The Indian Government and the Armed Forces have to seriously reconsider their myopic and chauvinistic attitude against women serving in combat roles
Colonel Jeannie M. Levitt joined the US Air force in 1992. A year later she became the first women fighter pilot to be allowed to fly in combat missions. She has since clocked 2700 flight hours, with 300 of them being combat missions in Iraq and Afghanistan. She also has two kids. The distinction of being the world’s first fighter pilot to fly combat mission goes to Sabiha Gökçen who became Turkey’s first military pilot in 1936 and flew minor combat missions. She was the adopted daughter of Ataturk. Ayesha Farooq has the honor of being the first of 5 Pakistani women to qualify to fly fighter planes in combat. The last decade alone has seen close to 20 countries including Israel, Pakistan, South Korea giving the green signal for women to fly fighter jets in combat situations. India however remains firmly entrenched in its chauvinistic regressive attitude of not allowing women in any combat situations.
The latest in the serious of excuses paraded as valid reasons to reject women came from IAF Air Chief Marshal Arup Raha. In an interview he said
As far as flying fighter planes is concerned, it’s a very challenging job. Women are by nature not physically suited for flying fighters for long hours, especially when they are pregnant or have other health problems,” said ACM Raha, as per news reports.
Blatant sexism that parades as valid reasons has become the norm for the officers and officials in the armed forces to continue to keep women out of combat and to deny them permanent commissions in the army. The armed forces as of 2012 has a total of 2595 women officers out of a total of 36,788 officers. Women are usually inducted only in the short service commission (SSC) which enables them to serve for a total of 10 + 4 years after which they have to step down. While permanent commission is being granted since 2008, the areas are restricted to education, advocate generals and other non technical areas and “female friendly” roles
A couple of points have to be made about the existing myopia amongst the highest branches of the military and government.
- To keep claiming that women by nature are not qualified for certain jobs not only makes the people making the claim sexist but also makes them pathetically out of touch with the realities of modern technology and warfare. There is an increasingly damning amount of evidence to show that women are fully capable of holding their own in combat situations. Countries, currently engaged in active combat have come up with solutions that work and can be adapted to integrate forces. “Pregnancy and other health problems” have not proved to be a hindrance to women serving effectively in combat zones and in situations of extreme stress. The Indian armed forces and the government have repeatedly proved themselves to be unable to come to terms with these basic facts and to adapt themselves to the changing nature of war. It shows a reluctance to habituate themselves to a changing world and more importantly a glaring incompetence when it comes to modernizing the armed forces.
- The other charge that is being laid against the idea of having women in combat are the cultural mores and conduct that prevent the men in the armed forces from taking orders from or working alongside with women in the army. Sexism, sexual harassment and chauvinistic attitudes against women is a problem, not just in the army but in schools, offices, politics, and even on the roads That should not and cannot continue to be an excuse to keep women out of any sphere. When a person can be taught that harassment on the street or in the office is not right and illegal, why can’t the person be taught that sexual harassment in the Army or Navy or Air force is equally wrong. There is precedence for these issues. The US is battling similar problems with integration, but various laws and increased public awareness have been taking place. The narrative has been changing slowly from ‘how to integrate’ to ‘how to make it a better working environment’. Women cannot be shut out from every sphere because of a fear. The argument that women can’t join combat situations because of fear of assault is like saying women should not walk on the road for fear of being raped. It cannot be that way.
There needs to be a push from civilian organizations to reconsider these decisions. The government of India must seriously consider allowing women to join combat roles, increase women recruitment and make permanent commissions applicable for women in every line of work. India cannot afford to hold on to an atavistic, self righteous, morally reprehensible attitude that keep women out of one of the more patriotic duties for a citizen