Maj Gen Mrinal Suman
The recent debate about the induction of women in the armed forces has been highly skewed and shallow. An issue that critically affects the fighting potential of the armed forces has been reduced to 'equality of sexes' and 'women's liberation'. Many ill-informed observers have trifled such a sensitive matter by terming it as 'conquering the last male bastion'. Sadly, stances have been taken more on the basis of personal views and mind-sets rather than on well evolved logic. Both military and non-military experts are equally guilty in this regard.
In the recent past, the nation was shocked to hear a retired senior Army officer recommending constitution of all women battalions in the Indian Army. There cannot be a more preposterous and perilous proposition. It is equally common to hear the argument that if the Naxalites and LTTE can have women fighters, why the Indian armed forces should be reluctant to do so. Often people quote the number of American women fighting war in Iraq and Afghanistan to question India's stance against allowing women in combat. This article endeavours to remove some common misconceptions and put all issues in their proper perspective.
To start with, it needs to be stressed that the services carry no male chauvinistic mindset. The very fact that daughters of service officers have excelled in all fields proves that service officers do not suffer from any gender bias and are very supportive of women's advancement. However, the issue of women's induction in the services warrants singular treatment.
It will be instructive to take a look at the genesis of the issue. Earlier, entry of women was limited to the Army Medical Corps, the Army Dental Corps and the Military Nursing Service. In the early 90s, a service chief visited the United States and saw women participating in Guards of Honour. He was suitably impressed and wondered why India should lag behind in this aspect. Thus the decision to induct women was neither need-based nor well thought-through. The first batch of women Short Service Commission (SSC) officers joined in 1992. No attempt was made to study likely long term implications of multiple issues involved and their effect on the fighting potential of the services. In other words, a decision of colossal significance was taken in a totally cavalier, slapdash and hasty manner. As the other two services did not want to be seen as 'male-chauvinists', they followed suit. Soon a race got underway between the three services to induct women in maximum number of fields. It is only now that a plethora of complex issues are getting thrown up with resultant adverse fall-out.
Presently, the Indian Army counts 2.44 percent women in its ranks, the Indian Navy 3.0 percent and the Indian Air Force 6.7 percent. The tenure of women SSC officers has since been increased to 14 years. The Government has also approved grant of Permanent Commission to SSC (Women) officers prospectively in Judge Advocate General (JAG) Department and Army Education Corps (AEC) of Army and their corresponding Branch/Cadre in Navy and Air Force, Accounts Branch of the Air Force and Corps of Naval Constructors of the Navy.
Image: Men and Women officers celebrate after getting commissioned in the Indian Army. Picture courtesy author, unauthorized reproduction prohibited