Women in active combat roles should no longer be an argument or a question. It has to be done.
A very quiet revolution has been taking place in the jungles of Chhattisgarh . In a move that should challenge conventional and patriarchal notions of combat, 35 women personnel of CRPF became the first women in India to engage in combat operations.
The women stayed in the jungle for 90 days and were give pre-induction training in jungle warfare. Currently they are posted in Delhi for law and order duties.
The operations were said to be successful and plans to increase the strength and deployment of women combat forces to aid in the operations in Naxal hit areas like Chhattisgarh and Jharkhand are underway.
India does not traditionally allow women to serve in combat roles with the infantry, artillery or armored corps. They are also barred from serving on board operational warships or fly fighter jets in combat. They are however, through recent measures to increase their numbers in the armed forces, have been allowed to get permanent commissions in non-combat roles.
The argument to allow women to join the forces in combat roles in India is one that was shot down by various members of the armed forces and the government. The reasons ranged from inability to comprehend the reaction of a nation to a woman POW, to the more inane reason of jawans who might not be able to accept orders from a woman leader.
These arguments have often ranged from the moralizing and patronizing to chiding the very idea of having woman and men serving equally. They’ve also been had by other countries before. India has to only look at the many countries ranging from Israel, Taiwan, Canada, US to realize that every argument against women in combat have been proved moot. To keep stressing on these is to to be blind to the idea that a woman can and should be given equal opportunity to prove her mettle on the battle field and her patriotism.
Women in the armed forces in India have been over decades relegated to positions where they could be paraded and be used as trophies for the men. The safe positions of parade ground soldiers, aide-de-camps and instructors gave them an ability to work in stereotypical feminine roles, while the men went ahead to fight and man the borders to keep them safe. To keep stressing these roles in this century is to be blind to the many successes that women have had in roles that have been considered “manly”. For men, to stress the inability of a woman to work in combat roles, and to keep her in place within secure glass structures is to reinforce patriarchal and stereotypical notions of men and women that have been time and again disproved. India does have its own set of challenges that it will face with the integration of the forces. However, to dismiss the very idea of integration is atavistic and boorish.
Martha McSally, a colonel in the US air force, was the first woman to fly in combat. Her paper “WOMEN IN COMBAT:IS THE CURRENT POLICY OBSOLETE?” explains in detail the many objections and solutions for an integrated armed force. While some of them remain unique to the United States, a lot of the issues and attitudes that women faced to be accepted for combat operations and their proposed solutions can be useful in India.
Arguments like the one that Air Marshal (retired) Sumit Mukerji made where he said
“It is a reality in the making but it is really a political call for the government of the day — are we as a nation ready to accept a woman being captured by the enemy? Whoever takes the decision finally becomes accountable,
is the equivalent of a minister saying that letting women work outdoors would be a political call for “are we as a nation ready to accept a woman being raped by men on the streets if she steps outside?” It is that ridiculous. A person who signs up for combat duty is mentally and physically prepared for the best and worst of all conditions, to claim that as a nation we would agonise more over a woman POW than a man should not be up for argument at all.
All the women who signed up for the CRPF combat operations against naxals in the jungles of Chhattisgarh were from rural background and had men—brothers, fathers, husbands—accept their role as they would have accepted a man’s role. Any objections that a person from a rural background is less accepting or a woman from a rural background is less likely to sign up for combat duty is rubbish. They are just smokescreens to perpetuate the idea that a man’s job is to protect, while a woman’s job is to look pretty and keep house. The men who control the armed forces have been successful in clinging to these age old notions. It’s high time the brass ceiling came down.
We still hang on the image of Kiran Bedi as a role model for a strong woman who managed to achieve great success in what was traditionally thought to be a man’s domain. As much as we respect Ms Bedi’s role and her charisma and courage, there are a whole lot of shoes that can be filled, and have been filled by women police officers, panchayat leaders, ministers and women on the field in war zones. To bring women into combat at the lowest level in the armed forces can be an immense source of strength, a means to a career and an image to inspire the next generation. Gender should not be a stumbling block for someone looking to serve the nation.