“The policies for women in Army not only discriminate her against male officers but also lower her status to that of a jawan/junior commissioned officer, whom she has been leading for 14 years,” -Major Singh
Monday, January 26, 2015: The Republic Day celebrations were held at Rajpath with Mr Barack Obama and the First Lady as chief guests for the extravaganza. The parade was a beautiful celebration showcasing the culturally rich treasure chests of the country, but the main theme for the celebrations was ‘Nari Shakti’ (read: women empowerment), suggested by the honourable Prime Minister- Mr. Narendra Modi. The marching contingents of all-women officers from the three facets of the Indian Armed Forces, namely- Indian Army, Indian Navy and the Indian Air Force, with their respective Wing Commanders leading them.
Looking at the Republic Day parade, reading all the jargon about ‘Nari Shakti’ all over my newsfeed, the only thing that seemed like a discrepancy to me was the blatant gender bias that so evidently exists in the Indian armed forces.
Take the case of the National Defence Academy (NDA) for starters. The most esteemed academy for defence aspirants does not even consider women as eligible aspirants to someday serve the nation.
And if at all they do make it to the national army, they are recruited only on Short Service Commissions of five to ten years and thus, it becomes nearly impossible for them to rise above the rank of Major in their tenure: Best Case Scenario.
While they’re at it, they undergo similar training and perform similar tasks as their very capable male counterparts, yet they are rendered unfit for certain jobs in the army, for instance, women officers are not allowed to have combat roles in the armed forces and the only argument that has been put up by the organization as an explanation for this is the ‘organizational hierarchy’, not to forget that most female servers in the Indian army are very conveniently placed in departments like Education, Medical Services and catering.
And if they are perseverant enough to live through it, they are thrown out of the forces after they’ve served the nation for fourteen years (read: the service is neither pensionable, nor does it have any retirement benefits), with all their heart and soul, and no, that has nothing do with how they do what they’re supposed to do. They’re thrown out because they belong to a gender that is not too favoured by the Indian armed forces.
And no, it just doesn’t end here. While most women officers in the Indian army go through what they do, some of them fail to put up with it. Apart from the blatant sexism that is so prevalent in the working of the Indian armed forces, there have been cases of harassment that have been reported. And many even go unreported. A number of cases of suicides committed by women officers have also been reported. The primary reason behind this is job dissatisfaction.
In June 2006, a lady officer in the Indian Army, Sushmita Chakravorthy, committed suicide by shooting herself in the head with a service rifle in the Command Headquarters in Northern India. A brilliant officer and a gold medallist, Sushmita had slipped into depression, given her then working conditions. She believed she had the potential of worth a lot more than what she had been assigned. She wanted to leave, but financial constraints and being unable to repay the organization, the amount that they had spent on her training, compelled her to make the decision that she did.
There are hundreds of female soldiers in the Indian armed forces who are waiting to serve the nation in a manner that they so truly deserve, and not just be of “limited help” (in the words of the Indian army) to the armed forces, hundreds of them out there, fighting for their rights. Gender discrimination is prevalent in the Indian armed forces, so much so, that its blatant showcasing does not only raise questions, but most of these questions either go unanswered or we are forced to satiate our appetites with the unsatisfactory ones that we get as a compensation. The women in this country, civilians or army officers, have been fighting for their rights for ages, but all in vain. ‘Nari Shakti’ or women empowerment is a motion taken up for empowering the women of the nation, not for subjugating them. We live in a country where the honourable legal authorities have delayed a decision as simple as terminating the Short Service Commission for women for years, and yet we proudly flaunt ‘Nari Shakti’ on the sixty sixth Republic Day celebrations. It’s time to rise above the ostentatious extravaganzas and handle the problems that so direly need to be fixed.
By Dhwani Mohan