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India celebrated its 75th Republic Day on Friday, shining a spotlight on women in its armed forces with a parade featuring for the first time a female tri-service contingent.

Republic Day marks the anniversary of India officially adopting its constitution on Jan. 26, 1950, after gaining independence from British colonial rule in 1947.

Themed “Nari Shakti” (the power of women), the parade was led by President Draupadi Murmu — the second woman to serve as Indian president — who was joined by this year’s special guest, French President Emmanuel Macron, as she unfurled India’s national flag at Kartavya Path in Delhi.

Over 100 women artists playing classical Indian music and performing traditional dances were followed by an all-women contingent of the Indian Army, Navy and Air Force, which for the first time flew and marched in the parade that culminated at the Red Fort — a 17th-century building that served as the main residence of India’s Mughal emperors.

For the Indian women who watched this year’s Republic Day celebrations, their female-centric theme was a way to strengthen women’s empowerment efforts.

“It’s a recognition and acknowledgment of the fact that if India has to develop as a strong and developed country, empowered women and participating women in the workforce and respectful position of women in society is mandatory,” said Sinieta Ojha, a Delhi-based lawyer, who was among over a million viewers who watched the Republic Day parade live.

“I think by celebrating Republic Day as women empowerment will bring the focus on women and their achievement and their space in the society.”

Equal rights for men and women are enshrined under the Indian constitution and India was the second country in modern history to have a female leader, with Indira Gandhi taking the office of prime minister in 1966 — after another South Asian state, Sri Lanka, elected Sirimavo Bandaranaike as prime minister in 1960.

“To me as a woman, the 75th Republic Day being celebrated with a female-centric theme is truly a testament of empowerment and recognition of women and their contributions to the community and the nation,” Shangita Namasivayam, a professional dancer specializing in traditional South Indian dance, told Arab News.

“As the theme suggests, ‘shakti’ (power) represents an omnipresent energy that is constantly in manifestation and is revered as the birth giver, the nurturing mother and a courageous leader.”

Anika Singh, who runs Voyce, an organization focused on art activism, the parade was an acknowledgment of women’s contributions to Indian society.

“Even from an economic point of view, we can be an equal participant in taking the country forward,” she told Arab News.

“The decision to dedicate the day to women comes from the perspective of empowering them. It’s like making society more inclusive.”

Sabina Rehman, founder of Aabnoos Couture, a clothing line based in Delhi, was a “dynamic and evolving process” as while India has ratified key international conventions to end discrimination against women and has been taking measures on human development, its global standing on gender equality remains low.

India was ranked 127 out of 146 countries in terms of gender parity in the annual Gender Gap Report, 2023 of the World Economic Forum.

“Despite progress, challenges persist including gender-based violence, unequal representation in decision-making roles and cultural norms that may limit women’s autonomy,” Rehman said.

“We need to persistently challenge stereotypes, foster awareness, and promote a supportive environment for women in various spheres.”

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