The Indian Army is one of the most prestigious armies in the world. The masters of Siachen, they are the biggest troop contributors to the United Nation peace-making operations. A pioneer in helping the citizens whenever in need, the Indian Army is an expert in jungle warfare with countries like the US coming to train and learn from them. There is no doubt that the Indian army is one of the most experienced and trained armies in the world, but even they face questions that require some logical reasoning.
Gender equality has been one of the most popular subjects for discussion among intellectuals and activists. Traditionally and culturally a matriarchal society, the onset of modernization has surprisingly made us regressive and more patriarchal in our thought process. From praying first to the female incarnations to expecting women to serve the men, this country is in a churning process and all of us can expect drastic changes in the coming years; but does it apply to all the fields of work? Women in combat forces is a topic that is not assimilable too many, sometimes because they cannot face the on-ground situations and hide behind the garb of feminism. As John Lyly once said, “all is fair in love and war”.
Women are helping hands and are crucial in the armed forces (Air Force, Navy, and Army) of our country, with many of them being part of missions like the Balakot airstrikes. The first 3 women fighter pilots of the Indian Air Force (IAF) namely Mohana Jitarwal, Avani Chaturvedi, and Bhawana Kanth were awarded the ‘Nari Shakti Puraskar’ by honourable President Shri Ram Nath Kovind last year. Though not being sailors, women represent 6.5% of the officer cadre in the Navy. India will forever hold her head high for the historic and iconic women fleet of Tarini. The Indian Army constitutes about 3.80% of women officers. Also, women are around 21.63% and 20.75% of the staff in medical and dental services respectively of the armed forces.
War is not fought on ethics and morals. When a soldier is on the battlefield, many factors are to be considered. There is no doubt that women are superb fighters when trained adequately, but all the fields cannot offer the same treatment to everyone. Let us take the recent Sino-Indian clashes at the Galwan Valley as an example. India wept for the brave sons of the soil; would our reaction be the same if we had received the severely mutilated body of a woman in combat? If a single woman soldier had been captured, tortured or seriously injured, it would have been a personal insult to every person of the country, which would have been way beyond anger and patriotism. Rumours would have come up that she has been molested and physically violated numerous times and it would have made us feel ashamed of ourselves. Not to forget the political aspect of benefitting over the grieving. #Bharatkibeti would have been trending and the morale of our soldiers would be let down. The question then arises, that in a society where a female is synonymous with the dignity of her family, are we as a society ready to send our women to troubled waters, conscious of the fact that they will be violated?
All the fighting forces are different. While the IAF recruits women as fighter pilots now, it is different in the army. In times of war, soldiers have to stay in bunkers for days altogether. Being with a male counterpart in a cockpit cabin is not the same as being with a male counterpart in a tank. Proximity in both situations is the key difference. There are no provisions for defecation and other basics. Sometimes the soldiers have to share blankets and other amenities to protect themselves. Scattered throughout, the men have to adjust to adverse physical and mental conditions along with the risk of losing their lives. There is no misogyny here, but straight facts that one has to consider in war situations. Again, the question then arises that will a woman be comfortable sharing a closed space like a bunker and hostile war conditions with her male colleagues; and as a society are we ready to accept our women doing so?
Family problems may prevail as the soldiers have to leave their family without prior notice and a definite date for homecoming. During a war, we cannot afford leaves just because a child is sick or there is no one to cook food at home. For any soldier, the nation comes before self, family and everything else. This advantage cannot be given under any circumstances (except pregnancy) to any gender. When a man does not get leave, what makes it reasonable for a woman to get one? And if they do, how is that gender equality? Will a woman sacrifice her family time and go on a battlefield for months amidst men cramped up in a small space with no basic amenities? In times of pregnancy, women might get a leave but what about post-pregnancy issues? Will the woman leave her child and come to the battlefield if needed?
Many people give examples of countries like Israel using women as soldiers and raise questions like: “If they can, why can’t we?”. The answer lies in the mentality. In foreign forces, the women get the same brutal training, both at the physical and mental level. Whereas no woman (maybe a handful) in this country will accept the training men go through. Without proper training, how can we send women to the borders? The day women confirm they will go through the same treatment as the men, nobody will have an objection. The day when honour and dignity of a family are not defined by a woman will be a landmark. Also, the day as a society we confirm we will not have a problem with our women being exposed to the same brutal training, with no exemptions, nobody will have an objection. In war scenarios, no one gets the advantage because of their religion, gender or class. It is two people who want to kill each other no matter what. This is something we have to realise before we preach to our forces. Achieving gender equality is easier said than done, at least in this field.
We have to understand that it is not about equality. We as a society are not ready to include women in a life threatening on ground situation like war. The above mentioned problems need a solution before we induct women into frontline forces. There will be no greater joy and honor for us as Indians to see women fight and destroy the enemies of our beloved country, but with these obstacles, it becomes very important for us to not ignore the on ground realities. We can’t afford to look at this subject through the lens of feminism. This is not about feminism or anything like that, but about practicality. In a mindset where we are sensitive to body shaming and the colour of the skin, how open are we to the possible harm to dignity, is a question we need to ask ourselves, before we question the army of it’s intentions. Indubitably, there will come a time when we will see women in combat, but we need to acknowledge that as a society we need to make changes within our structure and thought process, to be able to see that day. Owing to the harsh realities and profile of the job, how many fathers, mothers, brothers, sisters, spouses and sons are ready to send their women to combat? The day we as a collective society are able to answer this, our women will rule the world of combat.
DISCLAIMER: This article reflects author’s view point. Goa Chronicle may or may not subscribe to views of the author.