In a historic development, the Indian Navy proudly welcomed its cutting-edge stealth destroyer, Imphal, heralding a new era in naval capabilities. Notably, Imphal has garnered attention for its groundbreaking design as the first warship to incorporate dedicated living quarters for women sailors. This innovative accommodation marks a significant stride towards gender inclusivity within the naval forces, showcasing the Indian Navy’s commitment to fostering a diverse and inclusive environment.
The introduction of separate living spaces for women sailors aboard the Imphal not only signifies a progressive shift in naval infrastructure but also reflects a broader societal commitment to gender equality. This milestone underscores the Navy’s dedication to providing equal opportunities and facilities for all personnel, irrespective of gender, within the dynamic and critical domain of naval operations.
The recent inclusion of separate accommodation for women sailors on the Indian Navy’s latest stealth destroyer, Imphal, marks a significant stride towards gender inclusivity. This development comes in the wake of the Navy’s initiative to induct women as sailors for the first time through the Agnipath recruitment scheme. While women officers have already been serving on warships with designated berthing facilities, this provision was not extended to women sailors until the commissioning of Imphal.
Constructed by Mazagon Dock Shipbuilders Limited (MDL) in Mumbai, Imphal is the third vessel commissioned under the P-15B project, a crucial initiative aimed at enhancing the navy’s capabilities in the Indian Ocean region. The ship will be conferred the “INS” prefix upon commissioning, following in the footsteps of INS Visakhapatnam and INS Mormugao, with INS Surat still under construction.
Imphal boasts an impressive 75% indigenous content, featuring state-of-the-art weaponry such as medium-range surface-to-air missiles, BrahMos missiles, torpedo tube launchers, anti-submarine rocket launchers, and a 76mm super rapid gun mount. With a displacement of 7,400 tonnes, a length of 164 meters, and a top speed exceeding 30 knots, the destroyer is designed to accommodate a crew of 312. This technological prowess and strategic investment underpin the Indian Navy’s commitment to modernizing its fleet and reinforcing its presence in the region.
The necessity for separate berthing areas for women sailors arose following a vital development earlier this year –the inclusion of women in the navy’s personnel below officer rank (PBOR) cadre. This shift was realized through the navy’s Agnipath scheme, which saw the graduation of the first batch of Agniveers, inclusive of approximately 270 women, from INS Chilka, the navy’s training facility in Odisha, in March 2023.
The Agnipath model represents a significant departure from the traditional military recruitment system in place for decades. Introduced last year by the government, this innovative scheme recruits soldiers for a four-year term, with a unique provision allowing 25% of them to transition into regular service for an additional 15 years following a fresh screening process. The Agnipath scheme not only ushers in a new era of inclusivity by welcoming women into the PBOR cadre but also introduces a flexible and adaptive approach to military service, aligning with contemporary needs and strategies.
The graduation and induction of the first batch of Agniveers underscore the successful implementation of this novel recruitment system, marking a paradigm shift in how the military identifies, trains, and retains its personnel. As the Navy embraces these changes, it reflects a commitment to diversity and modernisation, ensuring that the armed forces evolve in tandem with the requirements of the contemporary geopolitical landscape.
In 2021, the Indian Navy took a significant step by assigning four women officers to warships, ending a hiatus of nearly 25 years. Since then, the number of women officers in the Navy has grown to around 40. This move represents a departure from the past, where women were briefly deployed on the fleet tanker INS Jyoti in 1997 from the navy’s logistics and medical branches in a short-lived experiment.
Women in uniform are no longer confined to peripheral roles; instead, they are being actively assigned central roles, parallel to men, across all three services. Women are now flying fighter planes, serving on warships, commanding front-line units, being inducted into the personnel below officer rank (PBOR) cadre, becoming eligible for permanent commission, and undergoing training at the National Defence Academy.
The Indian Navy has been a trailblazer in providing equal opportunities to women in the armed forces. According to Commander Prasanna Edayilliam (retd), a woman officer with 14 years of service in the navy, this development not only offers a launching pad for women to kickstart their careers in a challenging environment but also enables the navy to deploy more women on warships.
Together with these changes, the navy has undertaken a review of ranks held by sailors, a legacy inherited from the British. As part of a broader initiative to discard colonial military traditions, the navy is set to replace these ranks with Indianized designations. This overhaul includes gender-neutral changes to the ranks, with seven titles in the PBOR cadre being redesigned. The new designations that align with Indian traditions include Master Chief Petty Officer Ist Class, Master Chief Petty Officer IInd Class, Chief Petty Officer, Petty Officer, Leading Seaman, Seaman Ist Class, and Seaman IInd Class. This transformation is expected to impact over 65,000 sailors in the Indian Navy, reflecting a commitment to modernization and inclusivity.
INS Imphal’s journey reflects more than just a technological milestone; it encapsulates the Navy’s dedication to aligning with progressive values and adapting to the evolving needs of a diverse and dynamic maritime landscape. As this new stealth destroyer sails into service, it carries with it the promise of a Navy that is not only technologically advanced but also socially and culturally forward-thinking.