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How Indian Army's Move To Deploy Women In Artillery Is Only A Battle Half Won

On one hand, we're promoting our women officers while on the other, keeping physical standards much reduced for them

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Hindi Female

The recent proposal to induct women officers in the Artillery is extremely distressing. The mere fact that when the doors were first thrown open to women to join the supporting arms such as the Air Defence and Engineers, this was not done for the Artillery clearly indicated that the role of an Artillery Forward Observation Officer (FOO) (as well as the Artillery troops forming the Observation Post party) is at par with the Infantry or the Armoured Corps in combat.

Every Artillery Officer is primarily trained to act as a FOO and there is always a shortage of FOOs in war. Even in peacetime exercises, it is seen that the requirement always exceeds the availability, leading to undesirable recycling of FOOs in the attack.
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How Good an Idea Is For Women To Be Inducted Into Artillery?

Further, there have been instances when the FOO has assumed command of the assaulting troops after the Company Commander has been grievously wounded, and led the assault on the enemy defences.

One such instance that immediately comes to mind is ‘The Battle of Daruchhian’, fought in the Poonch Sector in December 1971 where the FOO Captain JC Gosain of 196 Field Regiment not only assumed command of the infantry company but also made the supreme sacrifice in this gallant action. So, in such a situation that is going to prevail in war, induction of women officers into the Artillery is not a wise thing to do unless we are only preparing for creating peacetime facades.

Of course, it could be that this present proposal to induct women in the Artillery, is a first step towards the subsequent induction of women in the Infantry/Armoured Corps; then in that case, there is less cause for concern; but if on the other hand, the Artillery has been singled out just to showcase that we are progressively inducting women into the Army and in reality, the employment of these Women Artillery Officers is going to be confined to those branches/sections of the Artillery which are not directly involved in the actual application of firepower while going into assault hand in hand with the supported arm, then the result is going to be most undesirable, in that this segregation is going to affect the cohesion (ie, create a vertical divide) in the Officer Cadre of this war-winning Arm.

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Armed Forces & Anomalies of Agnipath

In the last few years, the Armed Forces have already been subjected to changes in the name of reforms that have fallen well short of the desired result. First, our Higher Defence Structures have been weakened in that instead of strengthening the existing Department of Defence (DoD) (possibly on similar lines as the British model) by merging the HQ Integrated Defence Staff as well as the Chief of Defence Staff (CDS) and the Chiefs of Staff Committee with it, we went and divided ourselves further by creating a separate and rather curiously named Department of Military Affairs headed by the CDS.

It is also disturbing to see an unhealthy precedent being set with the present incumbent pulled out of retirement and promoted to this appointment without having headed one of the three Services.

And then at the other end of our structure, we have destabilised ourselves at the grassroots by stopping the regular recruitment and replacing it entirely with an ‘Agnipath’ entry scheme which is sort of a short service scheme for soldiers. (The term ‘soldier’ is used here and later in this article to include both the Navy and Air Force personnel below officer rank as well).

If indeed, as it was widely advertised, the aim was to reduce the age of the active combatant and also cut down on the pension bill, then it would have been much wiser and simpler to develop a flow of manpower to the Armed Forces from the Paramilitary/Central Armed Police Forces (PMF/CAPFs) and this entry scheme could have run in synergy with the existing but appropriately reduced regular soldier entry scheme.

These PMF/CAPFs organisations could thus have become excellent feeder organisations for the Armed Forces and after their tour of duty, these trained personnel could have reverted back to their parent organisations for the rest of their careers.

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Does Agnipath Scheme Do Justice to Women Cadres?

The Agnipath scheme as it stands today, is not only going to be operationally disruptive at the foundational level on account of the constant ‘conveyor belt’ type of movement of young soldiers in and out of units but in the years to come, this is going to prove to be an administrative nightmare (at least for the Army); the already ‘stretched’ unit level officer cadre is going to have to start writing performance reports on these Agniveers right from the first year of their service as against the present norm where the young soldier is allowed to grow strong roots in the unit (for a period of around 7yrs) before he is formally assessed for his career growth and attendant promotions.

Also, given the normal human tendency to be affected by perceived injustices as witnessed in the case of the Short Service Officer scheme, it is hoped that this scheme does not again lead to an increase in litigation cases against the Armed Forces.

But coming back to the issue of women in the Armed Forces, it seems to me that instead of doing a course correction in the entry scheme for women, we are going about compounding the contradictions that have become evident in this present entry and subsequent career progression system.

On one hand, we are now giving a Permanent Commission (PC) and even promotion as Commanding Officers to our women officers while on the other, we are yet, allowing much reduced physical standards for them.

The Armed Forces, particularly the Army, are not some sort of a corporate house which is desk-driven and instead, needs officers in the form of field operatives, the best among who then rise to hold command assignments as they mature in their service. Having the men and women officer cadre based on two far differing physical performance pedestals as a foundation is bound to cause us immense difficulty in officer cadre management in the years to come.
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Despite New Measures, Armed Forces Reek of Gender Discrimination

Having ourselves blundered by allowing discrimination against women to creep in when we did not give the women the option for a PC on the same lines as the Short Service Commission (SSC) men, it was only to be expected that this demand for consideration for a PC was bound to manifest itself sooner or later.

We blundered again when at some point we also raised the service level for selection for PC in respect of SSC Officers (both men and now women) from five to 10 years.

At that time, the maximum permissible service limit for an SSC Officer who did not get a PC was also raised to 14 years against the earlier 10 years. Employing SSC Officers for 10 years in the service and then telling them that you are not fit to continue, is exploitative and inhuman, to say the least. Further allowing those who so desire to continue to serve up to 14 years, using these four years to prepare themselves for an alternate second career, is very poor human resource management.

If hard decisions have to be taken in organisational interests and obviously the interests of the Armed Forces have to be paramount, then it is much wiser to have this decision taken at the 5-year service level as was earlier and when the Officer being released was also relatively that much younger.

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One has only to recall the spectacle we projected when we presented an all-Woman marching contingent at the 2015 Republic Day. Making Officers march as part of the rank and file in a squad, is simply against the ethos of being an officer, and further, if women officer cadets have had to be pulled out for this ‘show’ at the cost of the training time, then it is even worse. The larger point is that such a propensity to ‘showcase’ and create facades is going to cost us dearly in the years to come.

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As things stand today, I feel it is time to revisit all the above issues affecting the health of our Armed Forces starting from our Higher Defence Structures and moving down to the grassroots-level entry for Men and Women both as Officers and Soldiers (regular as well as short service). It appears to me that instead of catching the bull by the horn and making the necessary course corrections, we are doing the easier thing by pushing the lurking problem for the next generation to solve. This must surely change.

(The writer is a veteran Lieutenant General who commanded the strategic High Altitude 14 Corps at Leh. He retired as the Deputy Chief, HQ IDS. He has also authored a book titled 'India's Armed Forces: Tempering the Steel' (Continental Prakashan, Pune, 2016).

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