Women in the NDA – A Step in the Right Direction?

Should women be allowed to join the National Defence Academy? Experts react!

Women in the NDA – A Step in the Right Direction?

The Supreme Court on Wednesday passed an interim order to allow women to join the National Defence Academy. This move by India’s apex court’s judgment concerning India’s premier tri-services officer training establishment has opened the floodgates of widespread controversy within both the serving and veteran fraternities.

Fauji networks have gone abuzz with a series of views and counter views on the court’s decision, an overwhelming number of which are against the move. An Opinion Editorial by Colonel Shivaji Ranjan Ghosh (Retd) headlined ‘There Are No Gender-Neutral Battlefields’, echoed prevailing sentiments from within the military fraternity.

Responses both for and against the SC judgment by eminent military minds have been reproduced below for the purposes of debate with the aim of  bringing out divergent views to the table and shed further light on the subject and its possible organisational merits or implications.

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Responses Against SC Order

Gp Capt. Anant Bewoor (Retd), Defence Columnist

The two judges are overwhelmed by this business of gender bias. It is a fashionable thing to do. I will not rule out family and peer pressure on these two and all other judges. It has nothing to do with wisdom. If the army does not do things voluntarily, why do they rush in whenever disaster strikes?

Does any SC judge ever go to a disaster site to see what has happened and what the armed forces are doing? Never, they remain in Delhi, pontificating. The air force and navy are not forthcoming, he has got it wrong, fed fake info by unreliable sources. The army knows what is good for us, not the same can be said of SC judges.

Someone tell the judges that the armed forces have been created for the safety and security of India, Indians and this includes the judges of SC. Any decision to modify or alter their system of recruitment, training, terms, and conditions of service must be done with the sole purpose of enhancing the safety and security of India, Indians including SC judges. By allowing girls to appear for the NDA exam is this going to happen? Do the judges know what they are asking the Union Public Service Commission to do?

Is NDA ready to receive girls? At the moment they are working at increasing the strength of boys. Does the judge know what it involves inserting girls into NDA? Just because the Officers Training Academies are doing it, must the NDA be made to do it? The SC appointed a Chief Justice of India for just 17 days in 1991, but the judges want the Central Bureau of Investigation director to have at least two years balance service. Kya baat hai ji? What I am saying is to tell the SC that it is in contempt of Indian Armed Forces.

We are not toys to be tossed around because gender equality is the flavour of the season, and SC judges do not wish to be left behind. By invoking gender bias as the bedrock of their judgement, they have screwed up on common sense.

The NDA was not created to ensure equal opportunities for everyone. It was created to make military leaders of young boys who will take their men into battle, and win. If they want girls to take the NDA exam, let them take the exam and feel very happy. All this also needs to be understood by the lawyers and activists who have placed their plea in the SC.

How many of them will send their women into NDA? For those interested have a look at this article published in the journal of Centre for Advanced Strategic Studies, in Pune. Battles are not won by showing the Constitution to the enemy. The judges are hurting and damaging the ethos of India’s armed forces.

Their pronouncements reek of populism and are unacceptable because it harms and injures the faujis of India. Will they take responsibility for the physical and psychological? The injury this decision will cause to the armed forces? By the time this damage manifests itself, they will be drawing huge pensions and looking for heading various commissions of inquiry.

As said by many, the judiciary of India has not covered itself with glory in these 75 years. This same SC acted like a frightened mouse during the Emergency, reminding these judges about that. The SC cannot bring itself to give a judgment on One Rank One Pension and they pontificate. Females in India are 48% of our population, does the judiciary ensure 48% female judges in all courts? Heal thyself first your honours.

Lt Gen. VK Chaturvedi (Retd), Ex-Arty, DG Manpower Planning & Personnel Services

It is the responsibility of the armed forces to protect the sovereignty and territorial integrity of the nation and therefore right man for the right job should be the motto. The armed forces have a very difficult and extremely challenging role to play. They have to guarantee victory every time and can never afford to lose. The stakes are too high. I have the highest respect for our sisters and daughters and also know fully well that they will produce the best results, but in this case, there are issues beyond the mental and physical aspects.

Let the armed forces decide what they want and how they want to fight. The country must only equip them well and leave the rest to each soldier of the armed forces and their leaders, they will not let you and the nation down. Humble request to our honourable SC not to interfere with matters military. Just to add, it was the Armed Forces who initiated the induction of the women officers in the armed forces on their own, in fields where they could play their part well. They were never dictated or directed for this venture by anyone.

Please don't take me otherwise. These are national security issues and must be given the seriousness that it deserves. With utmost respect to all my sisters and daughters, who have always done us proud. Here the issues involved are totally different and complex and must be left to the armed forces to decide the best course of action. The military leaders are responsible and accountable for the safety, security, and territorial integrity of the nation, please do not interfere in their charter. They are the best judge, let them have the say.

Col. Narendra Sheoran (Retd), Ex-Mech Forces

While everyone is focused on the battlefield scenario, there are other issues involved. First let me clear the air about the court’s wisdom. It is said that the Judge is usually dumb (metaphorically). It is for the advocates to educate him with arguments and counter arguments, based on which the Judge gives judgement.

While Judges have become increasingly verbose in pre-judgement remarks, the point is that they are simply to interpret the law as argued in front of them. The lawmakers have to do their job well, even if in their wisdom an amendment to the constitution is called for. That aside, let's get to some basics.

There is indeed a need to tap the potential of women for all (all) jobs in the national interest. But the elected government can always make special rules for those jobs where induction of women could negatively impact the very national interest. So why blame the courts. Proper wargaming needs to be done at the highest level. Simply stated, the good should not be compromised for the ideal. Selection and training standards and proven training methods should never be compromised.

Those women who wish to take up fauj as a career should be clear on this aspect. Alternate avenues in the fauj may be earmarked for those who can meet only reduced standards. Such avenues should also be available to men. For instance, back-office work. Outcome of future wars may be decided in drone play stations! In any case, proper groundwork needs to be done before any moving in this direction. Like re-look at the MIML.

Working rules and rules for social interaction during service. Maternity and paternity leave. Posting policy especially in case both parties are in the fauj. Enrolling Psychologists and Psychiatrists at the unit level, to prepare the men/women and to sort out related issues, which may occur. May even need to start a compulsory course for all men and officers at some level.

As an experiment, an all-women unit could be considered for starters. Even the court will agree that it fulfills the legal requirements, and the petitioners also cannot object. Training too can then be separated. Finally, I hope the hierarchy understands the old adage 'Why fix something that ain't broke.'

Brig Pradeep Sharma (Retd), Ex-Jat Regt, NSG
I am surprised at the manner in which courts have been issuing directions on such issues with utmost alacrity! Perhaps they are unaware of the fact that we are decades away from western models which in any case may not necessarily be good for us! Institutional sanctity has no relevance or does it? Even socially not just the army but the nation has yet to evolve for accepting social norms openly accepted by the west! The standards of our armed forces cannot be changed for female candidates nor the culture.

However, that said, let it be known that girls would be expected to rough it out along with the boys in every way. They need to also be aware that they might fall prisoner and keep in mind what happened to Capt Kalia and others! While the honorable court has been quick to castigate the Army in this aspect, I wonder why they drag their feet in the NFFU & OROP cases? Ultimately, there would I presume be no getting away from what the court has directed, therefore it's best that we prepare for this and also prepare the girls mentally to be as good as Israeli women in their fighting skills.

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Responses in Favour of SC Order

Neil John, Defence & Strategic Affairs Analyst

It is sad that we see institutions that were created for primarily military training are now arguing the justification of women. Men and women can never have the same standards. But they can surely train together on shared commonalities. We can’t expect a man to give birth, can we, cause it’s a woman thing. The Indian woman has been the Lakshmi, the Durga, the Jhansi ki rani. In politics they have been the Indira, the Jayalalitha, the Mayawati, the Mamata and also Mother Teresa.

They have played multiple roles, have larger endurance for pain, are more focused and resilient, above all the ones that join are willing to make the sacrifice. Study the Israeli security forces, all stations that require absolute infallible security, like border transit posts etc. are preferably always manned by women.

They might not match men in combat, they don’t need to. But they have the balls and the brains to make combat effective by running the technology. I am surprised at the anecdotes, the shock displayed and the very argument of the rigours of NDA training. By the way the Technical Entry Scheme entry scheme has proven that NDA is very soon going to be almost irrelevant and passe.

Strong crucifixional words, I know, many will get back at me to argue and dissect me through personal abuse, so be it, my name is given, but please contact the Military Training directorate to give you the statistics. Even at Defence Services Staff College. The Technical Entry Scheme guys stand out, they are logical, analytical, and contemporary.

Yes, they might not be demo type in jumping the wooden horse or climbing the vertical rope in L type position. They might have not managed a rain cape or two or lifted a cycle and stood erect all night. But they have the brains that adapt to technology and are adequately fit to endure hardships. So, let’s get down from the pedestal, the golden goose will slowly become irrelevant, if it does not start delivering the right output.

NDA is a premier institution to train military cadets and not military boys. Cadets are those that will imbibe this training and deliver as per requirement, posted, and adjusted as deemed militarily fit. While they will fight with the men in the forward lines, they can better be employed in multifarious tasks, Intelligence officers, Quartermaster, MTO, Communication officer, Legal officer in an Infantry formation. Same goes for other units.

Anyway, I can understand the agony of acceptance, because the bastion of the boys is at stake. Yes, there will be issues, but who says that there has to be a mixed component. A separate ladies squadron with a distinct training curriculum, joint training only where and when required, on subjects that need attention will be the norm. In today’s world women are winning the medals at the Olympics sir, very soon they might win you the war.

Tomorrow’s war sir will be fought 80% from the war centres in the grey and hybrid zones. Let the operators of that be without sexist biases. If you want only men for the remaining 20%, train them for that. Yes, they can be ex-NDA, but so can the information warrior, who has no face.

Shashwat Gupta Ray, Veteran Defence Journalist & Academic

The debate at the moment is not whether women should be inducted into combat roles, it is simply about women being allowed to join the NDA. Which is an after 12thstandard entry. The question is also about permanent commission. There are two elephants in the room which I would like to address. Firstly, veterans are mixing up the entry scheme with service mode. This issue, as aforementioned, is not about women serving in combat arms, but simply about whether women should get entry into the NDA like their male counterparts, like they do at the OTA which has been going on for over two decades now.

So, what is the problem having the same in NDA? This development is nothing novel but a mere extension of an existing policy. Women have been getting commissions and have been performing very well. Recently, the SC has directed the Indian Army to allow lady officers to be eligible for permanent commission which will allow them to go for higher command. This had already been going on in the Army Medical Corps. General Madhuri Kanitkar is a case in point.

What is really the issue? Women can easily be accommodated, there is enough infrastructure at the NDA. I do not believe that it is an infrastructure problem but a mindset one. Why the fear? Are their male counterparts afraid of falling short? Are they insecure about their own competency that they cannot accept women in permanent commission taking up command roles?

It is time that this changes. We very well know that women are very competent, they have broken into every male bastion imaginable. We have women commandos in the police force. The Assam police with its own dedicated all women commando unit is another case in point. They have successfully displayed weapons proficiency and handing in training along with taking physical punishment with full battle load. It is very misogynistic on the part of veterans to claim that women are not cut out for such high pressure or physically intensive jobs.

If female amputees can scale Everest, then I am sure that women can serve on Siachen Glacier as well. It is time the men shed their protective approach. Their animosity towards women reflects a sense of insecurity towards their own capabilities. We know how multi-tasking and efficient women are, now it is all about giving them the opportunity to show their skills.

Lady officers at the moment are simply asking to be at par with their male counterparts, where is the harm? It is not that women have failed in the Indian Army; they have done a fairly decent job. They are serving in services like Army Service Corps, medical etc. They have been seen marching alongside their male counterparts. It is now time to smell the coffee and look at the big picture.

If we truly pride ourselves as an Indian Army that is accommodative and secular then it's time the army walks the talk. If the Indian Army truly wants to show that it is a truly pluralistic force, then it has to give women the equal opportunity to perform. Insecurities cannot be a reason to keep a poignant talent pool away. If women can win medals for India in weightlifting at the Olympics, then I am sure that they can fire rifles at the enemy if push comes to shove.

Female aspirants are as attune to the physical requirements of the armed forces as much as male aspirants. You will find young women performing in the National Cadet Corps, marching along Rajpath along with earning C certificates. Furthermore, the IAF has opened combat roles for women as fighter pilots, what is stopping the army from at least giving them a fair chance?

Col. M P Dinesh (Retd) [In Response to Op-ed by Col. Ghosh]

The entire armed forces fraternity is up in arms regarding the court verdict on granting the girls permission to appear in the NDA entrance examinations. And amidst this collective indignation against the perceived threat to virility of the forces, the article written by Col Ghosh is getting all the accolades that his supreme, tongue-in-cheek writing style rightly deserves.

Sorry for being the party pooper here. I am tired of the clichéd sayings that women are not meant to do what men can do but are meant to do what the men can't do. The implicit intention never added is that what men can't do is wash utensils, mop floors, raise kids, change nappies, take harassment, sacrifice their own comfort. So, women, to maintain their uniqueness, should continue doing these.

At the outset, let me confess that I am totally for the induction of women officers in combat arms. They have proved themselves well in other fields and I am sure the profession of arms will be no exception. When we think of the most effective police officer, the name that stands out is Kiran Bedi. The police profession too at one time was considered to be an exclusive bastion of males.

You might ask me where Col Ghosh mentioned in his article that he is against women joining the armed forces. And that he only says that the selection and training criteria should be the same irrespective of gender. But there are a number of instances which give away the biased perception of the author.

He says that the height criteria should be the same for both genders since it should be in sync with the job criteria. Then what about the height relaxation for Gorkhas, Garhwali or Assamese? Does their short height make them lesser in fighting capability as compared to the 6-footer Jats or Rajputs?

In fact, these troops have earned a niche for themselves in the field of warfare as the fiercest troops. The height criteria are based on genetic and biological makeup, which has nothing to do with the fighting prowess. So, the argument that height criteria should be the same irrespective of gender, I believe, is born out of a negative perception towards the proposal.

The author, while accepting that our female athletes have done well in sports, immediately slights them by saying that their victory is against lower standards as applicable to female gender and would have stood a lesser chance had the competitions been gender neutral.

Let me put my arguments in this specific context in a slightly different perspective. India as a nation provides equal opportunity and facilities to athletes of both the genders. But why is it that the female athletes, fighting social dogmas and patriarchal mindset, have achieved world standards while our darling betas are still found wanting? It only means that to achieve higher standards whether in sports or in fighting prowess, there is something more that matters than genetics and gender.

With better commitment, better motivation, tolerance of pain and consistency, if our women athletes have achieved such high standards, I am sure nothing stops them from repeating the feat in the armed forces too. Notch the standards higher for them and I am sure they will reach upto them with the support of their inherent qualities that have nothing to do with hormones and biological makeup.

Bachendri Pal, Arunima Sinha and their ilks didn't expect the mountain slopes to be made gradual for them, instead they achieved victory over the very slopes which has proved to be a nemesis even for many a male ego. These girls didn't ask for any concession and proved that they are no less than men. The author's intention becomes clear when he implies that this proposal is nothing but the whims of individuals, far removed from reality of war. So, his proposal to open the ranks to women and transgenders are superficial and not meant in spirit.

My question is a very simple one. Till when will the women keep proving themselves to the men? They have proven to be better administrators, better police personnel, better athletes, better activists. Why is it that in spite of this, we again question their capabilities even when the same has not been tested? We didn't lose 62 because of women, we are not facing immense odds at our Northern borders due to women. We have bought unavoidable casualties despite women not being in combat arms.

I am definitely not a proponent of giving concessions and dilutions to women during training. But let's not dump the proposal because of preconceived notions coloured by the patriarchal mindset which we all have been born into and are unconsciously a part of us. Let's come out of the comfort zone of still holding the male species as the superior one. The myth has been broken, glass ceilings are shattering, times are changing. Women are no longer uncomfortable being on top. Let's get used to it.

Let an experimental batch of women cadets be tested in NDA. Let the training criteria be the same. But let's not deny them an opportunity. We men can contribute to women empowerment not by being chivalrous, but by letting them be what they wish to be.

Of course, the baggage of the traditional mindset has to be cast aside to look at the modern women with a clear, clean glass. If we can accept the eight handed Durga to destroy the invincible Mahishasur then I am sure the two-handed versions can definitely wrench the neck of Chinese and Pakistanis. Let's have faith in their capabilities. They have done enough to earn that.

Brig. Sarvesh Dangwal (Retd), Ex-Comdt AIPT & DDGPT

We have women in the army, airforce, navy, Indo Tibetan Border Police, Central Reserve Police Force deployed in field areas and possible war zones. What is the issue about girls joining NDA when lady cadets are training in OTA since long past?

The Chairman Chief of Staff Committee and Integrated Defence Staff should have long seen it coming and prepared for it plans, manner, infrastructure, organisational, structure should all have been put in place during this time and we should have been proactive than reactive, subsequent to order of the two-judge bench of the SC which has set the cat among the pigeons. Now, the ex-servicemen and ex-NDA's have jumped into the fray to say their two-bit worth on a subject where their views are irrelevant.

Decisions are taken by those who are in harness and not by those who are done and dusted with. Times are changing and society is becoming more and more inclusive across class, caste, and gender. This is an idea whose time has come and cannot be resisted, irrespective of all the ranting and chest beating which it has brought about with it.

We must learn to provide a secure and a level playing field for women, and which is an indicator of moving and arriving at a civilised society. The internet has opened all varieties of information, knowledge, and graphic, explicit pictures. videos and films to be accessed by adults of 18 years age and beyond. Then, what are we talking about not opening up NDA for girls. It must be done in a very phased manner with percentage and standards to be determined for induction into combat and support, allied arms, and services.

Let's not overreact to the wisdom of the judges who have arrived at a Constitutionally balanced decision, which provides equal opportunities to the eligible citizens of the nation. I don't see anything wrong in the judgement. Do it as was done for ladies when they were initially inducted into the armed forces and paramilitary forces. It is a mental block which is being spearheaded by the veterans who are advised to mothball their uniform and opinion. Language was not invented for complaining only but also to accept the reality which is the only constant change.

Also, what are we debating here? To allow women with equal opportunities in the armed forces and not whether they should be inducted into combat arms. There are ancillary services where women can serve without being exposed to the physical dangers, privation and hazards and serve effectively as also efficiently. What does the SC order say? Allow girls entry into the NDA. So, why are we tweaking the argument to hijack it as per our will and give it a different colour? Like it is in the OTA let it be at the NDA too. Allow more avenues for women to share in the opportunities.

Cdr Ravindra Waman Pathak (Retd), ESM Activist

There has been a lot of discussion on the subject and mostly the objections have been with respect to aspects that would come up post-NDA training when these ladies would join individual services. One must keep in mind that all three services already have lady officers and each service has dealt with their deployment and associated problems including issues of sexual harassment or other issues related to intersex relationships.

As at present, the entry levels were in Individual service academies and all that would change is that there will now be an ex-NDA stream much like for men. So one really needs to just consider if NDA is ready to handle these girls. One must prepare infrastructure and rules considering the fact that the girls entering NDA would be at a much lower age and thus may not be adequately mature to handle issues on their own. Guidance in such areas would have to be provided besides physical safety.

The courts have not mentioned any lowering of standards for these girls so one hopes that the services will not do it suomoto. The other issue that I visualize cropping up is would the girls be up to it in taking the physical and mental pressure as we already see men cadets buckling under these very pressures particularly physical.

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The Way Forward

Brig Rajiv Williams (Retd), Ex-Adjt IMA, Jak LI, author & analyst

It is time for the military ‘to speak up and not merely speak with’ the present dispensation. I am not for a moment challenging the wisdom of the SC on inducting women candidates into the NDA, yet I feel it important for the three services to challenge within themselves and either accept the direction gracefully or fight it in the court.

I also pause to ponder whether adequate inputs were shared by the lawyer arguing the case for the military or as it appears the case fell through and went in favor of the plaintiff due to inadequate brief given by the defense. It is this, which I am alluding to as maybe the hierarchy succumbed to pressures of just following orders and acquiesce to the fancies of the polity.

Whatever be the reason for such a direction, I would like to add that as long as there is no change in allotment of arms and services profile of women officers in the three services as of date, then their entry into NDA is a mere reflection on granting them a permanent commission. When we further deep dive into giving them training at NDA, the only point which merits attention is to create women friendly infrastructure in the Academy.

To my way of thinking it is nothing to do with lowering standards of training, different syllabi, or even separate training schedules for women cadets. All training must be common to all, and the women cadets given equal opportunities for participating in all sports and other extra curricula activities. Their living barracks i.e., squadron accommodation needs to be separate and facilities as required for women be created at various training areas.

In view of the above, I do not subscribe to the view at this stage to challenge the SC’s diktat on women being trained at the NDA and granted permanent commission into the armed forces. However, what I would have thought better was for the three services to have collectively arrived at such a decision after examining various aspects relating to administration and so on.

The three services should have proactively submitted a proposal for grant of permanent commission to women officers by inducting them into the NDA, rather than a PIL being filed at the highest court and a decision being given in favor of the plaintiff. Such a direction has given a different color on the authority of the three service chiefs and gives a feel that the military did not adequately ‘speak up’.

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The editorial team at ‘Mission Victory India’, invites responses for the purposes of furthering this debate. Views, based on your professional experiences may be sent at: [email protected]

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