Smartly dressed women officers of the Army, Navy, Air Force, paramilitary, and police forces made a stunning appearance at the 2015 Republic Day Parade.
While the Obamas and other state guests were visibly impressed with the Nari Shakti theme, everybody was not as pleased.
Was the float mere optics and symbolism or was there a plan in the making for our female warriors?
With General Bipin Rawat’s latest statement on the induction of women in combat roles, the plan finally seems to be rolling out. India may soon join a small league of countries, like Norway, Sweden, US, New Zealand, etc., in making combat roles gender neutral.
This breakthrough addresses two long standing challenges in the Indian Army: shortage of officers and equal opportunity. However, the most striking part of Gen Rawat’s plan is to induct women as jawans.
Women have been filling officer ranks in the Army since the 90s. However, inducting women as jawans is going to be a game-changer. The move also bludgeons some of the myths surrounding women’s role in the military.
From acceptance by peers to physiological suitability, a lot of balderdash has been obstructing women’s path to a greater role in the armed forces. Women’s lower ‘G’ force intolerance being one of the classic examples.
This myth was dispelled in 2002 by PD Navathe, G Gomez, and A Krishnamurthy, through rigorous testing of 17 female pilot trainees between 1995 and 1997 at the Institute of Aerospace Medicine, Bangalore. The research stated:
Acceleration tolerances for the female pilot trainees were comparable to those for male pilots previously studied in the same laboratory
On acceptance, many serving and retired women officers have admitted that they have faced more resistance from other officers rather than the jawans.
“For jawans, we are all Sahabs,” said a serving Major from the Ordnance corps, who has recently resumed work after maternity leave.
Kannu Pathania, an erstwhile JAG officer, says,
This is a welcome move and so doable! Women can be easily integrated as jawans in the military police.
However, she raises the issue of permanent commission to women officers. Even the first gallantry award winning woman officer, Lt Col Mitali Madhumita, had to fight a legal battle for her permanent commission.
A former Army Commander and erstwhile Lt Governor of Andaman and Nicobar, Lt Gen (retd) AK Singh, says that the only question worth asking about women’s induction in the combat roles is whether they will be able to optimise these roles.
Do we want to expose our women to contact battle, as command men-only groupings under such intense conditions? Let’s not get carried away by considerations other than the operational effectiveness of the Army.
Shiv Aroor, a journalist covering defence, whose recent novel, Operation Jinnah, has a woman soldier in a deadly combat role, does not think that combat roles are being given to women as sops.
“This is no favour or a handout. The forces will be better for it. Choosing to induct women into fighting arms or the jawan ranks is to wage war against very powerfully set beliefs,” said Aroor.
While most women officers who have served as instructors in the training academies hail Gen Rawat’s statement, their male counterparts seem less enthusiastic. The officials at OTA, Gaya, responded that they had “no opinion” on the matter.
For a Wonder Woman, when has an opinion or a lack thereof mattered? Her Golden Lasso of Truth, forcing everyone to acknowledge the truth, is her weapon.