National Defence Academy (NDA) - “Boys Only”?

As a kid, I had always wanted to enter the National Defence Academy (NDA) like my brother did: but when I grew up, I was devastated to learn that I couldn't do so because I'm a woman. This got me thinking about how, even after 72 years of independence, we are still trapped in this period where girls aren't given equal opportunity. The National Defence Academy is a premier institution where cadets are trained to join services like the Indian Military Service, the Indian Naval Service, and the Indian Air Force Service. Nearly 2,50,000 applicants are appearing every year for the exam conducted by UPSC to get selected. Out of these only around 6,000 are invited for interviews and out of those just 300 cadets are admitted to the prestigious institution each semester. But the interesting part of this is that out of all these numbers the total number of women appearing and getting selected is zero because the eligibility set to appear for the exam is limited to unmarried male candidates who have completed their class 12 or equivalent (typically 16-19 years of age).

Now, why are women specifically not being included for a post which serves the nation on the frontlines? Are women not capable of defending their nation at the borders? Are women not equal to men?

Dating back to its history, NDA was formed after the Indian independence in the year 1954 with the main aim to instil commandeer gentlemen spirit in men who are capable of becoming future leaders, serving and protecting the country. Society at that time was dominated by men and perceived women to be the weaker sex. Therefore, the inclusion of women primarily in the defence sector which requires tremendous physical strength, then was perhaps questionable, not just in India but in all parts of the world.

Today, women are progressing and setting milestones in all professions and sectors of the society but referring to women as a weaker sex in the defence sector has become antiquated now. As interpreted by navy veteran Lt. Sandhya Suri, the Armed Forces are not yet “ready” to be led by women. For this to happen, there needs to be a cultural shift and treating women equally starts from one’s home. The Indian mindset today is ruled by the notion where a woman needs a father or a husband to be protected. It may sound bizarre, but it is the ground reality.

With that said the bigger question is, as a nation, are we ready to put our daughters on the frontline and expect them to be brave heart like Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman to bear what he went through? The truth is that not every woman who aspires to join NDA has to become the next Commander Varthaman. We cling to erroneous ideas about the unknown, yet the whole idea of being unknown is to still find out.

These unfair biases are spread across the nation, where another appalling situation can be seen in the recruitment of Judge Attorney General (JAG), where there are only 10 posts available out of which 7 are for men and just 3 for women. Women were only eligible for appointment as officers in JAG after January 1992, which is around half a century after its formation.

A little ray of hope to this scenario is the Supreme Court’s order seeking a response from the Centre for the categorical exclusion of willing and eligible women solely on the ground of their sex, as it is a violation of their fundamental right of equality before the law and equal protection of laws. For any change to happen, the mentality of society has to change. The world now requires a shift in the paradigm where women are considered primary and not secondary. Not above or below, women should be placed just equal to men in society.