Finally, the glass ceiling has been shattered. A woman fighter pilot of the Indian Air Force (IAF) is all set to join the newly-inducted Rafale fighter fleet as one of its crew flying the multi-role aircraft while the Navy has selected two women officers as helicopter crew for deployment on frontline warships. This is a historic moment and a cause for celebration for those fighting for gender justice. Women fighter pilots are now being deployed as per strategic and operational requirements. At present, the IAF has 10 women fighter pilots and 18 women navigators while the total strength of women officers is 1,875. In a country that has had a woman Prime Minister, a woman President and many women Chief Ministers and Governors, it took a long legal battle for women to get into the combat roles in the security forces, though they were first inducted in the Army way back in 1992 as Short Service Commission (SSC) officers. It must be pointed out that women officers in the forces undergo the same rigorous selection and training procedures as their male peers. In its landmark ruling early this year, allowing women Army officers to take up permanent commissions, the Supreme Court had called for a change in the mindset in tune with the changing times. There is absolutely no justification for the armed forces to keep its positions of command out of the reach of female officers whose track record of service to the nation is beyond reproach.
The equation of military abilities with physical masculinity draws upon false notions and reeks of sexism. It is also preposterous to argue that male troops, being drawn from predominantly rural backgrounds, are not yet mentally schooled to accept women officers in command of Army units because of prevailing societal norms. The arguments put forward by the government before the apex court, on behalf of the IAF, like physiology, motherhood and physical attributes, did not hold ground under the basic tenet of constitutional entitlement to dignity, which attaches to every individual irrespective of gender. Despite constituting a relatively minuscule — 3.29% — of the total strength of the Indian Army, women in all branches of the Army have served shoulder to shoulder with male officers in operational field areas. Allowing women as permanent cadre will create a level-playing field in terms of career advancement. There is ample evidence that the required skill sets in the Army are gender-neutral. In countries like the United States, UK, Israel, Canada and Australia, women soldiers are in combat and command roles. The government last year agreed to give permanent commissions to women but restricted it to those who had served less than 14 years, citing physical limitations of older women officers.
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