New Delhi: In a major step towards empowering women and greater gender parity, the Indian Coast Guard has become the first force to deploy female officers in combat roles on board its ships that patrol the country’s maritime zone near the borders with Pakistan.
The four women who have been deployed in the combat role are posted at the coastal areas bordering Pakistan and Bangladesh, including Jakhau in Gujarat and Haldia in West Bengal.
“These officers have been posted on board the Air Cushion Vehicles, popularly known as hovercrafts, in the Coast Guard and have been trained to handle all types of situations including interception of suspicious activity boats like the MV Kuber, in which terrorists carried out the 26/11 terror attacks,” Coast Guard officers told Mail Today here.
Most countries employ women in various roles in their armed forces but only a handful, including Australia, Germany, Israel and the United States, have allowed them to take on fighting, or combat, roles.
The aim of training these women is that they should be capable of handling all missions under the Coast Guard charter including boarding suspicious vessels, chasing such boats in the high seas or catching contraband smugglers there, they said.
Asked about the deployment of women officers on these hovercrafts, Coast Guard director general Rajendra Singh said, “We are intensely passionate about true inclusiveness and empowerment of lady officers. While the Coast Guard celebrates four decades, as part of our commitment, we have appointed these lady officers in combat roles.”
At the hovercrafts, the female officers are deployed along with senior male officers and sailors and carry out the same task that the men are expected to perform
At present, a total of 18 hovercrafts serve in the Coast Guard, attached to units in Okha and Jakhua in Gujarat, Mumbai in Maharashtra, Mandapam in Tamil Nadu, and Haldia in West Bengal.
The training of these women was started by the Indian Coast Guard about a year ago at its base at Mandapam with four female officers- assistant commandants Anuradha Shukla, Sneha Kathyat, Shirin Chandran and Vasundhara Chouksey.
Vasundhara Chouksey. These women sail on these hovercraft on both the seaboards and their tribe is set to expand in future as their training progresses. India had for many years kept women away from the frontline, citing concerns over their vulnerability if captured and their physical and mental ability to handle the stress of such deployments.
The Navy, which is the biggest maritime force in the country, does not allow women to sail on board its ships.
The Coast Guard started inducting women in combat roles after Prime Minister Narendra Modi in an interaction with military commanders last year urged them to give female officers combat roles and open more avenues for them in the services.
Following this, the Air Force started inducting women in combat aircraft flying but that initiative is an experiment and the ladies have not yet joined operational squadrons.
When the Coast Guard informed defence minister Manohar Parrikar about the induction of female officers in operational roles, he urged the force to look for more avenues to strengthen women officers there.
The Indian Coast Guard (ICG) was formally established in 1978 by the Coast Guard Act, 1978, of Parliament as an independent armed force of India. It has more than 130 female officers under its command, forming around 10 per cent of the officer cadre there. The women have also been inducted in the flying branch as they independently operate Dornier surveillance planes and Cheetah choppers in the force.