The Army has finalised a plan to induct women in the military police, seen as a major move towards breaking gender barriers in the force. Adjutant General of the Army Lt. Gen. Ashwani Kumar said on Friday it planned to induct about 800 women in the military police with a yearly intake of 52 personnel.
Another senior official, who did not wish to be named, said some of the women personnel would be gradually stationed in the conflict-torn Kashmir Valley to carry out various kinds of tasks such as frisking of women.
The Adjutant General said the decision to induct women in the Corps of the Military Police was taken keeping in view the “increasing needs for investigation against gender-specific allegations and crime”.
The announcement—also being seen as a step towards the eventual opening up of doors to women in combat roles—came a day after Nirmala Sitharaman took over as the country’s first full-time woman defence minister. The decision was conveyed to former Army chiefs on Friday by incumbent Gen. Bipin Rawat at the biennial Chiefs’ Conclave where they were also apprised of the overall security challenges facing the country, including on the borders with China and Pakistan.
The three-day Army Chief's Conclave, hosted by Army Chief General Bipin Rawat, is being attended by eight former army chiefs.
“We have finalised the proposal of inducting women in the military police,” Kumar told reporters here. Gen Rawat had earlier said the Army was looking at inducting women jawans and the process would start with the induction of women into the military police corps.
Currently, women are allowed in select areas such as the medical, legal, educational, signals and engineering wings of the Army.
Women form a very minor section in the armed forces, with the IAF having the highest number at 1,350 followed by the army with 1,300 and the navy with 450 women officers, according to official information.
The 1.3 million-strong armed forces have 59,400 officers. The Indian Air Force, in June last year, commissioned three women as fighter pilots.
The Indian Navy is planning to induct women as pilots for reconnaissance aircraft, but there are no women on warships and submarines.
Then President Pranab Mukherjee, in his address to a joint sitting of both houses of Parliament in the beginning of Budget Session last year had said in the future, government would induct women in all the combat streams.
The role of the military police includes policing cantonments and army establishments, preventing breach of rules and regulations by soldiers, maintaining movement of soldiers as well as logistics during peace and war, handling prisoners of war and extending aid to civil police whenever required.
The process of induction is likely to start next year. About their proposed deployment in Kashmir, the senior official said women military personnel would assist in tasks such as frisking women, currently being carried out by women constables of the Jammu and Kashmir Police.
“At present, whenever we have to frisk women, we take the help of local women police personnel,” Kumar said. However, it will be done is a phased manner and will be started with their deployment in peace stations, and then in conflict-prone areas.
The Indian Army is yet to open doors for combat role for women. Very few countries have allowed women in combat roles. The exceptions include Germany, Australia, Canada, the US, Britain, Denmark, Finland, France, Norway, Sweden and Israel. Kumar also informed the Chiefs Conclave about approval given to a cadre review proposal, which is expected to benefit approximately 1.45 lakh Junior Commissioned Officers/Other Ranks (JCO/OR).
The upgradation is to take place over a span of five years and will endow higher career progressions of JCO/OR. The last cadre review was done in 1984, benefiting 22,000 JCOs/OR. Kumar also told the Chiefs Conclave that the Defence ministry had agreed to start residential Army Public Schools in Bhopal in Madhya Pradesh and Mamun in Punjab with a capacity of 2000 children each. This, he said, would cater to the growing needs of children of Army personnel of all ranks. As of now, the Army Welfare Educational Society (AWES) manages 137 schools and 11 professional colleges across the country.
The experts said that Indian Army's decision to induct women in Military Police Corps shows wider acceptance for women in the force, but they added that it is not an indication of women getting into combat roles
Asked if it is an indication of women getting combat roles in the future, Brigadier S.K. Chatterji (retired) pointed that the Corps of Military Police was different from combat.
He however said that the move shows increasing acceptability for women in the force.
"Military police is a service. I do not see this affecting directly women getting in combat, specifically where they have not been given entry. But it is an indicator they are now being accepted more widely in the Army," Chatterji told IANS.
"The nature of job in the combat units is so different that other considerations come into play. In case of a woman on frontline being captured, will she be dealt with dignity or not - those are issues that come in," he said.
Colonel P.N. Khera (retired) pointed out that Military Police was meant to maintain law and order, and had nothing to do with combat.
"It is not really a combat job. Military police is for discipline. Like police, they help in maintaining law and order, they do not go to the border. That is one decision government has to take separately," Khera told IANS.
"For taking that kind of decision, whether women should be in combat role, one has to really live the Army infantry life," he said.
Major General Deepak Mehta (retired) welcomed the decision, but added that taking women in combat streams would require different considerations.
"In combat arms, I do not visualise their role unless there is an administrative role. Military police is not combat troop," Mehta told IANS.
"Considering the fact of the problems in Jammu and Kashmir and in Northeast, where even women are now pelting stones, a small number of women may be inducted. It is a specific requirement," he said.
He pointed out that women are already in the field and in a number of branches which are also involved in supporting combat arms.
"There are women officers in the combat field. Of course they have a large number of roles there. But in case we go for an offensive operation they may not be able to fit in there," he said.