For a group of 100 young Indian women set to be inducted into the Indian Army in May as "non-officers," exceptionalism is the rule.
Ranging in age from 19 to 22, this batch comprises 21 college graduates and a further 51 who have experience in the military system, having been members of the National Cadet Corps (NCC). A high percentile cutoff of 86% for SSLC (10th Grade) means that only the top scorers could be considered for the first batch, even if they only qualified for the “enlisted ranks.”
According to the army, these 100 selectees beat out two lakh applicants from across the country to be selected for training. Their high academic scores, which in any other army would have them eligible for an officer's commission, does not apply. All of them will
have the rank of Lance-Naik (or Lance-Corporal or Corporal) upon being inducted into service after their training ends. However, the army said that a few had a pathway to officer-ship open to them, and stated that one of 100 was indeed going on to officer school, while a second had failed to qualify.
The fact that they will join the army as enlisted personnel, without the protection of an officer's commission, has the army on edge apparently.
Already, their presence has shaken up and challenged the largely male army establishment, even as the precedent which they have set creates opportunities of employment for women from agrarian backgrounds and lower economic areas.
Brigadier C Dayalan, commandant of the Corps of Military Police (CMP) Centre and School in Bengaluru, where the young women have been in training since January 2020, said that the induction of women soldiers into the Indian army and into the CMP will be a significant step towards achieving gender parity. “It will pave the way as a harbinger of a similar step by the sister services of the defence forces in the times to come,” he said.
He explained that CMP had made the pioneers for training the first batch of women soldiers below the rank of officers because every military police soldier is vested with authority. “Policing the army means an authority and they are trained suitably,” he added.
According to Lt-Colonel Julee, who is in-charge of the training of the cadets, the army plan is to have 20% of the Military Police (MP) be made up of women. That means inducting 1,700 women into the Corps over a 16 year period until the year 2037.
Brigadier Dayalan said that any change in the system is bound to be difficult.
“The biggest challenge is the acceptance of women soldiers as colleagues, the change of mindset in the system and the environment. Even after they have merged with the environment, even after the system has absorbed women, it will take some time,” he said.