Indian Military Opens Combat Roles To Women

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Russ Read Pentagon/Foreign Policy Reporter
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India’s president has announced women will now be allowed to serve in combat roles in all branches of the military.

President Pranab Mukherjee made the announcement during an address to the Indian parliament Tuesday. The move will add India to the list of countries that allow women to serve in combat. Germany, Austria, Israel and most recently the U.S. allow women in such roles.

“My government has approved the induction of women as short service commission officers and as fighter pilots in the Indian Air Force. In the future, my government will induct women in all the fighter streams of our armed forces,” said Mukherjee. “In our country ‘Shakti’, which means power, is the manifestation of female energy. This Shakti defines our strength.”

According to a report by Al-Jazeera, attempts to integrate combat roles with women were initially rejected due to worries over what could happen if they were captured and the ability of women to meet the physical and mental standards required for combat service.

India has one of the world’s largest militaries, but integrating women into its armed forces has been a relatively recent affair. For most of the country’s history, women were relegated to medical support roles. The first change occurred in 1992 when women were allowed to serve in most roles outside of combat arms. Though support roles have been open to women for over 20 years, only around 2.5 percent of the nearly 1.3 million personnel are female.

Mukherjee’s announcement comes after women’s rights in Indian society have been watched closely by the public at large. Several particularly brutal examples of rapes in India put the plight of women in the country in the spotlight in recent years.

The possibility for sexual harassment is the primary concern of Maj. Gen. (ret.) Mrinal Suman, the head of India’s Defence Technical Assessment and Advisory Service of Confederation of Indian Industry.

“This is one single concern that has defied solution so far – how to ensure safety and protect dignity of women in the forces,” wrote Suman in an article for the Indian Defense Review in March 2015, “almost all women view this as their major fear.”

Suman expressed skepticism toward integrating women into combat roles. “It is a universally accepted fact that militaries are not created to generate employment and hence have nothing to do with gender equality,” he wrote.

“[Militaries] need only the fittest – men or women. Armed forces require personnel who are physically strong and mentally robust to be able to handle battle-field pressures. The fighting potential of a force depends fundamentally on its cohesion, mutual trust and faith in the leadership. Nothing should be done to weaken these traits.”

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Russ Read