Only certain concessions such as maternity leave can be made for women officers without question.
The reason that the armed forces exist is the defence of the nation. Nothing should come before that — not political agendas, employability of women, or women’s rights activism.
The addition of women in combat roles in the armed forces is a positive move. However, they must be selected on the basis of merit and merit alone. Only then will they be assets. While there is no reason why women should not be in combat roles in the Army, Navy and Air Force, there can also be no compromise or diluting of standards — physical, mental and psychological.
True, a patriarchal mindset exists within many in the armed forces, but the same can be said for other services as well, and society in general. Women have been thriving in other fields, shattering the glass ceiling, and I am sure that it will be the same here as well.
The first few years will see women in combat roles as the exception rather than the rule. However, with time, I am sure that they will become an integral part of the system, just as they are in the Indian Administrative Service (IAS) and the Indian Police Service (IPS).
The criteria could be different for different fields. For instance, in the Army, the standard of physical fitness is higher because there is a lot of rigour involved in the field. In the Navy or Air Force, the physical strain is less. Training and skill are all it takes to make you a good flier, unless, of course, you.re captured. Then it’s a completely different scenario. So more women could be taken on in these services than in the Army.
However, even in the Army, technological advancements are growing by leaps and bounds. There is less need for brute strength. At one time, the weapons used on the field required manual manoeuvring. Now, almost everything is mechanised. So other than hand-to-hand combat to some extent, pure physical strength is not as essential as it once was. And even in these scenarios women can be trained so that they can do what is needed. The mind needs to be prepared more than the body.
If you look at the criteria needed for an Olympics athlete, they are quite rigorous in terms of physical training. The level of fitness needed from women in combat positions will actually be less than that of most Olympics sportswomen. What they need to have is the same amount of strength and stamina as an average army man. No one has to compete with the best of the lot to get in — just meet the minimum required standards.
A study needs to be done about women in the services so far and rules and regulations need to be reviewed and rewritten.
Rigorous training should be given to women about how to handle combat situations. Of course, things are bound to go wrong when you are on the field. That’s where grit, leadership qualities and training come in.
Certain concessions, such as maternity leave, must be made for women without question. A sufficient period of time needs to be given. However, there are other aspects around which a woman may have problems as for instance, late working hours, night duty and outstation duties at short notice.
Postings are also very erratic. When it comes to these aspects, concessions cannot be made. In that scenario, the traditional role of the woman as a homemaker goes out of the window. She is, first and foremost, a soldier and her duty is going to be to her country. As such, she must be ready to do what it takes to serve.
Women are already handling these kinds of pressures in other fields. Especially, in the IAS and IPS, both partners are often part of the service and they are often posted in different parts of the country. But they make their marriages work. It will have to be the same here.
(Wing Commander C.M. Jaywant was a fighter pilot with the Indian Air Force and was awarded the Shaurya Chakra)
(As told to Dyuti Basu)