The Indian Army on Monday announced that a board has cleared the promotion of five women officers to the time-scale rank of Colonel after the completion of the mandatory 26 years of service. This is the first time that women officers have been promoted to the rank outside the medical, legal and education wings of the army.

The promotion forms part of natural career progression after the army began granting them permanent commission after a ruling by the Supreme Court last year.

The widening of promotion avenues to more branches of the Indian Army is a sign of increasing career opportunities for women officers, the army said in a statement. “Combined with the decision to grant permanent commission to women officers from a majority of branches of the Indian Army, this step defines the Indian Army’s approach towards a gender-neutral army,” the statement said.

The development comes 18 months after the top court ruled that women officers, who joined the Indian Army through short service commission (SSC), were entitled to permanent commission and command roles.

The five women officers approved for the rank of colonel are serving with the Corps of Signals, Corps of Electronics and Mechanical Engineers (EME) and the Corps of Engineers. They are Lieutenant Colonels Sangeeta Sardana from the Corps of Signals, Sonia Anand and Navneet Duggal from the Corps of EME and Reenu Khanna and Ritcha Sagar from the Corps of Engineers.

“The potential of lady officers was unseen and not utilised well so far. With permanent commission being approved, women are now picking up the rank of colonel. It shows they are no less than their male counterparts. Kudos to their strength and perseverance…It’s been a long wait but worth it,” said Captain Shalini Singh (Retd), a former SSC officer whose husband, Major Avinash Singh Bhadauria, was posthumously awarded the Kirti Chakra in 2001.

The headcount of women in the military has increased almost three-fold over the last six years, with more avenues being opened to them at a steady pace. As of February 2021, there were 9,118 women serving in the army, navy and air force.

Last week, the Supreme Court directed the government to allow women to take the next entrance exam for the National Defence Academy (NDA), thus far a male preserve, opening the doors of the premier training institution to women. Women were allowed to serve in select branches of the three services as SSC officers almost three decades ago.

One of the turning points for women in the military came in 2015 when the Indian Air Force decided to induct them into the fighter stream. Earlier this year, the Indian Navy deployed four women officers on warships after a hiatus of almost 25 years.

In May 2021, the army inducted the first batch of women into the Corps of Military Police, the first time that women joined the military in the non-officer cadre. In June 2021, two women army officers were for the first time selected to train as helicopter pilots at the force’s premier Combat Army Aviation Training School at Nashik in Maharashtra. But tanks and combat positions in the infantry are still no-go zones for women.