Indian women set sights on new military roles as court opens top ranks to female soldiers

Only a tiny fraction of India’s 1.4 million-strong army are women. (AFP)
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Updated 23 September 2021

Indian women set sights on new military roles as court opens top ranks to female soldiers

  • From November, women will be allowed to take the NDA entrance exam straight out of high school, like men, and aspire to senior positions.

NEW DELHI: Women in India have welcomed the Supreme Court’s landmark ruling on Wednesday that will make it easier for females to join the military from November — a significant development in a country where gender inequality remains a major social concern.
India ranked 140th of 156 countries in the World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Report 2021, slipping 28 places in a year due in large part to its declining percentage of women in professional and technical roles.
Only a tiny fraction of India’s 1.4 million-strong army are women, who have only previously been able to join the country’s armed forces if they have a college degree. This meant that they were already over the age limit to enroll in India’s National Defense Academy, from which the majority of the military’s high-ranking officers graduate.
However, from November, women will be allowed to take the NDA entrance exam straight out of high school, like men, and aspire to senior positions.
“This ruling is very encouraging for a society that discriminates against women from birth,” Jagmati Sangwan, a Haryana-based activist known for campaigning against female feticide, told Arab News on Thursday. “The Supreme Court’s decision will help improve the mindset of the people.”
Kavita Krishnan, secretary of the All India Progressive Women’s Association, told Arab News that the court’s decision was “a welcome ruling” as “no spaces should be barred to any gender.”
Dr. Ranjana Kumar, president of the New Delhi-based Center for Social Research, an NGO supporting female empowerment, said: “Access has to be equal. If a woman wants to join the armed forces, she must be allowed to (take the) exams. You cannot deny the right to join any service or any job on the basis of (gender).”
She added that she expects the ruling to “encourage many women to come forward.”
“When police forces opened their doors for women, many women joined,” she said. “Day by day, women’s participation in police forces has increased.”
Women have served in India’s security forces since British colonial rule, mainly as nurses and peacekeepers. In recent years, their roles have expanded. India’s oldest paramilitary force, the Assam Rifles, started inducting women in 2016, and the army police followed suit in 2019.
But without NDA training, opportunities for women remain limited, especially when it comes to the higher ranks. So the upcoming admission of women to the defense academy is seen as a new beginning by women such as 18-year-old girl scout Yashika Singh from New Delhi, who hopes to become an officer in the future.
“The way has been cleared for women to join the NDA,” Singh said. “I will really make an attempt to join the armed forces. This is challenging, but cool.”
However, the court’s decision has also met with resistance in military circles.
Retired Lt. Gen. PG Kamath of Mission Victory India — a think tank whose members are active and former military officers — suggested women lacked the physical ability to become army officers.


Taliban report mosque blast at government ministry in Kabul

Updated 6 sec ago

Taliban report mosque blast at government ministry in Kabul

  • Explosion takes place inside Interior Ministry’s mosque, no immediate casualties reported
  • Blast follows last week’s attack on education center in Kabul where 52 people were killed 

KABUL, Afghanistan: A blast struck a mosque at a government ministry building in Kabul Wednesday as workers and visitors were praying, a Taliban official said.
The afternoon explosion went off inside the mosque of the Interior Ministry, which is responsible for security and law enforcement in the country.
A Taliban-appointed spokesman for the Interior Ministry, Abdul Nafi Takor, said in a tweet: “Unfortunately there was an explosion inside a(n) ancillary mosque where some Interior Ministry workers and visitors were praying. Will share the details later.”
He did not say if the mosque was inside the ministry or near it. There was no immediate information about casualties and no immediate claim of responsibility.
The mosque blast follows last week’s suicide bombing at an education center in Kabul that killed as many as 52 people, according to a tally compiled by The Associated Press, more than twice the death toll acknowledged by Taliban officials.
The reason for the lower death toll provided by the Taliban was not immediately clear. In the past, they have at times been slow to confirm casualty figures in the aftermath of attacks.
Taliban security officials initially said 19 people had been killed at the Kaaj Higher Educational Center, then revised the death toll to 25 over the weekend.
However, The Associated Press spoke directly to relatives of 39 of those killed and obtained the names and other information about the remaining 13.


Philippines’ Marcos Jr. open to buying Russian fuel, proposes new Myanmar approach

Updated 8 min 13 sec ago

Philippines’ Marcos Jr. open to buying Russian fuel, proposes new Myanmar approach

  • The Philippines, a US defense ally, has not imposed any sanctions on Russia
  • Myanmar’s ruling junta has been barred from regional summits
MANILA: Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. on Wednesday said his nation may need to turn to Russia to fulfil its fuel needs amid rising global energy prices, bucking pressure from Western allies for countries to shun Moscow.
Speaking to the Manila Overseas Press Club, Marcos, who is also agriculture minister, said the Philippines may also deal with Russia for supply of fertilizer.
“We take we take a very balanced view because the truth of the matter is, we may have to deal with Russia for fuel, for fertilizer,” said Marcos.
The Philippines like many countries is grappling with soaring inflation, due to supply woes fanned by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. The Philippines, a US defense ally, has not imposed any sanctions on Russia.
Marcos, the son and namesake of the ousted late strongman who ruled the Philippines for two decades, also said he wanted his country to play a key role in promoting regional peace, amid challenges posed by North Korea and China-Taiwan tensions.
“We hope to be part of leading, the ones that are leading the effort for peace,” he said.
He said he would propose a new approach to the crisis in Myanmar at an upcoming meeting of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) in November, which could involved engaging the military government directly.
Myanmar’s ruling junta has been barred from regional summits over its failure to implement a five-point peace plan it agreed with ASEAN in April last year, after violent turmoil erupted in the country following a military coup.
The generals have been outraged by ASEAN’s unusually tough stand and have said they intend to comply with its plan, but will not agree to its call to hold dialogue with a pro-democracy resistance movement they call “terrorists.” “It’s time to put together, to put forward some concrete proposals on what we can do to at the very least to bring at least representatives of the military government to the table so we can begin to talk about these things,” Marcos said.
On Wednesday, Cambodia, the current ASEAN chair, confirmed that a request had been sent to the State Administrative Council, as the junta is known, that it nominate a non-political figure to represent Myanmar at the upcoming leaders’ summits. “Again, the SAC has refused to send anyone to the summits,” Cambodia Foreign spokesperson Chum Sounry said.

Taliban report mosque blast at government ministry in Kabul

Updated 45 min 21 sec ago

Taliban report mosque blast at government ministry in Kabul

KABUL: The Taliban say a blast went off Wednesday in a government ministry mosque in Kabul as officials and visitors were praying.
The Wednesday afternoon blast was inside the mosque of the Interior Ministry, which is responsible for security and law enforcement in Afghanistan.


Liz Truss pledges to steer Britain through ‘stormy days’

Updated 05 October 2022

Liz Truss pledges to steer Britain through ‘stormy days’

  • Truss: Conservatives must unite to kick-start stagnant growth and tackle the many problems facing Britain

BIRMINGHAM: British Prime Minister Liz Truss on Wednesday urged her fractious party to stick together and help transform the economy and the country, fighting to restore her dwindling authority after a chaotic first month in office.
Addressing Conservative lawmakers and members at an annual conference overshadowed by internal bickering and confusion over policy, Truss said the party needed to unite to kick-start stagnant growth and tackle the many problems facing Britain.
So far, however, her misfiring attempt to cut $51 billion (£45 billion) of taxes and hike government borrowing has sent turmoil through markets and her party, with opinion polls pointing to electoral collapse rather than a honeymoon period for the new leader.
“We gather at a vital time for the United Kingdom. These are stormy days,” she said, referring to the COVID-19 pandemic, war in Ukraine and the death of Britain’s longest reigning monarch, Queen Elizabeth.
“In these tough times, we need to step up. I’m determined to get Britain moving, to get us through the tempest and to put us on a stronger footing.”
As she started to speak, two protesters held up a sign asking “Who voted for this?” before they were escorted away by security personnel as the crowd chanted “out, out, out.”
Truss, elected by party members and not the broader electorate, was addressing the party faithful after she was forced to reverse plans to scrap the top rate of tax. She acknowledged that change brings “disruption.”
That U-turn has emboldened sections of her party who are now likely to resist spending cuts as the government seeks ways to fund the overall fiscal program.
That risks not only the dilution of her “radical” agenda but also raising the prospect of an early election.
Having entered the conference hall to a standing ovation and the sound of M People’s “Moving On UP,” Truss told party members and lawmakers that she wanted to build a “new Britain for the new era.”
“For too long, the political debate has been dominated by how we distribute a limited economic pie. Instead, we need to grow the pie so that everyone gets a bigger slice,” she said in the central English city of Birmingham.
“That is why I am determined to take a new approach and break us out of this high-tax, low-growth cycle.”
The conference, once expected to be her crowning glory after being appointed prime minister on Sept. 6, has turned into a personal nightmare, and a battle for the country’s political future.
As the debate moved on from tax cuts to how the government would fund them, lawmakers and ministers openly clashed, in stark contrast to the sense of discipline on display at the opposition Labour Party conference last week.
Some lawmakers fear Truss will break a commitment to increase benefit payments in line with inflation, something they argue would be inappropriate at a time when millions of families are struggling with the cost of soaring prices.
Ministers say they are yet to take a decision and are obliged to look at economic data later this month.
While markets have largely stabilized after the Bank of England stepped in to shore up the bond market — albeit after the cost of borrowing surged — opinion polls now point to an electoral collapse for the Conservatives.
John Curtice, Britain’s best-known pollster, said before the speech that Labour now held an average lead of 25 percentage points and the Conservatives needed to accept they were “in deep, deep electoral trouble.”

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Russia: Moscow should be part of Nord Stream leaks probe

Updated 05 October 2022

Russia: Moscow should be part of Nord Stream leaks probe

  • Four leaks were discovered last week on the Nord Stream pipelines connecting Russia to Germany
  • Russian President Vladimir Putin has accused the West of being behind the blasts

MOSCOW: Moscow said Wednesday it should be part of the probe into leaks on the Nord Stream gas pipelines, after Sweden blocked off the area around the pipelines pending an investigation.
“There should really be an investigation. Naturally, with the participation of Russia,” Russian deputy foreign minister Sergei Vershinin said, as quoted by Russian news agencies.
Four leaks were discovered last week on the Nord Stream pipelines connecting Russia to Germany, raising political tensions already sky high since the Kremlin sent troop to Ukraine in February.
On Friday, the UN Security Council held a meeting on the issue.
Vershinin told the assembly that “the general opinion was that this was sabotage and that it should be investigated” but that “no decision had been made” on an international probe.
Last Wednesday, Russia launched an “international terrorism” investigation.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said such a probe “required the cooperation of several countries.”
He denounced an “acute shortage of communications and unwillingness of many countries to contact” Russia.
On Monday, Sweden blocked off the area around the pipeline leaks in the Baltic Sea while the suspected sabotage was being investigated.
Russian President Vladimir Putin has accused the West of being behind the blasts.
Russia’s Security Council chief Nikolai Patrushev said Wednesday that “it is clear that the United States is the beneficiary, primarily economic” of the leaks.
Both Moscow and Washington have denied involvement.