Parrikar envisages combat roles for women

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The Defense Minister is keen to form an all-woman battalion

After the Indian Air Force’s induction of its first female fighter pilots, Defense Minister Manohar Parrikar is pitching for a greater role for women in the Indian Armed Forces. Parrikar, in a recent inter-active session with FICCI FLO, the ladies’ wing of the industry chamber, proposed the idea of an all-woman battalion as well as stationing of women on warships.

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The defense minister said the “psychological barrier” had been broken after the induction of women fighter pilots. He said admission of women into the National Defence Academy and Sainik schools will also be considered.

Parrikar said he would sit down with the chiefs of all the forces to discuss women’s inclusion in combat roles. If India introduces women in war roles in its army and navy, it will join the club of the few countries which have women in combat roles.

The US, Russia, Turkey and Australia have women in combat units. The US can be considered the leader in terms of recruiting women personnel. It has gone a step further in giving opportunities to transgender people. The Pentagon has removed the ban on transgender people in the US military, enabling them to serve openly.

The US has the largest number of women in the military. During World War I and II, women served in the Army Nurse Corps (ANC), and the Women’s Army Corps (WAC). Russia, after the February Revolution of 1917, was the first to introduce an all-woman battalion (1st Russian Women’s Battalion of Death; 1st Petrograd Women’s Battalion). As petitions by women to serve the nation flooded the Russian government, it constituted 15 formations composed of women.

Turkey, though an Islamic nation, notably made an exception regarding women in the military. Turkish women have been part of its army since the 19th century. Nene Hatun participated in the Ottoman-Russian war of 1877-78. Turkish women also had combat roles in World War I.

Even closer home, in Sri Lanka, female personnel play an active role in all the three services of defense. In 1985, Norway became the first NATO country to include women in all combat services, including submarines. Australia opened its frontline units to females in 2011.

Canada, Denmark, France, Germany, New Zealand and Israel are also part of the club which allows female personnel on warships.

Interestingly, before independence, the Rani of Jhansi Regiment was the first women’s regiment of the Indian National Army, formed in 1942 in Southeast Asia with the objective to overthrow the Raj. Formed with the expatriate Indian population in South-East Asia, it became active in 1943. Subhas Chandra Bose announced the formation of the regiment on July 12, 1943. It had more than 300 cadets, most of them teenaged.

Parrikar said, as of now, he would not allow inclusion of women on submarines. He said, “I don’t understand why we can’t place women on ships. At this stage I will not support a submarine operation because submarines are designed for unigender or one area for staff. But ships can be modified and new ships can be designed to have facilities for women.”

The minister also referred to the general perception that male personnel would not listen to a lady commanding officer: “There is a thinking that soldiers will not listen to a commanding officer who is a lady because they are not trained to do that. I don’t agree. But if there is some initial resistance, an all-woman battalion would take care of it.”

However, what begs the question is that, at a time when the Indian Army, the world’s third largest defense force, is witnessing a huge drop in the participation of women, how would it help women to join our defense forces?

By Srishti Sonewal