This is the end of 2018. It is almost a quarter century since I was commissioned, and thereafter retired from service. One would like to think that enough progress was made during this period. However, women officers continue to fight for combat roles in the front line.
What has changed?
They are still called “women officers” and are still not posted at the front line, or on board ships, unless it is to sail around the world in an all-women crew. Despite all this, they have achieved much and I am supremely proud of their achievements.
General Rawat’s Regressive Comments
When I was serving, the conflict was that of being considered simply an officer. That is still an ongoing one from what I can see. There is more depth to that simple ‘conflict’.
I am referring to comments made by Chief of Army Staff General Bipin Rawat on the low-recruitment of women officers in combat roles. In an interview to CNN-News18, General Rawat had said that women officers are not ready for combat roles as they had to raise kids and would feel uncomfortable working with jawans at the front.
Certain phrases quoted to General Rawat have really got to me. “She will say somebody is peeping, so we will have to give a sheet around her…(sic)”Really? Assumptions, assumptions!
I don’t get this desire to protect, what General Rawat seems to regressively consider the abla nari (damsel in distress). Did he forget that he was speaking about officers who have undergone stringent training, and proven their worth over and over again?
Would these women not be able to tackle a Peeping Tom?
We Have a Woman Defence Minister. But...
This tells me what exactly is going on in the minds of the senior ranks who have found the finest of excuses to not give combat roles to deserving women officers. Here are some “reasons”:
- Those, who assume that they are all to be bracketed under the label of women with “maternity needs”. One would almost think that all women do in their lives is have babies!
- The logistics of it can remain the same. Why make it special? The special so-called “provisions” are not because women cannot take it. They are because the men are yet to get over their testosterone-governed mindsets.
It still doesn’t change the fact that these are discriminatory excuses. While it may be my opinion, I speak for the women officers in the Army, Navy and the Air Force. The Air Force has somehow broken more shackles than the other two. Kudos to them.
Who makes these rules? Women? How does a problem only exist in India and not in the rest of the world where you also have female NCOs and soldiers?
Is it the women who have to prove their mettle or the men who need to zip their pants and not think of women as mere vessels of reproductive capacity and satisfaction of carnal desires?
This is what it reflects. This entire statement of General Rawat – with all due respect to his experience, vast expertise in military warfare, and seniority – reeks of the male bastion that stands on shaky ground, because they cannot come out of their regressive mentality of limiting women’s capabilities, born out of the conservative male viewpoints, and see women as fit to be given frontline combat roles.
To think of it, we have a woman as a defence minister. Yes, yes, she doesn’t go and get posted to the front, but you get the drift.
While I am at it, Ma’am, are you listening?
General Rawat's Mindset Is His Biggest Weakness
Truth is, the officers in question are fit, mentally resilient, up for the challenges that the postings throw at them. Yet, the officers commanding them have no faith. The biggest challenge for a woman officer is still to insist she is an “officer” and not a “woman officer,” as she is often referred to.
A big challenge for most women is to get the male officers to let go of the fact that they are women, and to accept them as officers like themselves, in uniform.
Being in the armed forces is all about balance and fortitude, and a lot of courage. You are as strong as your weakest link. The Army Chief today is the weakest link, because of his mindset which dictates that female uniformed military personnel are women first, and then military personnel. That is the discrimination he admits to, in as many words. Where is the ‘leading by example’?
Why discriminate? The officer may be a man or a woman. The challenges and tasks remain the same. It is simply the genderless allocation of the postings that are not coming though.
Might I remind the Army Chief and all the men in the armed forces, that the women knew what they were signing up for when they joined the services.
The cribbers can take a sign out. You have as many men cribbing as the women. The ones who are up for the task should be treated fairly.
Women Don’t Get to Make the Rules
Why have separate rules and conditions for determining fitness? If something has to be removed, remove those different conditions and then play fair. Don’t draw out privileges. They know what they are up for. Don’t the services write off officers who you believe have served their time, and do not make the grade for commanding a unit? Sir, do that.
Does the Army Chief believe he has been fair to this process? Do the men of India, for that matter, believe he has been fair? Those who make the rules are not women.
The men are those who have been handling a male bastion for so long that they have found themselves limited in adapting to what the rest of the world’s armed forces has gone ahead and progressed to.
To the women who don the uniform today, don’t give up, I beseech you. Stay firm. We are as proud of you as we are of any other Indian in uniform, gender and rank regardless. Jai Hind!
(Sandhya Suri is a retired naval officer. This is an opinion piece and the views expressed are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for the same.)