Indian Army promotions signal increasing gender equity

Indian Army promotions signal increasing gender equity

Mandeep Singh

Gender barriers continue to fall in  the Indian Army, with five female officers cleared for promotion to colonel under the time-scale system in late August 2021.

They are the first female officers serving in the Corps of Electronic and Mechanical Engineers (EME), Corps of Engineers and Corps of Signals to achieve that rank, according to the Indian Army. The time-scale system qualifies lieutenant colonels for promotion to colonel after 26 years of service. Previously, only the Army Education Corps, Army Medical Corps and Judge Advocate General offered female officers a path to the rank of colonel.

“The widening of promotion avenues to more branches of the Indian Army is a sign of increasing career opportunities for women officers,” India’s Ministry of Defence said in a statement. “Combined with the decision to grant permanent commission to women officers from a majority of branches of the Indian Army, this step defines the Indian Army’s approach towards a gender-neutral Army.”

The five female officers are Lt. Col. Sonia Anand and Lt. Col. Navneet Duggal of the Corps of EME, Lt. Col. Reenu Khanna and Lt. Col. Ritcha Sagar of the Corps of Engineers, and Lt. Col. Sangeeta Sardana of the Corps of Signals.

The promotions follow a March 2021 ruling by the nation’s Supreme Court that the Indian Army must extend permanent commissions to female officers, an arrangement that was typically reserved for male officers. The high court upheld a February 2020 decision that required equal treatment for female officers in terms of promotion, rank, benefits and pensions, India’s The Hindu newspaper reported. Moreover, it removed barriers to obtaining permanent commissions based on physical requirements that the court considered irrelevant to the promotion process.

In mid-August, the Supreme Court also authorized women to take the tri-service National Defence Academy entrance exam in 2021 — yet another move to promote gender equality in the Indian Armed Forces, The Hindu reported.

The decisions reflect changing demographics. Over the past six years, there has been a 300% increase in the number of women serving in the Indian military, according to the government. The Indian Navy has 704 female officers, the Air Force has 1,607, and the Army has 6,807, excluding its medical wing, where women have been serving for decades, according to February 2021 figures. (Pictured: A female Indian Army cadet trains in Bengaluru, India, in March 2021.)

The progress of women in the Indian military is part of a broader change in India, retired Indian Army Maj. Priya Jhingan, who served in the Judge Advocate General [Branch], told FORUM.

“Because you’re seeing so many women entering the Army, you realize that they are realizing their own strength and the society has also woken up to their requirements,” she said. “It’s a clear projection of the entire shift in the society’s mind as well.”

Mandeep Singh is a FORUM contributor reporting from New Delhi, India.