The Agnipath protests in India—and the young men leading them—are proof of the abysmal level of female participation in the Indian armed forces.
The government’s new job scheme, a tour of military duty, is open to both genders. The navy, for instance, has indicated that it will recruit female sailors via Agnipath. Private companies like the Mahindra Group, too, have said they would recruit Agnipath veterans after their stipulated four years in military service.
But could this scheme make India’s military more gender-balanced?
Historically, women have formed only a minute proportion of India’s military. According to a gender-based break-up of armed forces personnel from February 2021, there were fewer than 10,000 women in the army, navy, and air force compared to more than 1.3 million men.
Women have largely been kept out of combat roles in India. The Indian Army, though, has slowly begun inducting them. In 2020, the paramilitary Assam Rifles have posted women along India’s contentious Line of Control with Pakistan.
Female Indian Air Force pilots, too, have been growing in number—there were 16 of them till this February.
Last year, India’s Supreme Court allowed women permanent commission in the Indian Army. Female officers had gone to court seeking lifelong careers in the armed forces, along with benefits similar to those of male staff.
Agnipath is set to recruit 46,000 people annually and could potentially pave the way for more women. But if the male-dominated protests are anything to go by, it could be a while before there is equitable representation in the armed forces.