NEW DELHI — Captain Tania Shergill, a woman army officer, led the all-male army contingent at the Republic Day Parade this year. A euphoric media hailed it as Nari Shakti and ‘women power on full display'. The balloon burst rather quickly a few days later in the Supreme Court, when the government opposed giving commanding officer posts to women officers in the army.

Fortunately the Supreme Court subsequently saw beyond that argument later, criticizing the the mindset of the top military brass. The stark contradiction between what the government said in court and how it gave Shergill an important ceremonial role can only mean that the army wants women officers essentially as decorative showpieces. It is their attempt to hoodwink the international community that, in keeping with the times of gender equality, Indian armed forces also recruit women.

None of this is much different from the stereotyped depiction of women in many of our films and TV serials where the women are shown bedecked in jewelry; that is, well provided for, but they do not have any real say in family matters except indulging in petty conspiracies.

To top this regressive sexism and hypocrisy they have given a ridiculously flawed argument that the "composition of rank and file being male predominantly drawn from the rural background with prevailing societal norms, troops are not yet mentally schooled to accept women officers in command of units". General Bipin Rawat, as the chief of army staff, had said the same thing in December 2018. This argument typecasts and insults rural Indian males by presuming that they all are necessarily sexist, chauvinistic and patriarchal. Says whom? And on what basis? Since there is no evidence to support such a notion, it follows that the army is actually trying to conceal its own inherent sexism under the cover of the mythical ‘rural Indian males.'

If rural Indian men can work under women in a thousand other organizations, there is no reason to believe that they cannot do so in the army. The mere fact of joining the army gives them neither an extra shot of testosterone nor any refresher course in misogyny. Many people try for the army and, failing that, take up jobs where they might have to work under women.

Female soldiers in Indian Army ADGPI - Indian Army via Facebook

In any case, after retirement, they have no option but to take up such jobs. Many bank managers, for example, are women and the security guards are ex-servicemen. Their so-called rural societal norms have never come in the way of working as security guards.

In fact, Lt. Gen. D. S. Hooda holds that women officers are already in command positions at the lower levels, commanding platoons and companies, and there is no factual evidence to support the claim that male soldiers are not accepting orders from women because of their mental schooling. What then is the problem with women commanding bigger units? Obviously, the real problem is the male chauvinism of the senior officers, which they are trying to pass on to the ‘rural Indian male.'

Sheer brawn has ceased to be of any critical value.

The oft-quoted argument of lower physical standards of women is no longer valid in modern warfare and combat. Ever since humans invented firearms and stopped fighting with swords and spears, sheer brawn has ceased to be of any critical value. In fact, most modern military weapons are so light and recoil-free that even kids can fire them. Child soldiers by the tens of thousands have been a constant feature in Afghanistan, for example, since the Soviet-Afghan War. Only the Special Forces might require great physical strength for a few operations.

In the U.S., in 2013, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta removed the military's ban on women serving in combat roles. In December 2015, Defense Secretary Ashton Carter made it clear that starting in 2016 all combat jobs would open to women. By March 2016, he approved final plans from military service branches including even the US Special Operations Command.

In the UK, Prime Minister David Cameron opened frontline ground fighting jobs to women in 2016 including elite Special Forces units like the SAS and Royal Marines. In 2017, Theresa May personally congratulated the first woman officer commissioned into the Royal Tank Regiment. In fact, as many as 14 NATO countries including France, Germany, Belgium, Greece, Netherlands, Denmark, Czech Republic, and Canada have three-star women officers currently serving in their armed forces.

There is no need to appeal to the army for a change of mindset. Sheer logic, as well as precedent from other countries, demands that if they have to have women in the army, they cannot be allowed to retain them as mere showpieces for the Republic Day Parade.

Dr. N.C. Asthana, a retired IPS officer, has been DGP Kerala and a long-time ADG CRPF and BSF.


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