A watershed moment for women in the navy

The Indian Navy has allowed women to enrol in all of its wings and said women officers could volunteer for the elite marine commando forces. This is a landmark move because even if in theory, it demolishes the notion that women are inferior fighters and cannot serve shoulder-to-shoulder with male counterparts at the toughest levels. The inclusion of women in the armed forces has been a remarkable, if laborious, journey spanning 30 years from 1992 — when the first trickle of women officers in auxiliary services began. At almost every stage, progress has come after nudges, and sometimes shoves, from the judiciary. It has taken dogged resistance, and extraordinary courage, from women officers to push authorities to override sometimes frivolous objections raised by superiors and peers and create physical infrastructure to allow women to serve as equals (washrooms and uniforms, for example). In this campaign, their inclusion in the special forces breaches an important psychological barrier. In allowing women officers to volunteer for a force that operates in sea, air and land, conducts clandestine attacks against enemy warships, handles specialised diving operations, and surveillance and reconnaissance missions, the navy has sent the signal that there is no institutional bias against the entry of women soldiers.

Of course, more can be done. The special force assignment is based on volunteering, and the navy leadership must ensure that women don’t battle hostile attitudes. The air force also allowed women officers to join its special forces unit — the decision was taken last year but has come to light now — spotlighting just how quickly attitudes on this critical issue are changing. It is a watershed moment.

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