NEW DELHI: From deploying them on warships to allowing them into the tri-service National Defence Academy (NDA) after school, defence minister Manohar Parrikar on Monday mooted the idea of having an all-women battalion in the Army after prevailing “psychological barriers” were shattered by the commissioning of three female fighter pilots into the IAF .
At an interactive with the FICCI Ladies Organisation, Parrikar said, “There is the thinking that soldiers will not listen to a woman commanding officer…I don’t agree. But if there is some initial resistance, an all-women battalion would take care of it.” But the minister made it clear that “affirmative action” for women in the forces would be undertaken “gradually and smoothly” so as not to “compromise” the Army’s primary task of guarding national security. “I will soon sit with the three Service chiefs to decide the way ahead. The only restriction today is that of infrastructure (for training and accommodating women),” said Parrikar. This comes at a time when the US has now lifted the ban on even transgenders joining its military.

 But Parrikar’s idea of all-women battalions will require drastic changes in the recruitment and training policies because the armed forces have been inducting women only as officers since 1990s. It’s possible for central armed police forces to have “mahilla battalions” since they induct women in “other ranks” as well. As of now, women constitute a miniscule number in the 13-lakh strong armed forces, with the total number of officers being 60,000. There are just 1,436 women officers in Army, 1,331 in IAF and 532 in Navy.

Induction of women officers on board warships, of course, would be much easier, with newer machines having separate facilities in terms of cabins. “I don’t understand why we can’t place women on warships. At this stage, I will not support them for operations on submarines since they are designed for ‘unigender’,” he said. Parrikar said there were even demands for Sainik schools to have girl students. But this would serve little purpose if they were not allowed to join the NDA after class XII.

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