Women officers have fewer job prospects and poorer pension rights than their male counterparts, pending court challenges.
For 13 years, Nidhi Rao* worked in the communications branch of the Indian Army. She’s online now searching for work and doesn’t know where to start. “I’m unemployed, in the middle of a pandemic, with no financial security.”
Female officers were contracted for five years when Rao joined the army, in which they could get an extension for another five years. They were not given permanent roles, unlike men.
The original term of service was eventually changed to 10 years, which could be extended for a further 4 years.
Although males retired with pensions and other benefits, females were never able to hit 20 years of retirement service and stayed away from the higher ranks.
A decision was taken in 2010 after a group of female officers took their case to court, which placed women on equal footing with men, but the Indian government opposed the order and refused to enforce it.
The Supreme Court of India ruled last February, after a decade-long legal battle, that the situation was discriminatory and granted women permanent status and qualifications for army pensions.
A panel was set up by the authorities which divided women into categories. There was either a permanent commission (PC) or the opportunity to retire with a pension for those with 14 or more years of service. Many with 10-14 years of service have been picked or discharged from the Army without a pension for a permanent role.
The Army said in November that 422 out of 615 women were chosen for permanent positions.
Among them, Rao was not.
She says there were 68 such women who would leave without a pension from her service class.
The bulk of us are married with children in our mid-30s.
Some are expecting a boy, others, because of job insecurity, could not prepare for it, she says. “After serving the institution for more than a decade, we’re being asked to leave and start our careers over, at this age, in the Covid-hit market. Who is going to hire us? Where will we go?”
“Another affected soldier, Anjali Sinha*, says, “They asked me to run 5 km when I was pregnant, and I did. When I gave birth, I got back in within a week because I was afraid of being transferred again.
While coping with an unsupportive husband and family, I worked in some of the hardest communities in the world.
Anything for what?’
Sinha is now in her eleventh year of service.
She says, ‘I was considered fit until a few months ago.
But now that I pretend to be a PC, I’ve been deemed unacceptable.
This has hit my dignity more than anything.
Every single day, I doubt my worth.’
In the selection process, women officers complain of a lack of accountability and argue that the actual number of PCs issued could be lower than the Army says.
Prakash Patil, a veteran of the Army, says that women receive the same military training as men, but although most male officers are granted permanent positions and promotion opportunities, most women have to drop out.
“When women first joined the Army in 1992, they were highly praised,”he says. Newspapers reported and contrasted their interviews with the female fighters of the past.
But that turned many against them within the Army, who simply could not bear the arrival of women. So at every point, women had to prove themselves.
Rao says she once lived with her baby in a desert tent and was placed under intense pressure by her bosses on another occasion to relocate to another place, even though she was in the final stages of a high-risk pregnancy.
“Men are constantly taunting us about maternity leave,” Sinha says.
And ironically, the same guys then take two years off for specialty courses.
They will take specialized technical courses when male officers plan to take permanent positions, Patil says.
But the opportunity to obtain such degrees is skipped by women, reducing their chances of re-entering the job market.
Patil wrote to Indian President Ram Nath Kovind in September asking the authorities to offer permanent employment or pensions to the 68 women or to help them pursue advanced degrees. He has not got a reply yet. What organization is required in the world