India’s Supreme Court ruling opens top ranks to female soldiers


A supreme court’s landmark ruling on Wednesday (Sept. 22) that will make it easier for females to join the military from November is welcomed by women in India, seeing it as a significant development in a country where gender inequality remains a major social concern.

India has slipped 28 places within in a year, ranking 140th of 156 countries in the World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Report 2021, due in large part to its declining percentage of women in professional and technical roles.

Out of India’s 1.4 million-strong army, a tiny fraction of women have previously been able to join the country’s armed forces and only if they have a college degree.

This meant that they were already over the age limit to enroll in India’s National Defense Academy, from which the majority of the military’s high-ranking officers graduate.

After the top court’s ruling, women will be allowed to take the NDA entrance exam straight out of high school, like men, and aspire to senior positions, starting in November.

“This ruling is very encouraging for a society that discriminates against women from birth,” Jagmati Sangwan, a Haryana-based activist known for campaigning against female feticide, told Arab News on Thursday. “The Supreme Court’s decision will help improve the mindset of the people.”

Kavita Krishnan, secretary of the All India Progressive Women’s Association, told Arab News that the court’s decision was “a welcome ruling” as “no spaces should be barred to any gender.”

Dr. Ranjana Kumar, president of the New Delhi-based Center for Social Research, an NGO supporting female empowerment, said: “Access has to be equal. If a woman wants to join the armed forces, she must be allowed to (take the) exams. You cannot deny the right to join any service or any job on the basis of (gender).”

She added that she expects the ruling to “encourage many women to come forward.”

“When police forces opened their doors for women, many women joined,” she said. “Day by day, women’s participation in police forces has increased.”

Women have served in India’s security forces since British colonial rule, mainly as nurses and peacekeepers. In recent years, their roles have expanded. India’s oldest paramilitary force, the Assam Rifles, started inducting women in 2016, and the army police followed suit in 2019.

But without NDA training, opportunities for women remain limited, especially when it comes to the higher ranks. So the upcoming admission of women to the defence academy is seen as a new beginning by women such as 18-year-old girl scout Yashika Singh from New Delhi, who hopes to become an officer in the future.

“The way has been cleared for women to join the NDA,” Singh said. “I will really make an attempt to join the armed forces. This is challenging, but cool.”

However, the court’s decision has also met with resistance in military circles.

Retired Lt. Gen. PG Kamath of Mission Victory India — a think tank whose members are active and former military officers — suggested women lacked the physical ability to become army officers. (Source: Arab News)