The National Defence Academy (NDA) in Khadakvasla is the entry point into the commissioned ranks of the Indian armed forces and right from its inception and founding, has been a male preserve, one could even say a holdout against women getting a larger role in such a critical area of national interest. Now, for the first time in independent India, girls fresh from schools will appear in its entrance examinations to be held by the Union Public Service Commission later this month, guaranteeing permanent commissions in the forces to the successful candidates. Indeed, nudged by the Supreme Court last month, the government ran out of options on the matter and a glass barrier will be cracked open on November 14, the date of the UPSC’s written examination for the NDA. While there has been plenty of doubt and breast-beating about the matter, the move has found surprisingly wide support from veterans, who say it is time India caught up with the rest of the world when it comes to women officers serving alongside their male counterparts in all branches of the three services, and not in the restricted roles they have been occupying so far.
Ruling on the government’s objections to lifting restrictions on girls bidding to enter the NDA, a two-member Bench of the Court observed, “You have referred to fitness tests, accommodation, curriculum changes and so on…but what we are finding it difficult to accept is to postpone everything by a year. Having given hope to women to take exams in November, we don’t want to belie that hope.” Time truly for change in the Army, Navy and Air Force.
Elsewhere in this issue, we take a close look at continuing attempts by the Election Commission of India to link voter identification to the flawed Aadhaar database that once again has had the Supreme Court weighing in, though with little success as the process continues unchecked. The upcoming elections in Telangana will therefore be a litmus test of how valid are fears expressed about the fairness and impartiality of the screening process. For its part, the Election Commission has argued that the Supreme Court had allowed Aadhaar linkages in national interest in an interim judgment and that the Aadhaar-voter identity issue should also be treated as such.
With talk of electronic voting also gaining ground, it becomes still more imperative that the slips and leakages evident in the Aadhaar data gathering exercise and its security be recognised, accepted and amended, yet there are no signs of this happening on the ground. The government, the Election Commission and the Unique Identification Authority of India, Aadhaar’s nodal agency, continue to stand their ground on their line of defence, that of national security even as examples of data leakage and data sharing from users and vendors abound. With the e-election system being roundly rejected by the First World and plenty of gaps in the system still to be plugged, there is justified concern about the dangers of such a step going not just into the upcoming state polls, but also the next general election. This vast national exercise is held based on fundamental principles like fairness and transparency, and anonymity using the secret ballot needs to be ensured. E-voting, as has been seen so far, poses a direct threat to the secrecy of the voting process.