by Anya Daftary

The Indian Army has yet to make a series of steps towards becoming completely gender inclusive. Women in this country have done everything from scaling Everest to winning olympic medals. Women have fought long and hard for the right to be acknowledged and somehow, today the army chooses not to. In  a recent statement to the Supreme Court, The Centre said that women officers are not eligible for higher posts in the army as male officers are not yet ready to accept them.  They further said that women cannot be considered for commanding positions as due to bodily reasons such as pregnancy, they are unable to remain working for long durations. Other reasons, include, women not being considered for commanding positions are the highly presumptive assumption that the ‘greater role’ of women lies in the upkeep of domestic life and family, as well as the danger of her being kidnapped.

“The composition of rank & file being male, and predominantly drawn from rural background, with prevailing societal norms, the troops are not yet mentally schooled to accept women officers in command.”

Perhaps we forget that in spaces so male dominated,  that it’s the men’s responsibility to change their mindset rather than the women suffering for it, right? An article by the BBC discusses how women are fighting in Afghanistan. If women can stay at the frontline as medics and nurses, should they have the required skill, what is to stop them from fighting? Women stop at nothing to achieve their goals and dreams despite a severe lack of opportunity. The NY Times covered the lives of 40 women serving in the US military. If they can do it why can’t we?

The USA allows women to serve in any position of their choice, provided they fulfil all the requirements and criteria. Pregnancy has not kept away women from the IPS (Indian Police Services) or IAS(Indian administrative services), both jobs which require constant relocation based on postings, so why not the army? Women make up vital parts of the military in a series of countries. According to NatGeo, it’s not just states that are typically considered liberal or progressive. Countries like Syria, Colombia and Israel have women in their armies. Even Pakistan has its own commando force with women. So again, why can’t we?

Gen. Bipin Rawat, a four star general and the current Chief of Defence Staff of India has not shied away from showing his regressive views. In a  statement last year, Rawat said that both homosexuality and adultery are unaccepted in the army, both which have been decriminalised by the Supreme Court. 

Dr. Seema Rao, otherwise known as India’s wonder woman, trains the Indian Commandos in CQB, Close Quarter Combat. To teach, shouldn’t you know how to fight? So then, should she want it, why are we denying her that chance to fight ? If women like Barkha Dutt can stand at the sidelines of war, in the middle of gunfire, reporting live you us, then why can’t another girl who has the ability to fight like a boy do just that? The Navy just commissioned their first female pilot, the first female to be on a warship. If the Navy could accept women at such heights, why can’t our Army? What is so wrong with women that they cannot fight? What makes us so obligated to serve our husbands but not our countries?

During the 2010 parliament attacks, Lt. Col. Mitali Madhumita showed us exemplary courage, even being awarded a Sena Medal. If she saved us at home, why can’t someone else save us at the border? Women have been inducted into the armed forces, but why should they continue if they don’t have a future there?

What is so wrong with women that they cannot fight? What makes us so obligated to serve our husbands but not our countries?

According to The Hindu, currently serving female officers have filed written submission to the SC, represented by Sr. Adv. Aishwarya Bhati opposing The Centre’s notes. “The argument that women officers are not trainable in specialisation envisaged for permanent commission of women officers, skewed cadre structure, lower physical capabilities etc. are grounds/excuses that follow the pattern of regressive mindset, rather than being based on experience or statistics,” argues an excerpt from the 19 page submission. The officers also showed records and qualifications to add a layer of evidence and paint a picture quite far from the picture Centre was painting. The submissions had reference to a variety of officers including Sqd. Leaders Minty Agarwal and Divya Ajit Kumar as well as IAF Officer Gunjan Saxena all of whom have received  gallantry and bravery awards for their work in combat operations.

“She is a Fighter Controller with the Indian Air Force. She was part of the team that guided Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman during the 2019 Balakot airstrike carried out by the IAF. In August 2019, she was awarded the Yudh Seva Medal by the President of India, becoming the first woman to receive it,”  – An excerpt about Sqd. Leader Minty Agarwal in the written submissions. 

India has had its moments when it comes to women’s roles in defense. There was the Republic Day Parade of 2019 where over 3 contigents were either led or consisted of women and not to forget this year when Tanya Shergil became the first woman to lead an all male contingent. There was the day when Priya Jhingan changed the norms of the Indian Army and became the first woman cadet to be in the army. The time when women were able to opt for a permanent commission giving them a sense of not just job security but the option to live a  life of service. It’s women like Priya and Gunjan that give girls hopes of making a difference to our country. Did you know India had possibly the first women’s regiment in the world, the Rani Jhansi Regiment, a part of Netaji’s INA in World War 2? Where has that India gone? Is there hope to go back or do we just keep rolling down this hill of a regressive Centre? 

I invite you to discuss this with me in the comments below. 

Anya Daftary is co-head at The Ascent. Her passions include music, dance, history and writing -- specifically in the Hindustan that was. She believes strongly in the future of India and wants to help be a part of it. She hopes to make The Ascent a platform for young people to be familiar with the events and news around and have a voice

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