bipin Rawat in December 2018 in which he said women could not be given combat roles because a woman officer will feel uncomfortable in frontline combat in the company of jawans, who may be accused of peeping when she changes clothes. He said a woman commanding officer could not be given maternity leave.

That was bad news for women who were hoping to get into the Infantry, the Armoured and the and Mechanised infantry units after General Rawat’s statement six months ago (in June 2018) that the process of inducting women in combat roles was moving fast and would start with “women as military police jawans”.

Until the Army prepares itself to induct women in combat roles, it is one glass ceiling at a time. 

Meanwhile, another glass ceiling

In March, the Indian Coffee House, a chain of coffee outlets run by cooperative societies, opened its doors to women workers, 61 years after it was established by communist leader AK Gopalan in 1958. Shamna Rajesh and Reeba Rajesh became the first women employees of a coffee house when they were posted at the Plaza Junction outlet in Kannur. The cooperative chain of hotels, which all runs outlets across the country, wrote a new chapter in its history when it allowed six women to join the establishment as staffers at three outlets in Kannur and Kozhikode. The coffee houses began when the Coffee Board dismissed its workers.

Commenting on the decision, PV Balakrishnan, president of Indian Coffee Workers’ Cooperative Society of Kannur, said: “When the world is changing and the women are breaking into top roles in all professions, it is high time the Coffee House opened its doors to them.”

“Our society functions in the entire Malabar region, including Palakkad, and I feel happy that we have set a model for the entire establishment,” he added. “If the move proves successful the society has plans to appoint more women in fact they have already prepared a rank list,” Balakrishnan was quoted by The Times of India as saying.

The society, he said, was also considering opening all-women outlets, adding that food prepared by women may drive demand.


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