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Women Officers Deployed at Sea Again – Revisiting My Journey

As someone who was posted on board INS Jyoti decades ago, I can tell you it is nothing like a shore posting.

Published
Opinion
4 min read
Women Officers Deployed at Sea Again – Revisiting My Journey
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There are a few things in my association with the armed forces, and the Indian Navy especially, that make me grin ear to ear. Monday, 21 September, was one such day, when news came in of two sub-lieutenants set to be deployed at sea as part of the tactical team.

While it makes news because the two sub-lieutenants are women officers, it is a positive milestone in Indian Navy history. I am nostalgia ridden.

One of the reasons why I hung my whites when I did, was the retraction of the deployment of women officers at sea.
(Photo Courtesy: Author)

One of the reasons why I hung my whites when I did, was the retraction of the deployment of women officers at sea. All these years, I have been wishing the Navy reverted to their decision of deploying women officers to sea.

It has taken two decades and in between we have perhaps given a number of deserving officers a miss at being posted on warships, where they could have made contributions as officers.

It is a warship deployment. That is what it is. There will be many who will say deploy them on a corvette or a TRV and see how they feel about it. Someday, I hope the Navy does that too.

One cannot fully absorb the importance of supporting those at sea unless they have been at sea themselves. I am glad those doors – and all the more important tactical assignments, which is what the capability of the Navy is all about – have opened up to women officers as well.

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What My Experience Says

Deployment at sea is a critical learning curve and while the men in my team worked with me, they did test out my capabilities for a week before they were sure that I meant business.
(Photo Courtesy: Author)

As someone who was posted on board INS Jyoti decades ago, I can tell you it is nothing like a shore posting. You are accountable for the entire gamut of responsibilities that are covered in the Logistics Cadre. That is perhaps why I always find it my most satisfying appointment.

One had to do everything. The day began around 0400 hours and one spent time in every department under one’s charge, whether it was the galley, ship’s office, the stores or any other responsibility assigned in addition to these. My action station was the communication centre.

Deployment at sea is a critical learning curve and while the men in my team worked with me, they did test out my capabilities for a week before they were sure that I meant business.

I recall my HOD and then Lt Cdr V Agarwal’s first question to me, when I reported on board INS Jyoti – “Do you know your job?”

I remember asking, “Sir, what is that supposed to mean?”

This is a test every individual who gets posted anywhere goes through. I do not believe I was any different. Yes, women probably are under a greater degree of scrutiny, which I attribute to the adjustment factor to having the female gender in an erstwhile male dominated space.

How Women Communicate

These two young women officers are probably the Navy’s second attempt at a step towards gender equality and that puts them under pressure. If there wasn’t so much attention given to it and it was a matter of a simple appointment, like any other appointment, I suppose, the pressure would be different.

That is a mindset that exists everywhere, be it the armed forces or among the larger civilian population, which pressures women who do things that are not normally done by women into proving themselves ten times more. What makes a difference is always in the way we communicate as women.

Expressing what is in one’s mind in a simple straightforward manner is, more often than not, misconstrued as being rude. It is expected from women that they modulate their tone to make it sound nice, softer, to make sure they do not offend anyone.

Breaking that barrier is important to become an equal. It, however, is not something only women need to initiate. Men need to also acknowledge that women, in work environments, need to communicate in the manner the team is used to.

It is amusing to find, be it then or now, that if a woman speaks exactly the way a man speaks, it is taken as rudeness. But, I am digressing.

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Wishing Fair Winds

I do wish these two the very best and all the luck in the world, because they are going to need it. The Ship’s Company will watch, the Fleet will watch, the Command will watch, the NHQ will watch and more than ever, everyone in the civilian street will watch, be it veterans or non-veterans.

They will sit and judge and opine on every move made by them and pass judgment on them. Every error, every triumph, every little thing, in their breathing space, which in a ship is limited because everyone is in close quarters, will be followed.

I wish them fair winds because where the women sail in the Navy, in terms of deployment at sea, will be dependent on them.

I hope the Navy stands by them. I also hope the Supreme Court verdict, that was given in favour of the five Navy officers, is followed through. They are still awaiting action and communication from the government and authorities on that since March 2020.

Is anyone listening?

Shamno Varunah:

(Lt Sandhya Suri is a Navy veteran, a Change Enabler, author and poet. This is an opinion piece. The views expressed are the author’s alone. The Quint neither endorses them nor is responsible for them.)

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