Set to take charge as India's first full-fledged woman Defence Minister, Nirmala Sitharaman on Sunday said she would look into the issue of women in combat roles with an open mind and not as a matter of patronage.
Asked if she would look into the case of combat roles in the armed forces, she said: "This is the matter where I definitely look into all the things before me with open mind that open mind which is required for this matter and not patronage".
"I think during his brief term, (Arun) Jaitley ji has taken lot of calls in lot of matters... I also want to see the files (on women in combat roles) where they stand... Earlier when I was member of National Commission for Women, these matters for woman empowerment and true empowerment of women were discussed," she said.
The induction of Sitharaman, 58, into the Union Cabinet is seen as the biggest surprise package in the rejig by Prime Minister Narendra Modi. An influential spokesperson for the BJP in the run-up to the 2014 polls, Sitharaman will be the second woman in the crucial Cabinet Committee on Security in the current dispensation after External Affairs minister Sushma Swaraj. The CCS is tasked with deliberating upon major strategic issues.
Asked if her selection as Defence Minister broke a glass ceiling, she said: "Yes. Absolutely."
"I think the Prime Minister has always supported women but today I think he has sent a very big message. Everything Indian women were waiting for.. it is for us to work through and perform (to achieve it). I am overwhelmed. I understand the impact of the decision. It is a huge responsibility. I just have no words in which I can convey my gratitude to the Prime Minister, the party and to my senior colleagues that they thought I am good enough for the role," she added.
Sitharaman also said it sent out a message to the world. "Imagine, the Cabinet Committee on Security having two women... Decisions on security-related matters being taken at par with men... This is a big message to all the countries which look up to India or even look at India saying what is happening to women in India."
In past, late Prime Minister Indira Gandhi had held the portfolio of defence twice - from December 1 to 21 in 1975 and January 14, 1980 to January 15, 1982.
Union Minister of State for Defence Subhash Bhamre said that he hoped Sitharaman's appointment as the new Defence Minister will speed up the process of induction of women in combat roles in the armed forces.