The “transformational” Agnipath military recruitment programme shall roll out another milestone in its wake. For the first time, women will be recruited as naval ratings in all trades of the Indian Navy.
In a move deemed revolutionary and historic, women enlisters in below officer ranks through the Agnipath scheme shall also serve onboard warships, which represents the core activity of the Navy.
“The Agnipath recruitment in the Indian Navy will be gender neutral. The Agnipath scheme will enlist women in all trades, including on ships,” the Indian Navy’s Chief of Personnel Vice-Admiral Dinesh Tripathi said, while announcing that the induction of the first batch of Agnipath enlisters in the Indian Navy shall begin at the training establishment INS Chilka on November 21.
The number of women to be enlisted is being worked out and logistical arrangements are being made for their induction, Vice-Admiral Tripathi said. It is expected that women sailors shall comprise at least 10 per cent of the Agniveer strength of 3,000 enlisters a year.
Since 1992, women have served as officers in the Indian armed forces but below officer ranks – comprising the overwhelming bulk of the military – were out of bounds for women till recently.
The Indian Army made a beginning a 2019 by inducting about 100 women in below officer ranks in the Corps of Military Police. Further recruitment was withheld due to the Covid pandemic.
In the Indian Navy, deployment of women on board warships was resumed recently after many years, following the induction of women as fighter pilots in the Indian Air Force.
“There are 30 women officers sailing as we speak,” informed Vice-Admiral Tripathi.
But the induction of women in other ranks in all naval trades, including those on board ships, will force a change in naval culture and mark a big milestone in making the armed forces equal opportunity workplaces for women.
Recent years have marked a politically-driven policy shift mandating the positioning of women from the sidelines to military centre-stage, albeit in limited numbers so far. But it’s a substantial beginning.
Women number just 3,904 (Army 1,705, IAF 1,640 and Navy 559) in the around 70,000-strong officer cadre in the armed forces despite there being a shortage of over 9,000 officers.