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Victorious women of armed forces must be given their due
Women officers, as of now, are holding short service commission for 14 years only. Delhi High Court has ordered that they be granted permanent commission. Air Force is implementing the order. Army is dragging its feet.
GENERAL V K SINGH , Chief of the Army Staff may not be amused in receiving a contempt of court notice issued by the Delhi High Court in respect of not initiating action for granting permanent commission to the short service commissioned women officers of the Indian Army.
The charge of the women-officer petitioners is that the Indian Army has committed an act of wilful defiance of the orders of the Hon’ble Delhi High Court and are, therefore, to be hauled up for contempt of court. It may be recalled that on 12 March 2010 the Delhi High Court had issued an order on a petition of 52 Army and Air Force short service commissioned officers to treat women officers at par with men officers in granting permanent commission.
As of now, men officers holding short service commission are granted permanent commission if their record of service is good and they are found fit in all respects. This entitles them to service benefits like superannuation at 60 years of age to those who hold rank of a Lieutenant General and consequential pensionary benefits. Unfortunately this privilege is denied to women officers who retire after 14 years service as short service commissioned officers.
Their Lordships had asked the Army and the Air Force if there were any cogent reasons for denying women officers the privilege of permanent commission. But for advancing the weak age-old plea of women being the weaker sex and thus could not discharge the onerous duties in combat, the two service headquarters had nothing to say in support of their discriminatory treatment of the fair sex. The Delhi High Court ordered them to end the gender bias and give a fair treatment to the fair sex in grant of permanent commission.
Initially the Air Force wanted to go in appeal against this order to the Supreme Court but they were advised by Shri Gopal Subramaniam, Solicitor General, against preferring an appeal as their case was legally weak. The Air headquarters accepted this advice and started working on the case of grant of permanent commission to women officers except the Fighter Stream and has since then issued orders to that effect. The Air Force has a complement of 784 women officers.
The Indian Navy, being a silent service, is silent on this issue too. The Delhi High Court perhaps did not pass an order to the Navy because there was no petitioner from the Navy. However, sooner or later that service will have no option but to fall in line with the trend of the time. Moreover, at present there are only 252 women officers in the entire Navy and they too are posted ashore and not on board a ship. The sub-marine arm is still a male preserve.
The Indian Army has dug its heels and is, as of now, denying the grant of permanent commission to women officers. The logic is that the rank and file of the Indian Army comprises men only and it would be difficult for women officers to command and get the loyalty of male soldiers in battle.
The Army is the senior service and being the largest of the three services has a complement of 4,101 women officers mostly deployed in support role and may not be called upon to perform active combat duty in trenches when the battle line is drawn. Presently, there are women officers commissioned from the Officers Training Academy in Corps of Engineers, Corps of Signals, Electronic and Mechanical Engineers, Judge - Advocate General’s Branch, the Army Educational Corps and so on. In other words combat arms in the real sense like the Infantry, the Armoured Corps have no women officers.
The Soviet Union had enrolled not only women officers but also soldiers in their Army in the Second World War. The soviet soldiers of fair sex had participated bravely in trench warfare against the German military machine in the defence of Leningrad, Stalingrad and had pushed the invaders back. A giant size figure of a woman soldier adorns the skyline of former Leningrad even now. It is a tribute to their bravery. The army of the Russian Federation has women officers and soldiers in both combat arms and support services. They have reported no major problem of sexual harassment or gender discrimination. Indeed minor hiccups in a large service cannot be completely ruled out.
The Indian Army too has its share of gender problems, notwithstanding the number of women officers being small and that too for short service commission only. A major general commanding an infantry division in Ladakh was found guilty by a General Court Martial of sexually harassing a young woman officer on the pretext of teaching her Yoga in his billet and was sent home with disgrace.
Israel too rightly boasts of women soldiers and officers. They have acquitted themselves well in combat and non-combat roles. Of course, as a matter of policy Israel avoids its women soldiers and officers coming in combat contact with the Palestinian intifada and Hizbollah mujahideen as the record of their sexual behaviour is rather dismal.
The United States of America has women soldiers, sailors and air persons in all types of combat and support roles. Of late, the US Navy has welcomed women sailors and officers aboard sub-marines too where the space is limited and chances of close contact between the two sexes may raise alarm for housewives at home. For that matter, in the Iraq war of 1990s, the closeness of male and female soldiers and the promiscuous behaviour of some soldiers of both sexes had given the Pentagon a major headache. The correctional steps through education ameliorated the situation to a great extent.
Canada is not behind the United States in offering employment opportunities to its female folks. Indeed they have not fought a major war for almost half a century and, therefore, have no combat experience of the two sexes to write home about.
When one thinks of women generals commanding combat troops in battles, the name of Rani Luxmibai of Jhansi covers itself with glory. She won laurels in battles against the British officers of the East India Company and the latter were all praise for her strategy and command of men of different faiths. Rani Chenamma of Kittur too measured swords with the British army that invaded her territory. If we go into the distant past, we find Rani Kaikeyi actively helping King Dasrath in battle to manoeuvre his chariot and repulse the dogged attack of a determined enemy.
The point made out is that queens and common women were trained for the profession of arms and did not fight shy of engaging the enemy and make him bite the dust. Our modern Indian women would go into battle with high morale and defeat the enemy like male compatriots.
Not granting permanent commission to women officers may drive them away from the Army itself. Thus the Army will be deprived of the services of talented women who have leadership qualities. Are we prepared to lock out half of the population of the country from getting into the Army as permanent commissioned officers? In that case, it is primarily the Army that will be a loser and eventually the Indian nation will be a loser.
We are an enlightened nation and should not behave like the Afghan Taliban who prevent the girl child from going to school and adult women from getting a job in the office, schools, hospitals, army and what have you. Taliban is a regressive school of thought. The Indian educated people are indeed progressive. The Philosophy of the Upanishad says “Arise, awake and receive the best of knowledge from those who have excelled”.
The powers that be in the South Block may like to
listen to their awakened conscience and forsake stubborn opposition to granting women officers permanent commission. This stubborn attitude is a result of bad upbringing in the old East India Company traditions. What the British army has itself forsaken, we Indians of the old order are still clinging to. The old order changeth yielding place to the new. Let the Indian Army change for the better on its own volition rather than after receiving a rap on the knuckle from the Supreme Court of India.
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