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To go where no woman has gone before...
Girja Shankar Kaura
Tribune News Service

New Delhi, July 21
The last male bastion, the position of Supreme Commander of India’s armed forces, today fell with the UPA candidate Pratibha Patil making it to the Rashtrapati Bhavan.

She will be the first women Supreme Commander of the Indian armed forces and hopefully would also bring about some kind of a change in the three arms of the country’s military might.

The armed forces chiefs and defence minister A.K. Antony have already hailed her as the Supreme Commander but winds of change are expected in the corridors of South Block following this change at the top.

Observers here said the military would definitely feel the impact of the change with a woman on the top. Although Pratibha Patil as President and Supreme Commander of the armed forces would have more of a ceremonial role to play, but as a reaction, there could be a change in the functional role of women in the forces.

For instance, at present women are not allowed into fighter aircraft or in a ship’s quarters and in the Army, they cannot go into combat units. But the President of India and the Supreme Commander can do all this.

Besides, it is no secret that women are marginalised in the Army. With over 30,000 officers, the women make a miniscule percentage with just about 1000 and that too in supportive roles like logistics and legal services. The Chiefs of Staff Committee, a panel of the three service chiefs, recently advised the government against bringing women into close combat roles.

However, the President elect herself has spoken of women’s empowerment as a priority and it will be interesting to see if her elevation makes a difference.

Observers pointed out that the first thing that might change was women being made the Aide-de-Camp (ADC) of the President elect. A cursory overview revealed that there was no instance of even a single female ADC, the ubiquitous young smart Captains and Majors who are a necessary part of the Presidents’ and Governors’ entourages.

There is no rule that bars women from being ADCs. But such is the culture of machismo that the convention of having men only as ADCs has come to be accepted as a rule in the armed forces.

Even as the Governor of Rajasthan, Pratibha had only smart young men as her ADCs. But this well might change with her becoming the Supreme Commander.

The military component is a major part of the office of the President of India. The President gets five ADCs, three from the Army and one each from the Navy and the Air Force, and has military secretaries, a Major-General from the Army, two deputy military secretaries and a Group Captain from the Air Force, and a Commander from the navy.

In the normal course of her tenure as President, she would be expected to visit major military commands, conduct a fleet review of the Navy and of the Air Force. Incidentally, President APJ Abdul Kalam has not only flown in a Sukhoi 30 MKI fighter aircraft and carried out an underwater sortie in a submarine besides being to the world’s highest and the coldest battlefield, Siachen.

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