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Women Not Allowed to Join NDA – What Difference Does It Make?

A total of 300 candidates are admitted to the NDA every year. None of them are women. 

Updated
Gender
5 min read
General Bipin Rawat’s statement opens door for women in combat roles in the Indian Army. 
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Around 2,50,000 candidates sit for the UPSC exam to avail admission to the National Defence Academy (NDA) – a joint defence training institute of the Indian Armed Forces. Of this, around 6,000 candidates are selected for the interview round, post which 300 of them are shortlisted to enter the prestigious NDA. But, there is one glaring aspect to this admission process – only male candidates are allowed to apply and sit for the preliminary exams.

Why? Neither the NDA nor the government has ever revealed the reason behind this.

The Supreme Court will on Friday, 30 July, hear the plea seeking directions for necessary steps to be taken to allow eligible female candidates to appear for National Defence Academy and Naval Academy Examination and train at the National Defence Academy.

Does excluding women from the NDA make a difference on ground? The Quint spoke to experts to find out.

Women Not Allowed to Join NDA – What Difference Does It Make?

  1. 1. What does the PIL seek?

    The plea was filed in the Supreme Court by Delhi-based lawyer Kush Kalra. Speaking to The Quint, Kalra said that exempting women from joining the NDA, solely on the grounds of sex, is a violation of fundamental rights of equality.

    Women Not Allowed to Join NDA – What Difference Does It Make?
    (Graphic: Shruti Mathur/The Quint)

    A bench headed by Chief Justice of India SA Bobde issued notices to the Centre and others seeking their responses on the plea, which said “the categorical exclusion of eligible female candidates from entering the NDA is not constitutionally justifiable and is simply done on the basis of their sex.”

    “Whereas, equally and similarly situated male candidates with 10+2 level of education have the opportunity to take the examination and after qualifying join the NDA to get trained to be commissioned as permanent commissioned officers in the Indian Armed Forces,” the plea added.

    The plea also alleged that denying equal opportunity under the law by not allowing eligible and willing female candidates to appear in the examination “should not be used to perpetuate and continue the legal, social and economic inferiority of women.”

    Expand
  2. 2. If women are not allowed admission to the NDA, how can they join the Armed Forces?

    All three wings of the Armed Forces – army, air force and navy – began inducting women as short-service commission (SSC) officers in 1992. They can enter forces by giving the SSC after graduation.

    They then need to complete 10 months to one year of training required before being commissioned as officers. Unlike male officers, women can join only through SSC.

    For example, if an undergraduate woman wants to join the Indian Army – she has to first take the SSC. On completion, she will be required to undergo a 10-month training at the Officers Training Academy in Chennai. She will be commissioned to serve after this.

    Expand
  3. 3. What are the reasons for not allowing women to get admission into the NDA?

    According to navy veteran Lt Sandhya Suri, the Armed Forces are not yet “ready” for women officers to lead non-commissioned male officers – and that it would need “cultural shift” for that to happen. “Are the Armed Forces ready to look at a future timeline where a woman might be heading either of them? This question has a different answer now and will have a difference answer five years later,” said Suri, speaking to The Quint.

    Women Not Allowed to Join NDA – What Difference Does It Make?
    (Graphic: Shruti Mathur/The Quint)
    Echoing her is erstwhile JAG officer Kannu Pathania, who said the forces are per se a “male bastion”, with the core aim to fight war. “One can say that wars are now fought with technology but the fact remains that you need boots on ground to retain and maintain,” she said.
    Women Not Allowed to Join NDA – What Difference Does It Make?
    (Graphic: Shruti Mathur/The Quint)

    Pathania also added that taking the SSC after an undergraduate course ensures that women enter with a strong knowledge, better experience, and a clearer idea of what they are getting into – putting them at an advantageous position.

    “I would not want the Centre or UPSC to shift the parameters of measurement of fitness, endurance and other things to accommodate women. You know, if your assessment levels are going to be the same, and you make that clear, by all means get them there. If you are doing a sprint and your sprint timings is 15 seconds for 100 meters (for men), and if you keep 25 for women then that is stupid. You have to look at it from a different point of view. If the men have to respect you, they have to go through that.”
    Sandhya Suri
    Expand
  4. 4. What should we be fighting to change?

    But there are things beyond entry into the NDA that need to undergo a change, said both veterans.

    “When I was in the navy, women were not allowed in the intel department, women were not posted on ships in tactical positions. That has changed in 20 years. It is a long time, but there has been a change,” said Suri.

    Women Not Allowed to Join NDA – What Difference Does It Make?
    (Graphic: Shruti Mathur/The Quint)
    “We are a country that spends millions on a statue. Do you think we can’t spend on separate toilets for these women officers? But we won’t, not until decision makers believe women absolutely know what they are getting into.”

    Pathania, on the other hand, said that we should be fighting for pay parity and rank parity, than for women in the NDA. Strengthening existing system is more important than creating further loopholes, she added.

    “As a woman officer or an SS officer, seniority is already impacted against the cadre churned out by the NDA and the IMA. Civil services and defence services are treated very differently. We have to focus on fixing these things to bring in parity and bring forth the value women add to the army as lawyers, engineers, medical professionals, among others, and not just make calls for so called ‘empowerment’ when society remains in a disproportionate rut. I mean even the SC order on Permanent Commission is yet to see the light of day in all its spirit,” Pathania said.

    (At The Quint, we are answerable only to our audience. Play an active role in shaping our journalism by becoming a member. Because the truth is worth it.)

    Expand

Who can join the NDA? What training do candidates undergo there?

To join the NDA, located in the outskirts of Pune, one must be:

  • An unmarried male
  • Between 16-and-a-half to 19-and-a-half years of age
  • Having completed 10+2 years of education

Applicants to the premier institution are selected via a combination of written exams conducted by the UPSC every year, followed by extensive interviews covering general aptitude, psychological testing, team skills along with intensive physical skills, and medical tests.

On acceptance into the academy, candidates have to undertake and complete undergraduate programme spanning six semesters, along with outdoor skills and physical training.

Once graduated, they are sent to their respective training academies for one year, before they are granted commission. The army cadets are sent to the Indian Military Academy (IMA) at Dehradun, air force cadets to the Air Force Academy (AFA) at Dundigal in Hyderabad, and naval cadets to the Indian Naval Academy (INA) at Kerala’s Ezhimala.

What does the PIL seek?

The plea was filed in the Supreme Court by Delhi-based lawyer Kush Kalra. Speaking to The Quint, Kalra said that exempting women from joining the NDA, solely on the grounds of sex, is a violation of fundamental rights of equality.

Women Not Allowed to Join NDA – What Difference Does It Make?
(Graphic: Shruti Mathur/The Quint)

A bench headed by Chief Justice of India SA Bobde issued notices to the Centre and others seeking their responses on the plea, which said “the categorical exclusion of eligible female candidates from entering the NDA is not constitutionally justifiable and is simply done on the basis of their sex.”

“Whereas, equally and similarly situated male candidates with 10+2 level of education have the opportunity to take the examination and after qualifying join the NDA to get trained to be commissioned as permanent commissioned officers in the Indian Armed Forces,” the plea added.

The plea also alleged that denying equal opportunity under the law by not allowing eligible and willing female candidates to appear in the examination “should not be used to perpetuate and continue the legal, social and economic inferiority of women.”

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If women are not allowed admission to the NDA, how can they join the Armed Forces?

All three wings of the Armed Forces – army, air force and navy – began inducting women as short-service commission (SSC) officers in 1992. They can enter forces by giving the SSC after graduation.

They then need to complete 10 months to one year of training required before being commissioned as officers. Unlike male officers, women can join only through SSC.

For example, if an undergraduate woman wants to join the Indian Army – she has to first take the SSC. On completion, she will be required to undergo a 10-month training at the Officers Training Academy in Chennai. She will be commissioned to serve after this.

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What are the reasons for not allowing women to get admission into the NDA?

According to navy veteran Lt Sandhya Suri, the Armed Forces are not yet “ready” for women officers to lead non-commissioned male officers – and that it would need “cultural shift” for that to happen. “Are the Armed Forces ready to look at a future timeline where a woman might be heading either of them? This question has a different answer now and will have a difference answer five years later,” said Suri, speaking to The Quint.

Women Not Allowed to Join NDA – What Difference Does It Make?
(Graphic: Shruti Mathur/The Quint)
Echoing her is erstwhile JAG officer Kannu Pathania, who said the forces are per se a “male bastion”, with the core aim to fight war. “One can say that wars are now fought with technology but the fact remains that you need boots on ground to retain and maintain,” she said.
Women Not Allowed to Join NDA – What Difference Does It Make?
(Graphic: Shruti Mathur/The Quint)

Pathania also added that taking the SSC after an undergraduate course ensures that women enter with a strong knowledge, better experience, and a clearer idea of what they are getting into – putting them at an advantageous position.

“I would not want the Centre or UPSC to shift the parameters of measurement of fitness, endurance and other things to accommodate women. You know, if your assessment levels are going to be the same, and you make that clear, by all means get them there. If you are doing a sprint and your sprint timings is 15 seconds for 100 meters (for men), and if you keep 25 for women then that is stupid. You have to look at it from a different point of view. If the men have to respect you, they have to go through that.”
Sandhya Suri
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What should we be fighting to change?

But there are things beyond entry into the NDA that need to undergo a change, said both veterans.

“When I was in the navy, women were not allowed in the intel department, women were not posted on ships in tactical positions. That has changed in 20 years. It is a long time, but there has been a change,” said Suri.

Women Not Allowed to Join NDA – What Difference Does It Make?
(Graphic: Shruti Mathur/The Quint)
“We are a country that spends millions on a statue. Do you think we can’t spend on separate toilets for these women officers? But we won’t, not until decision makers believe women absolutely know what they are getting into.”

Pathania, on the other hand, said that we should be fighting for pay parity and rank parity, than for women in the NDA. Strengthening existing system is more important than creating further loopholes, she added.

“As a woman officer or an SS officer, seniority is already impacted against the cadre churned out by the NDA and the IMA. Civil services and defence services are treated very differently. We have to focus on fixing these things to bring in parity and bring forth the value women add to the army as lawyers, engineers, medical professionals, among others, and not just make calls for so called ‘empowerment’ when society remains in a disproportionate rut. I mean even the SC order on Permanent Commission is yet to see the light of day in all its spirit,” Pathania said.

(At The Quint, we are answerable only to our audience. Play an active role in shaping our journalism by becoming a member. Because the truth is worth it.)

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