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September 23, 2021

India's Supreme Court has set a deadline for women to be admitted to the country's elite defense academy for the first time next year, potentially opening the door for females to achieve high-ranking military positions in a field traditionally dominated by men.

The court first ruled in August that women would be allowed to sit entrance exams for the National Defence Academy (NDA), a highly selective institution that trains cadets for all three branches of the military -- the army, navy, and air force.

In response, the government requested the deadline be extended by a year, arguing it needed more time to prepare for incoming female students. For instance, it needed to create new health fitness criteria for female candidates, build additional dormitories, and adjust its intense physical courses for women, the government's affidavit said.
On Wednesday, the court upheld its decision, ruling that women would be allowed to sit the exam in November -- clearing the way for female students to begin attending the academy in 2022. "The court said, 'We have given hope to the girls and we cannot take that away. Just because you filed the affidavit that there are difficulties, we cannot take that hope away,'" said Chinmoy Pradip Sharma, one of the senior lawyers representing the petitioner.

Last year, the Supreme Court handed down a landmark ruling ordering the government to grant permanent commission and command positions to female officers in the armed forces. That means female officers will be allowed to serve past 14 years -- and makes them eligible for the same promotions, benefits and pensions as their male counterparts. The changes are significant in a country where gender discrimination and inequality remain deeply entrenched. Women face often restrictive cultural norms, and comprised just over 20% of India's total labor force in 2019, compared to 46% in the US.
Wednesday's decision might not usher in a new era of female empowerment in the military, and it remains to be seen how the academy will implement co-ed measures. But the court's ruling was hugely symbolic, suggesting a gradual shift to a more inclusive India. The ruling sent the message that "even if it is a small number of women who apply, you should make the effort," the judges said in court Wednesday, according to Sharma, the lawyer. "It is a victory for women," he added. "In 2021, women are as good as men."

Analyst View
The supreme court judgment is a win for the women in India and more empowerment and respect for the female gender. Many countries have scaled this hurdle of engaging more women in the military, it is a positive step forward for all-gender inclusion in the Indian military service.