The Supreme Court prodding the Centre to allow female candidates to appear for the National Defence Academy (NDA) examination, scheduled in November this year, is a welcome development. It reinforces the path to gender equality and justice as women candidates will now be able to become commissioned officers in the three services through the coveted route. Taken together with the Centre’s recent decision to admit girls to Sainik Schools across the country, it lays a roadmap for correcting the equity deficit. For decades, the NDA has served as the cradle for grooming boys to become officers in the armed forces. Though the government sought more time, arguing that women can take the examination in May next year, the apex court put its foot down and ordered that they be allowed to take the test in November itself. Till now, women were eligible for entry into the Army through the Officers’ Training Academy and Indian Military Academy. The NDA, which recruits cadets fresh out of school, between the ages of 16 and 19, remained an all-male bastion. In tune with the changing times, the NDA has been engaged in creating suitable infrastructure for women cadets since early this year. While there is no issue with academic curriculum, the authorities are taking meticulous care in finalising the outdoor training and physical fitness parameters for the female candidates. The physical training includes basic combat drills besides endurance, so far customised for only male cadets. Then there is the issue of fixing standards for physical and medical criteria for females.
The government had submitted in the apex court that any dilution of physical training for women cadets would impact the battle worthiness of the armed forces. There is absolutely no justification for the armed forces to keep its positions of command out of the reach of female officers whose track record of service to the nation is beyond reproach. With changing times, female officers are serving with distinction in various wings of the IAF, Navy and Army. In fact, at least four women IAF officers are currently undergoing the final stage of their fighter jet flying training. Similarly, women officers are flying helicopters and transport planes. The Navy has also allowed women to serve on warships and accordingly created suitable living bunks and other related infrastructure on the warships. After a long struggle, women have earned their rightful place in the armed forces on a par with their male counterparts. In a landmark ruling, the apex court had last year allowed women Army officers to take up permanent commissions and command roles. The verdict means that all women officers will now be on a par with men in terms of promotions, ranks, benefits and pensions.
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