Military & Aerospace

Women in the Indian Army
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Issue Vol 25.4 Oct-Dec 2010 | Date : 29 Oct , 2015

Women respond better to a supportive, nurturing, participatory approach that emphasises relationships whereas men respond better to military style leadership that emphasises the individuals place in the hierarchy based on ego, recognition and status.

A Clarification

The women officers’ presently in the Army are in no way accountable for the disruptive role to which, they unknowingly have become a party. After all they are the ‘brave-hearts’ who positively responded to the marketing and merchandising of the ‘Life in the Army’ by means of hyped advertisements (as though it were some tourism package; solely highlighting the thrills and excitement of seeing places, the scope for adventure, enjoyment of perks and privileges and handsomely being paid all the while). How could they know that advertisements are merely “the science of arresting the human intelligence long enough to get more money from it”. Furthermore, views expressed in this article preclude Army’s lady physicians and nursing officers.

The author is neither a chauvinist nor a misogynist, but has merely applied a commonsensical approach, with the experience of more than three and a half decades of service in the Great Indian Army which was and forever will be “A Matter of Honour”. The author is the votary of the perception that “In fact all men are a part of women. In the womb all children are a part of the mother’s bodyAs regards the creation of a new life, the contribution by man is minimal. For him it is a matter of a moment. However, it is the woman who is the ‘life-giver’ and enduring phenomenal discomfort, creates both the internal and external environment for that life to grow till it can be on it’s own. Woman is mother” and that “A mother surpasses a thousand fathers”.

Being Armed with Facts

Frenzied opinions will be bandied by the political society, feminists, “enlightened progressive liberals” and the media with accusations (against the Army) such as ‘gender-insensitivity’, ‘gender-bias’, “Army’s sentiments being at odds with social expectations” and so on. However, knowledge of the facts alone will facilitate policy formulation on the issue as also to navigate the legal labyrinths in which the issue will be contested.

An incomplete list of facts and perspectives as under, are evaluated to constructively intervene and argue as to why women in the Indian Army in general and as officers in particular is an inanity; will be disruptive and will in absolute terms undermine the system.

George Orwell conveyed the idea in unambiguous terms: “People sleep peacefully in their beds at night only because rough men stand ready to do violence on their behalf.”

Cultural Factors : Western vis-à-Vis Indian Perspectives

It is a bane of our country that in India with its diverse traditions and cultures, what is peddled by the suave, urban and westernised elite is passed of as the voice of the masses and becomes the aspiration of every citizen!

Our beliefs, instincts and approaches towards life are different to those western. Therefore, transplanting to India, theories, role models, work-life mores and so on, which may be ‘sauce’ for the west, “because it is the ‘rational’ thing to do by the liberal book, is pure foolishness.” In such matters, a conservative approach would be more pragmatic. The term ‘conservative’ is explained by Dhiren Bhagat: “For the conservative the organic nature of society must be studied before change is contemplated; if the proposed change violates the organism of local institutions it is not a wise change, and cannot have the desired effort.

Citing the example of the presence of women in western armies cannot become the basis for its adoption in India. The ‘I’ in India does not stand for IMITATION. Western openness to sexual politics are radical and by those standards women may have been inducted into western Armies (even their analysts consider it as “Flirting With Disaster”). The following are illustrative of western openness to sexual politics which will be met with open hostility in India and will shock public morality.

“The US Defence Department commissioned a study-Non-Conforming Sexual Orientations and Military Suitability – which concluded that there was no evidence that homosexuals were any more likely than heterosexuals to threaten the integrity of the services.”

“… the issue of the rights of gays and lesbians… is on the agenda in the USA, as it is (with greater official support) in the Netherlands, where the Defence Ministry has funded a Foundation for Homosexuality and the Armed Forces.”

Hence, there is no case for us and specially the Indian Army to blindly imitate the West nor yield to ‘modernity’ and ‘glass ceiling’ rhetoric’s. The practices and mores that we adopt need to be based on our own wisdom and genius. To further emphasise the idea would it be ok to adopt the Gun Laws of USA in India (and allow the people to defend themselves by buying, holding and carrying guns) as there are “just some 12000 plus police stations in some seven lakh towns and villages” for protecting the 1.2 billion Indians?

Arguments that women can perform support roles are untenable, in that it would be much more economical to civilianise the peacetime support roles”

Practical Factors

Physical and Training Related Issues

Due to the unique requirements of the Army, it is elective: it has age limits, height/weight limits, health standards, intelligence standards, performance standards and so on and tests in this regard are conducted prior to intake. Women in general fall woefully short of most of the required standards stipulated.

It is established that physiological differences between men and women abound. Clinical symptoms of ailments vary between men and women. Men and women process medicines differently. Certain drugs that treat men aggravate the ailment in women. In some cases higher dosages are required for women as rising levels of hormones, due to monthly periods, speed up drug clearance rates.

Differences in build, heart size, elasticity in the musculature of the heart, bone-mass/density, lower body bone structure, stride length, time taken for food to pass through the body (which is more for women), monthly blood loss and so on cause women to suffer disproportionately from Achilles tendon problems, knee, back and leg pain, fractures of the tibia, foot, and hip, lower abdominal pain, exhaustion and acute mood swings. They fall woefully short of the physical strength and stamina requirements for normal Army activities such as running, jumping, climbing, digging, marching and so on with weights ranging 40-70 lbs in varied geographical areas and under extreme climatic conditions.

It is alleged that among the three services, the physical standards laid down for the women officers were lowest in the case of the Army; even lower than for the police! Why this compromise, when soldierly image, bearing and manner of an officer and so on are the hallmark of the Army.

Allegedly an “ambiguous selection process” with “compromised standards” was adopted for intake of women as officers. When it requires minimum three years training even for a National Cadet Corps (NCC) cadet to obtain a ‘C’ Certificate, the seemingly illogical process adopted for the induction of women as officers into the Army was: applications were supposedly short listed at the Army HQ without any tests whatsoever, thereafter a SSB interview for the short-listed, six months training and voila commission as a women officer in the Indian Army ! Was it another case of “too much in India has depended on the discretionary powers of too few…the biggest beneficiaries have been the women from the class of the benefactors”.

…women officers find a place in the Army merely due to politeness and courtesy and not by merit (merit alone grants a right for permanent commission).

Compare this with the non-dilution of standards when women were inducted into the IPS. The initial screening and selection process remained with the UPSC – with their written examinations maintaining highest levels of rigour, and uncompromising training standards.

Double Standards. The current state of double/relaxed standards in physical fitness parameters for women obscure the reality as to how unsuitable and inappropriate the Army is for women. In jest, it could be compared to the game of tennis with three sets for women and five for men and yet demands for the same prize money for both!

To emphasise as to how the physical standards impact on training let us refer to the monumental military classic ‘The Officer as a Leader’: “It can be said again and again: The highest form of physical training that an officer can undergo is the physical conditioning of his own men.” Furthermore, training in the Army is based on the dictum “Treat Jawan’s like race horses: while in the stable look after them well; out on the course ride them like hell”. How will it ever be possible for women!

Behavioural Factors

Women with their innate ‘Tamasic’ (un-activity based) nature and men with their innate ‘Rajaisic’ (activity based) nature are the yin yang of life (Taoist philosophical concept which explains interconnection and interdependence of seemingly opposite’s for balance).

Women respond better to a supportive, nurturing, participatory approach that emphasises relationships whereas men respond better to military style leadership that emphasises the individuals place in the hierarchy based on ego, recognition and status.

The Profession of Arms cannot be trivialised with “glass ceiling arguments. The Army can neither be made the laboratory to experiment social issues nor the battle field for the “battle of the sexes”.

Men respond in the desired manner to military style of command and control (anger, reproof, admonition and even yelling) whereas it frightens women and sends them into depression.

Men prefer a formal atmosphere while at work. Women are better off being informal, relaxed.

Men tend to adopt the ‘get-on with-and get over with-the-job’ attitude and are indifferent to what is thought of them once the job is done whereas women adopt a ‘please-all’ approach and expect to be appreciated all along the course.

According to the Indian civilisational experience, feminine nature (Stritvam) is characterised by “deep affections and binding attachments.” Not so for men.

Behavioural characteristics of women, comes in the way of imparting of meaningful training to them as also their military ‘grooming”. Grooming is a must for shedding the baggage from past careers and experiences, inculcating attitudinal changes and adopting a new set of values so as to integrate with the professional needs and ethos of the Indian Army. Over and above other factors, fear of accusations of ‘Sexual harassment’ also significantly inhibit grooming; ‘play safe’ approach is adopted and the end result is laissez-faire. The perception that women in the Indian Army have not been subjected to the “bite of boots and bonds of discipline” is more or less correct.

Work-Life Conditions in the Army

Masculinity vs Femininity. The “Army is about physical tenacity, violence, physical rigor, and many other such characteristics that go with being men”, as it is men who are expected to deal with and eliminate the violence unleashed by other men. Since only masculine subculture exists among the ‘band of brothers’ and the ‘‘brother officers’ in the Army, induction of women whereby men perceiving themselves as ‘followers of women’ bedevil the latter (men) with inanity.

Relation among the Sexes. Sexual energy is being exchanged between the sexes, at all times, even without any form of physical contact. However, it is like the emperor’s nakedness – obvious but unmentionable. “Whatever they may be in public life, whatever their relations with men, in their relations with women, all men are rapists, and that’s all they are (sic)”. Though this is an extremely prejudiced view, it may have some validity as human actions take place by thought, word and deed (‘manasa’, ‘vaacha’, ‘karmana’).The work-life conditions of the Army make it a “one-sexed society” with attendant implications. Moreover, soldiering is a nocturnal activity with minimal activities planned during daytime. George Orwell conveyed the idea in unambiguous terms: “People sleep peacefully in their beds at night only because rough men stand ready to do violence on their behalf.” Taking into consideration the validity of Murphy’s law it requires no further elaboration to infer that a ‘threat in being’ to women exists at all places and at all times; Hence, do we need to subject our women to such a state of affairs?

Young Officers (YOs) and the Officers Mess. The entire burden of operations fall on the “ubiquitous Young Officer”. John Masters provides an insight regarding the systemic approach with the YO’s. “War is a dirty business and young officers (have to bear the brunt and hence) are trained for war; a wild young man can learn wisdom as he grows older; a spiritless young man cannot (have the fire in the belly that) win(s) wars. They do things to expend the fiendish energy of youth and in the process also learn the intangibles which hold men together in times of severe stress. The code (for the YO) has very little to do with written rules, regulations and laws.

Will not the presence of women in their midst necessitate ‘edited’ conversations and conduct, shattering the morale, traditions, and standards of the male YO’s?

And what about the customs, traditions and conduct in Officers Messes’? Since hard liquor on the same scale as for men is authorised to women also, would not any restriction in this regard amount to gender based discrimination? Since ‘class based’ ALFA Mess and BRAVO Mess exist, maybe CHARLIE Mess for women officers with ‘Men’s Room(s)’ for the husbands is the way out!

No Flexi Timings. Since Army is sworn to serve @24x7x365 basis, there is no scope for “flexi-timings”. The implications on both women (aggravated due to their child bearing/rearing needs) and the organisation (responsible for mitigation of problems) are significant; either rules have to be bend or separate rules for women be made. Creation of separate “women’s spaces’ and the attendant logistical problems need no elaboration.

Leadership Related Issues

Army has historically been the organisation most cognisant of leadership. The importance of having the right kind of leadership is explicit in the saying by Mark Twain: “An army of stags led by a lion is far superior to an army of lions led by a stag.” Unless there is “acceptance” of the leader by the led, the outward expression of courtesy shown by the ‘led’ to the badges of rank of any (purporting) ‘leader’ means nothing. It is this “acceptance” of the officer by the Jawans’ which makes the former a member of the family, of the blood. “You do not wear leadership on your sleeves, on your shoulders, on your caps or on your calling cards. Be you Lieutenants or Generals, we’re the guys you’ve got to convince and we will meet you more than halfway”. The social ethos of the Jawans’ being what it is (“…across the length and breadth of the nation…now across the mountains, now across rivers, plains. The lines … crisscross the entire nation”) “acceptance” of women in the leadership role in the Army requires a serious reality check.

Performance Appraisal. Progression in the hierarchy of the Indian Army is presumed as the “cream rising to the top”, based on a performance evaluation system which relies on objective assessment of the “actual stuff” of the officers. The system is considered as the very best in the country (do the ‘cream’ having risen become “corks” merely floating and flowing with the current; but then that is a separate topic by itself). However, incongruity in the dynamics of the evaluation system is evident in the case of women officers as the criterion of ‘objective’ and “actual stuff’ are seemingly intangible in their case.

Leadership Training. Indian Army’s exhaustive publication, dealing with the doctrines and concepts on the subject of leadership postulates that “leadership and management are different”. The second edition of this publication of 2004 (12 years since women were inducted as officers), makes no reference to the ‘women-leading-led-issues’ in the context of the paternalistic and masculine environs of the Indian Army. Is it because the women officers are merely involved in managerial duties only and hence, neither are ‘leading’ nor are being ‘led’ (and are only ‘managing’ and are being ‘managed’)!

Operational Factors

Weak Links. Individual capabilities of all the team/ group members and knowledge of the same amongst each other is critical to success of operations. Presence of women with unproven capabilities will adversely impinge on the self confidence of the group. Since a chain is only as strong as weakest link, there is no scope for the Army to have any links with ‘weaknesses’.

Interrogation and Torture of Women. In the current age of mass media, images are extensively used for creating and influencing opinions. It requires no imagination to foresee the effect of threats about harsh treatment and interrogation of captured women officers. This hazard can severely impact on the will to resist and fight (both at the individual and collective levels).

Women Performing Support Roles in the Army (?). Arguments that women can perform support roles are untenable, in that it would be much more economical to civilianise the peacetime support roles and reduce levels of military staffing and thereby achieve “value for money”, “cost-effectiveness of manpower”, “trimming the size of the tail” and so on.

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The views expressed are of the author and do not necessarily represent the opinions or policies of the Indian Defence Review.

About the Author

Col MN Gopakumar

Col MN Gopakumar ws commissioned into the GRENADIERS in 1974 and was transferred tothe Intelligene Corps in 1986.

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One thought on “Women in the Indian Army

  1. A well researched and argued essay about the unrealistic decision of the authorities about induction of women-officers in the fighting arms has been authored by this thinking-soldier. He has had the moral courage to plainly put across the bitter truth about this unwelcome move where some former three-star officers have not only shied away from stating it but have been rather supportive of the idea.
    I hope it will give rise to a healthy debate and may be a reconsideration of the questionable decision.

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