Culture · Public Policy · Society

Women in the armed forces

The recent debate about the introduction of women in the armed forces has been highly twisted and shallow. An issue that critically affects the fighting potential of the armed forces has been reduced to ‘equality of sexes’ and ‘women’s liberation’. Many ill-informed observers have philandered such a sensitive matter by terming it as ‘conquering the last male bastion’. Sadly, stances have been taken more on the basis of personal views and mind-sets rather than on well evolved logic. Both military and non-military experts are equally guilty in this regard.[1] 

In the recent past, the nation was shocked to hear a retired senior Army officer recommending constitution of all women battalions in the Indian Army. There cannot be a more absurd and risky proposition. It is equally common to hear the argument that if the Naxalites and LTTE can have women fighters, why the Indian armed forces should be reluctant to do so. Often people quote the number of American women fighting war in Iraq and Afghanistan to question India’s attitude against allowing women in war.

In the modern world, there are no fields of work that women haven’t explored into. Words such as chairman and cameraman have been rephrased as chairperson and cameraperson, to accommodate women. Many a male dominated work place has crushed under the power of the woman – her spirit and energy. The Indian Armed Forces, which for long was considered a male dominated workplace, now has confident, bold women, moulding into every role and setting examples for everyone. Lieutenant General Puneeta Arora, a lady officer from the Army Medical Corps, heads the prestigious defence institution, the Armed Forces Medical College (AFMC), in Pune.  In the land of Razia Sultana and Rani of Jhansi, it comes as no surprise that women make their mark in the Armed Forces.[2]

To start with, it needs to be stressed that the services carry no male chauvinistic mind-set. The very fact that daughters of service officers have excelled in all fields proves that service officers do not suffer from any gender bias and are very supportive of women’s advancement. However, the issue of women’s induction in the services warrants singular treatment.

India has limited experience as regards induction of women in the armed forces. The first batch had joined in 1992.[3] Therefore, our knowledge of the difficulties and long-term effects of the issues involved is highly limited. On the other hand, women have been serving in the militaries of developed countries for a long time. 

No attempt was made to study likely long term inferences of multiple issues involved and their effect on the fighting potential of the services. In other words, a decision of massive significance was taken in a totally cavalier, messy and hasty manner. As the other two services did not want to be seen as ‘male-chauvinists’, they followed suit. Soon a race got underway between the three services to induct women in maximum number of fields. It is only now that an excess of complex issues are getting thrown up with resultant adverse fall-out.    

Presently, the Indian Army counts 2.44 percent women in its ranks, the Indian Navy 3.0 percent and the Indian Air Force 6.7 percent. The tenure of women SSC officers has since been increased to 14 years. The Government has also approved grant of Permanent Commission to SSC (Women) officers prospectively in Judge Advocate General (JAG) Department and Army Education Corps (AEC) of Army and their corresponding Branch/Cadre in Navy and Air Force,

Accounts Branch of the Air Force and Corps of Naval Constructors of the Navy.[4]

The lady officers, as women are addressed in the army, seem to be quite happy with their chosen profession. An interaction with them clearly illustrates their professionalism and will to stand tall next to their male colleagues, in the discharge of their duties.

A spirit of comradeship has developed between the younger generation of officers of both genders, who have trained and grown together in service. They exhibit a rare comfort level, which has developed with time. 

Whenever, women have first stepped into essentially male worlds, the opposition has always been there. Such debates have had more to do with ideologies, principles, traditions and safety of the women. However now, almost two decades post the event, one can sit back and take a more rational view of things and feel that the idea of women in the Indian Army has finally arrived.

People often wonder as to why women would like to join the Army in the first case. After all it is a tough life with eternal questions of modesty and propriety coming to the fore.

The Indian Army offers job challenges that are difficult to come by in most other sectors of employment. The thrill and pride of serving one’s motherland is an additional attraction. All this comes along with a well laid down code of conduct that makes things far more orderly and easy to adhere to.

Women, in fact, feel more safe within the Army than they do in other services of a similar genre’ in the civil sector. It is for all these reasons, in addition, to attractive pay packets that women like to choose the army as a career option.

Finally, it should never be forgotten that the basic function for the constitution of the armed forces is to ensure security of the country. Decisions which have a far reaching effect on the defence potential of the armed forces must be taken with due diligence. Instead of imitating a model, India must chart its own policy. It has an experience of 18 years. Honest feedback must be sought to appreciate the true ground situation and initiate corrective measures. Most importantly, the military brass must show moral courage to admit that the present mess demands a holistic review of the policy, declarations of self-styled champions of gender-parity notwithstanding. Decisions taken as a matter of political and populist expediency can prove disastrous for the nation in the long run. Defence matters cannot be treated as publicity gimmick to flaunt sexual equality.





About the Author

IMG-20140611-WA0000[1]Mansi is a 5th year law student studying in Amity Law School, Noida. She aspires to become a corporate lawyer. She likes reading books, listening to music and learning new languages. She is currently working as the Research Associate at Alexis Centre for Public Policy and International Relations.


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