Women at the Helm!

“Women can sail with same efficiency as male officers, and there should be no discrimination,” the Supreme Court recently said in an historic judgment ruling in favour of permanent commission for women officers in Indian Navy.


Recent times have seen a history of changes in women’s roles in every walk of life. So why should the defense forces be any different? Many militaries around the world have had women working in various supporting non-combat roles. India too has had women working in the military since 1888 (medical) and in various non-medical roles since late 20th century. This judgment is definitely the right kind of woman empowerment that we wish to see in these days.


But before I comment any further on this matter, I would like to specify that my knowledge about women in Indian Defense Forces is minimal. So anything I say or express herein is purely an amateur opinion. Offering my apologies if it’s wrong in any way.


Having an military connection in my family, I was always fascinated by the Armed Forces. And as all kids, my dream too was to become a soldier and fly planes. As I grew up I realised, much to my dismay, that: (a) soldiers don’t fly planes and (b) that girls – other than female doctors – are not allowed in the forces. But with changing times the role of women officers have expanded to include non-medical operations as well.



SC’s decision on granting permanent commission to women officers in Indian Navy is definitely a step towards doing away with the gender bias. Because denying equal opportunities for both the genders would be great miscarriage of justice. To quote the apex court in one of it’s prior notification, To cast aspersions on the ability of women and their role and achievements in the army is an insult not only to women, but also to the Indian Army,” and how true it is, the role of women can no longer be neglected.


Lack of proper washrooms on the Russian vessels, though a good and hygienic point to take into consideration, is not a limiting one. Women have survived far worse conditions and have fought for their place. This judgment grants women a change at fair and equal conditions of work, a level-playing field, and grant of pensions to retired officers. Along with ordering the government to extend the grant of permanent commission to SSC women officers within three months, the SC is “signalling a move towards gender parity in the traditionally male bastion.



In a way it’s a good thing that there are no bastions in the sea. But had there even been any “traditionally male bastions”, women of the Indian Navy would have broken into them nonetheless. The 6-member crew of INSV Tarini that took part in Navika Sagar Parikrama perhaps demonstrated the true essence and meaning of “Nari Shakti”. The all female team that circumnavigated the globe in their first ever global journey is an excellent example of Navy’s outstanding contribution towards women empowerment. With Sub-lieutenant Shivangi becoming the first woman pilot for the Indian Navy, I would say that the armed forces are well on their way in recognising the contribution of and in allocating various roles to the women of our nation.


However, when it comes to the strength and integrity of Armed Forces, it’s not just a question of equality of sexes but a matter of national security. So definitely the decision of inclusion of women in combative roles has to be taken objectively, keeping aside gender based arguments. Irrespective of defence policies, women’s expertise, talent, dedication and competence is unquestioned. Women have steered the nation in the right direction many-a-times. Women will continue to be at helm and see the nation through in times of need.


© 2020 Ashwini Nawathe, Kaleidoscope of My Life
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