New Delhi: Defence minister Manohar Parrikar floated the idea on Monday of opening ground combat roles to women, reigniting the debate on whether women should be allowed to serve at the front line. Parrikar said induction of women through the National Defence Academy and allowing girl students in Sainik schools can also be considered.
He said that even though India is a country of Jhansi ki Rani and Durga, women have been made to stay away due to various reasons. "When I became the Defence Minister, I thought that we need to do a strategic move," he said noting that normally armed forces are male dominated.
If the Army and the Navy are opened up for combat roles for women, India will join the small club of countries in the world, including US, Israel, to have such a system. "There is a thinking that soldiers will not listen to a Commanding Officer who is a lady because they are not trained to do that. I don't agree with this as the only restriction today is infrastructure," he said speaking at a seminar organised by FICCI FLO, the women wing of the industry chamber. "In combat roles also there can be women. Why not have a complete women team, battalion of women. So the question of women officers leading a men's team, if there is question of initial resistance to it, can also be taken care of," he said. Parrikar said that sometime in future, he will sit with the chiefs of all forces.
"I don't understand why we can't place women on ships. At this stage I will not support a submarine operation because submarines are designed for unigender or one area for staff. There are no separate areas for women.
"But ships can be modified and new ships can be designed to have facilities for women," he said adding that there is also a question of taking women officers through NDA. He said there are demands from across the country for Sainik schools to have girl students. "This cannot be done in dis-joined manner otherwise girls will get into Sainik schools but they will not get entry, all this aspects are being looked into," he said.
Ruing that it took nearly four months for the file on induction of women in combat role to reach him despite his prodding, Parrikar said he will soon meet with the three service chiefs to work out increasing role of females. "I support women rights, empowerment but I believe changes have to be done in a gradual manner because if you don't do that there will be problems," he said.
Arguing that the the first "physiological barrier" has been crossed, the Defence Minister said the easiest one was IAF because they are normally more proactive and forward thinking. "When IAF chief discussed induction of fighter pilots with me, I said immediately send me the file. But I did not realise that there are many in the Ministry who are male. File reached me after four months and that too after after continuous enquiry by me. Simple approval took three and half to four months, possibly because of inherent backward thinking," he said. He said the argument often given to him was what will happen if the female combat pilot is shot down and the enemy captures her and humilities the country by doing bad things to her.
He replied saying that the call will be taken when the women pilots are in large numbers for them to be send across the border in case of a war. "Till then we can have a solution by asking them to fight enemy's aircraft which comes over to out country. So even if they are shot down, they are within our territory. This was a psychological barrier which we have crossed and I am sure in the coming days, we will do more," he said. Meanwhile, Vinita Bimbhet, President of FICCI Ladies Organisation, emphasised on the crucial aspects of entrepreneurial role of women in the defence sector, which needs to be boosted to achieve the goal of inclusive growth.