A non prejudiced, systematic and consistent implementation of policies by both the government and the military will ensure an integrated military with women taking on combat roles.
India has been dense to the idea of encouraging women to play a sustained, active role in the armed forces. More than a decade after women were formally inducted into the military, we are still debating the feasibility of women having permanent commissions in various positions within the forces. The government has also repeatedly shot down the idea of considering women for combat positions. This staunch refusal to reconsider the terms under which a woman can serve in the military comes at a time when increasing number of women look to the armed forces as a career option. A non prejudiced, systematic implementation of policies will go a long way in retaining this influx of women officers and ensure a strong and integrated Indian military.
When the armed service opened up to women in 1992, they were absorbed in the short service commission scheme and could serve for four years. Short Service commissions were designed to fill gaps at the junior level and was for a maximum period of 14 years. It took women almost a decade to get the military to extend their service from the four years to the current and maximum length of 14 years. The extension happened in 2004. A subsequent legal battle ensured permanent commissions for women officers in the legal and education branches of the three services, the constructor branch of the navy, and Accounts, Technical, Administration, Logistics and Meteorology branches in Air Force. A woman officer not serving in any of the above divisions will have to leave after a maximum of 14 years in the army. It forces women officers to start a career again without any preparation, a fall back career or without the pension or benefits assured to other permanent commission officers.
"An integrated army will be much more flexible and the increase in strength will address the issue of shortages that has plagued the forces for decades now."
The reasons for not having women serve longer in the military or serve in combat conditions have ranged from culturally backward attitudes about women, to fear of disintegration of the military ethos. There are, however, many more reasons to consider an integrated force. The idea that only a small group of people from a single gender will be able to function effectively in the various roles and positions within the armed forces is not only dated, but also fallacious. Integrated armed forces have been functioning effectively and without any loss of power in various countries for years now. An integrated army will be much more flexible and the increase in strength will address the issue of shortages that has plagued the forces for decades now. The increase in diversity within the organizations, will mean greater capacity to handle various kinds of work and address staff shortages in critical areas. The soft power display and the signaling effect of having men and women serving side by side, be it in the frontline or otherwise will be immense. More than anything, it will ensure that one of the largest employers in the country is establishing itself as a modern, equal opportunity based organization.
To undertake this integration would mean a systematic and consistent implementation of policies that would bring the military to modern standards and equip them in handling any potential problems.
First, the government has to remove all barriers that prevent women from getting permanent commissions in every branch of the military, including combat operations. Two, increase sensitization programs and effective grievance redressal mechanisms to ensure a comfortable transition and lower attrition rates. Three, joint efforts on part of the government and the military to figure out how forces were integrated in other countries will help us better understand our own requirements. Four, figuring out how to recruit smarter, better and stronger women and creating conditions at high school and college levels that encourage women to consider service as a career option. Liberalization and increasing visibility of women should help the forces better in finding out the right person for the job from a much larger pool. Five, strong support system in the form of mentors and counsellors. Six, methodically figuring out how and where the combat integration can be done. Seven, the Central Reserve Police Force have women in anti-maoist combat operations. This includes at least 3 all women battalions. The Indo Tibetan Border Police and Border Security Patrol also employ women for the frontlines including the Indo-Pak frontline. Studies can be undertaken to see what works, what doesn't and how to replicate it in military conditions. Eight, ensuring that a sustained multi level effort continues for an acceptable period of time. Integrating women into US combat has not given very desirable results, but it has also shown that there are women eager to take part and push themselves to train at levels that were always considered impossible. Part of the exercise also requires the armed forces to challenge existing norms of warfare.
The exercise will not be easy nor will it deliver instant results, but it is much required. Allowing women to sign up for combat operations does not necessarily mean that there will be deluge of women signing up. Cultural and fitness issues will remain. Part of catching up with new century and an increasingly modern warfare means figuring out ways to handle the elephant in the room. It's been 88 years since the first woman signed up to serve in the military, it's time we push them to serve in it wholly and substantially.