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Why Are Males Ineligible To Be Nurses In The Indian Army?

| Updated: May 30, 2022 14:47

Following the Supreme Court judgment on February 17, 2020, which entitled women officers to the permanent commission on par with men, raksha mantri Rajnath Singh had tweeted his support for the decision.

The landmark judgment was a step in the right direction to end the bitter struggle of female army officers against “sex stereotypes premised on assumptions about socially ascribed roles of gender which discriminate against women.” (Para 54). 

The top court had opined, “70 years after the birth of a post-colonial independent state, there is still a need for change in attitudes and mindsets to recognise the commitment to the values of the constitution.” 

Now, the doors of even the National Defence Academy (NDA), Khadakwasla and the Rashtriya Indian Military College (RIMC), Dehradun have been opened for females, after the intervention of the Supreme Court.  

A change in attitudes and mindsets will soon be called for once again as a writ petition, filed by the Indian Professional Nurses Association (IPNA) against the Union of India, is pending in the Delhi high court, seeking the recruitment of male nurses in the Military Nursing Services (MNS). 

“It is very antiquated, very stereotyped. How can you have an entire nursing branch without any males, especially in the Army?” the Indian Express quoted the two-judge bench of the Delhi high court as saying on May 29, 2018.

During the next hearing, in October 2018, the court remarked, “It is gender discrimination, only other way round,” according to an NDTV report. 

The MNS, which provides medical care to the hospitalised soldiers and their dependents in both peace and field locations, traces its origins back to 1888, when the ‘Army Nursing Service’ was formed. This later became the ‘Indian Army Nursing Service’ and subsequently, ‘Queen Alexandra’s Imperial Military Nursing Service’.

The MNS celebrates its Raising Day on October 1, to commemorate the formation of the Indian Military Nursing Service on this day in 1926. Right from 1888, it has remained an all-woman service.  

In the United States, the Army Nurse Corps has been in existence since 1901, but it was only in 1955 that men were allowed to join the Nursing Corps. The British Army has the Queen Alexandra’s Royal Army Nursing Corps (QARANC) and men were only allowed to join the QARANC from 1992. 

So, there is now a precedent for males to serve in the nursing corps of armies in democracies. 

Men have only recently started to take up nursing as a profession in India. In a 2021 paper published in the journal, Human Resources for Health, Karan A. Negandhi et al found that only 20.15% of nurses in India are males.

The male nurses, though barely one-fifth of the total nursing workforce, are fighting the sex stereotype that only women are suited for the job. An in-depth report by Mumbai-based journalist Aarefa Johari, titled The One Profession Where Men are Demanding Equality, brings out the discrimination that male nurses have to face, both within the profession and socially.

To join the MNS, a candidate is required to undergo a four-year Bachelor of Science (Nursing) course conducted at the Colleges of Nursing of Armed Forces Medical Services (AFMS).  

Currently, only female candidates are eligible to apply. The candidates have to be unmarried, divorced, legally separated or widows without ‘encumbrances’. They must also be citizens of India, between the ages of 17 and 25. 

Only those who have passed 10+2 or an equivalent examination in their first attempt with Physics, Chemistry, Biology (Botany & Zoology) and English with no less than 50% aggregate marks as regular students from a recognised board or institution are eligible to apply. 

The first stage of the selection process involves shortlisting through NEET (UG) scores. The shortlisted candidates then have to go through a computer-based Test of General Intelligence and General English (ToGlGE), which involves answering 40 multiple choice questions in 30 minutes. This is followed by a Psychological Assessment Test (PAT), a qualifying examination, the marks of which do not count in preparing the merit list.

Candidates are then interviewed by a Board of Officers and finally, have to be declared medically fit by a Special Medical Board, conducted by the AFMS.  

Before joining the B. Sc (Nursing) course, the selected candidates are required to sign a bond to serve in the MNS. During training, they are provided with free ration, accommodation, uniform allowance and a monthly stipend. On the successful completion of the course, the candidates are granted a commission in the MNS. 

There is nothing in the above eligibility conditions which could be held against males to make them ineligible for the B. Sc (Nursing) course. 

So, what lies ahead for the Indian males aspiring to join the MNS? The next date of hearing in the case filed by the IPNA is set for October 13, 2022. Let us hope that even before a nudge from the courts, the Union government revisits the policy and makes the necessary changes to allow males into the MNS.  

Meanwhile, applications from female candidates for admission to the B. Sc (Nursing) course, commencing in 2022 at the Directorate General of Medical Services (DGMS), Integrated Headquarters of the Ministry of Defence (Army), have been called for, the last date for which is May 31, 2022.  

K. Thammayya Udupa is a retired Colonel in the Indian Army.

-This story was first published in The Wire.

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