Lt Gen Raj Kadyan (retd)
In allowing women’s entry into the Army, we simply copied a western concept, without relating it to our prevailing social milieu. In the West, their intake became necessary when not enough male members were forthcoming to don the uniform. In India, where there is almost a stampede for every recruitment rally, this is far from the case.
Undoubtedly, women are as courageous and as brave as men. They can accomplish every task that men can, and perhaps with greater finesse. The problem lies in our social system.
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Are we really at par with the West in women equality? On my first metro ride in Paris, when I noticed a young woman standing in the passageway, I got up and offered her the seat. But my guide restrained me, saying that it might offend her. By my gesture, I was told, I was trying to tell her that she is weaker than me. In India, apart from having a ‘women only’ compartment in every metro train, there are additional two seats in every general compartment marked for them. Ironically, alongside are also two seats reserved for the elderly and the disabled. I am not aware if any woman has ever taken umbrage at this implied equivalence.
Thousands of farmers have committed suicide in India. One has yet to hear of a woman farmer doing so. That is because there is a clear separation of roles. Traditionally and historically, soldiering too has been a man’s profession.
Even the social reformists would agree that by inducting women into the Indian Army, we haven’t achieved equality in real terms. We are not taking ‘women in the Army’, but only ‘women as officers in the Army’. That limits the entry to girls who are graduates, around 4 per cent of the women’s population. Have we really implemented the concept of equal opportunity, or are we just mouthing populism?
Once while leading a long duration patrol in the India-Myanmar-Bangladesh border hills, a soldier developed very high fever. A doctor on wireless advised that we strip him and give him a cold sponge. That helped. If it were a woman soldier, I shudder to even contemplate.
Our Corps headquarters had a system of a night duty officer. The officer had to sleep in the duty room with a clerk and a messenger sleeping in the adjacent room. The women officers showed hesitation. The male officers ended up doing extra night duties. A young lady officer of the JAG department had a small baby. Her duties entailed frequent outstation commitments. She never said no, but I felt inhibited in sending her out.
In a TV debate, a senior lady police officer narrated how bravely she handled a riotous mob. Women’s bravery is fully acknowledged. But there is an essential difference. At the end of the day, the police officer returned to the security and safety of her home. But in the Army, the women have to live among men and rough it out in the field. They may bear the hardships and discomforts, but our society has not prepared them to live with lack of privacy.
While grant of Permanent Commission to the women officers per se is welcome, this would entitle them to all the promotions like their male counterparts. The assumption that since women only join non-combat units and would thus stay away from the front is flawed. Service units are involved in providing ammunition, rations, maintenance services, etc. to troops in the battle zone. Visiting areas where men get deployed being an essential command function, the women commanding officers would thus be exposed to all combat dangers, including the risk of being captured.
As of now, women are not being taken into the combat arms. While holding ‘deployment of women officers in combat role is a matter of policy and the competent authority had to look into it’, the Supreme Court said, ‘…there is no constitutional basis to deny them equal opportunity.’ There is an apprehension that this leaves the doors open for further litigation to demand combat role for women.
Indian society is indeed changing. But equality, as we understand from the West, is still way off. The Army is a part of society and must reflect the prevailing social norms. But let it move in tandem. It would not be prudent to make the force handling national security a laboratory for social experimentation.
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