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Last Updated: Tuesday, 20 June 2006, 17:05 GMT 18:05 UK
Army deputy apologises to women
Indian troops
Only men can serve in combat roles
The second-in-command of the Indian army has apologised for saying it does not need women officers.

The comments by Lt Gen S Pattabhiraman provoked an angry reaction from women's rights activists who demanded that he be sacked.

He was speaking soon after a young female officer had committed suicide in Indian-administered Kashmir.

There are fewer than 1,000 female officers in the million-strong Indian army, all in non-combat roles.

'Healthy respect'

Lt Gen Pattabhiraman made his apology in a statement issued on Tuesday.

"Should my remarks have caused any anguish or doubt about my personal commitment and healthy respect towards the role of lady officers, I have no hesitation in rendering an apology to such groups or sections of society or individuals."

Indian tanks
The comments prove the army's gender bias, women's groups say

He said he had a personal commitment and healthy respect towards the role of women officers in the army.

His apology comes days after his comments drew a storm of protests from women's activists and opposition party leaders.

A newspaper last week had quoted him as saying that the view from the army rank and file was that they could do without women officers.

A spokeswoman for India's main opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), Sushma Swaraj, said the government should tell the general that "the Indian army could do without him".

The National Commission for Women condemned the remarks as "very irresponsible".

The Indian army said on Saturday that the general was quoted out of context. Defence Minister Pranab Mukherjee played down the row by saying the government would like to see more women in the army.

But women's groups have insisted that the general's remarks are a clear indication of gender bias in the army.

The government started recruiting women officers nearly 14 years ago.

Until then, women were only allowed into the army's medical corps.

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