The question of women still not being in combat roles has been tossed time and again. Patriarchy is inherently visible in this exclusionary practice. Now, a statement by the Indian government in the Supreme Court has created even more embarrassment.
Last month, the Supreme Court nudged the government to lift the official ban on women occupying combat roles in the Indian military.
“Test them on [the] same footing as men. Do not exclude them [women officers] as a class. [A] change of mind-set is required,” the court said.
The government gave a variety of absurd reasons to not do the same. For one, male soldiers are not “yet mentally schooled to accept women officers in command”. Adding to this are the “challenges of confinement, motherhood and childcare.”
This regressive claim goes against the very idea of what it means to be in the military. The army’s space has always been one where soldiers have been encouraged to withdraw from barriers of identity and live as equals. By saying that one identity can fundamentally be harmful to the existence of others, a basic principle is compromised.
WHAT IS THE HISTORY OF WOMEN IN THE INDIAN MILITARY?
The armed forces began inducting women in 1992. Over the years, the air force gave combat roles to women. They became fighter pilots and flew sorties into combat zones. Even in the navy, they will be inducted as soon as the ships that can accommodate them are ready. In fact, last year a 24-year-old became the navy’s first woman maritime reconnaissance pilot.
Army strikingly contrasts itself by refraining from doing so. Even though it has inducted women as doctors, nurses, engineers, signallers, administrators and lawyers, combat roles were never given to women.
However, you can look no far than the former Army Chief Bipin Rawat to understand the mind-set inside the army. In a rant of controversial statements, Rawat went on to say that there were no women in frontline combat positions because “a woman would feel uncomfortable at the front line.”
He described maternity leave as an unassailable issue and said that India was not yet ready to accept “body bags of women”.
It is obvious that till the higher ranks in the military think like this, no effective change can be implemented.