Army set to absorb women soldiers, but only as Military Police for now

What: The Indian Army might not yet be ready to induct women in combat roles, but this week it began the process of recruiting them as jawans, or soldiers, albeit only in the Corps of Military Police (CMP). Women aged between 19 and 25 can now register online to become a part of the military police. The army plans to induct 800 women in all, starting with 52 personnel a year. Figures from 2018 show that the army lags behind both the Indian Air Force and the Indian Navy when it comes to women’s participation. While women form only 3.7 per cent of the army, 13.09 per cent of the air force comprises women.

Why: The announcement is being termed historic because until now women could only be inducted as officers into the Indian Army. But then, women have been around in the Indian Army for a long time. They took up medical roles as early as 1888 as a part of the Indian Military Nursing Service and were inducted as doctors in the Armed Medical Corps. And, from 1992 they have also been inducted in non-medical corps such as engineers and signals. However, they are still fighting for a place in the army’s combat arms such as the infantry and the armoured corps. “Their entry into the military police is a cautious and conservative first step,” says Srinath Raghavan, professor of international relations at Ashoka University, Sonipat. 

How: An advertisement that read “Recruitment of soldier general duty (women military police) in the army” appeared in bold across newspapers. Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman tweeted it and within hours, the social media platform was flooded with comments lauding the government for the bold move.

In March this year, the government also granted permanent commission to women in all 10 branches of the army — even to those who had joined the army through the Short Service Commission Women (non-technical) entry scheme announced in 1992.

Now: The Corps of Military Police is the Indian Army’s internal police organisation, which handles traffic, enforces discipline, law and order, and checks civilians passing through army encampments. The CMP is also trained to handle prisoners of war. 

Danvir Singh, associate editor of the Indian Defence Review and a retired colonel, believes this move will allow the army to create an image of being gender equal. “This is also a way to show that India is a progressive country,” he says. Singh explains that combat roles for women are not a possibility for now due to a lack of “logistical infrastructure”. “The military police operate at the divisional level, where the infrastructure required to sustain women is available,” he says. 

Raghavan says the integration of women with men in the armed forces has been a historical bone of contention. This scepticism was there even when women were first inducted as officers in non-medical branches of the army. Hopefully, through their induction as jawans, male soldiers at all levels will get more accustomed to their presence in the army. And the glass ceiling will one day get shattered.