Originally Published 2015-02-16 00:00:00 Published on Feb 16, 2015
It is time to think of the role of women in uniform beyond being merely the 'sobering/civilising force' on their male counterpart. With the same training and opportunities, it is time to imbue the phrase 'femme fatale' with a new meaning.
Time to give women the right to face combat
This year's Republic Parade was remarkable for the prominence it gave to our women warriors. The smartly turned out women officers from the Army, Air Force, Navy, para-military and police forces are said to have made a stunning impact on the state guests as well as millions of Indians watching the parade. The moot point, however, remains - is this symbolism all or do we have a plan in place for our women warriors? Now that the Obamas are back to the White House, hopefully still cherishing our mehmannawazi, can we begin serious work on the area that we cherry-picked to impress the guests with? Induction Ever since their induction in the three Services in 1992, women officers have been fighting for equality in terms of promotions and permanent commission. In June 2012, Brinda Karat, MP (Rajya Sabha) had asked the then Defence Minister A K Antony, "Is it not a loss to the national exchequer when highly trained and motivated officers are forced to leave service, because of their gender?" This rhetorical question brought back the balance to the debates surrounding women in the Indian armed forces. While some of the policy makers and implementers in MoD and the service HQs consider women officers a burden on the national exchequer, Karat showed the flip side of it. In July 2014, the present government took forward the decisions taken by the UPA with respect to the grant of permanent commission to women officers. It was reported women joining the armed forces from "next year" will be considered for permanent commission and command. While the first month of 2015 has already gone by (along with the Nari Shakti themed Republic Day parade), we are yet to see any official notification with respect to the changed policy. The recruitment ads also do not carry any such information. In addition to that, the new policy will be beneficial only to the new entrants. What about the current lot of women officers who have been serving the armed forces with equal dedication in an unequal environment? The armed forces are reportedly not yet ready for women in a combat role. Rumours perpetuate the idea that women are naturally disadvantaged to do justice to military service. Maternity and other physiology related issues - rendered redundant in the present scenario of technological, cyber, bio-chemical and above all, psychological warfare - are used against women soldiers. Furthermore, the discourse on women in combat roles begins with bringing worst-case scenarios to the table. Standalone incidents of violence and abuse faced by Prisoners of War are used as aces to trump our 'tradition' laden sensibilities. Ironically, such arguments disrespect the male soldier as it suggests that it is somehow acceptable to rape, kill and mutilate him but not the woman. Myths can only be countered with hard facts. In the Air Force, a bias against the women pilots is based on the maternity leave availed by them. Another line of argument is their supposed inability to cope with the 'G' forces. This myth, however, has been dispelled with PD Navathe, G Gomez and A Krishnamurthy publishing a paper "Relaxed acceleration tolerance in female pilot trainees" in 'Aviat Space Environ Med' in 2002. Between 1995 and 1997, 17 female pilot trainees were tested at the Institute of Aerospace Medicine, Bangalore, India and the findings stated that "acceleration tolerances for the female pilot trainees were comparable to those for male pilots previously studied in the same laboratory." Regressive The Navy's reason to restrict women's entry to the ships had been the most ridiculous one so far. Having women on a ship when it is afloat will spoil the 'discipline' and it is the mingling of sexes that is to be feared! Malaysia, a predominantly Muslim country (and therefore to be perceived 'regressive') however has no such reservations. In 2010 during a multilateral exercise in the Andamans, Lieutenant Farah al Habshi aboard the new Malaysian warship KD Perak impressed many of her Indian counterparts. Malaysia, like Pakistan (yes, even Pakistan!) boasts of having women fighter pilots. Facilitation What appeared unimaginable earlier can now be facilitated through policy fixes and some infrastructural developments. If more women are inducted in the armed forces, it is only a matter of time that cultural taboos will give way to respect. Countries like Nepal and Sri Lanka recruit women as personnel below officer rank and even our own BSF has opened its doors for women troops. Minor design changes in warships are going to take care of the privacy issues. India needs a calibrated response to combat patriarchy in the armed forces. Beginning with a uniform commission and promotion policy, attempts must be made for achieving a gender neutral environment. Maj Gen Kirstin Lund, the first woman commander of UNPKF presently deployed in Cyprus, is positive about women's increased participation in the armed forces as well as the UN. She has famously stated that being a woman gives one access to "one hundred percent of the population." It is time to think of the role of women in uniform beyond being merely the 'sobering/civilising force' on their male counterpart. With the same training and opportunities, it is time to imbue the phrase 'femme fatale' with a new meaning. (The writer is associated with Observer Research Foundation) Courtesy: Mail Today, February 13, 2015
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