Lady Officers in Combat Arms – A Mistake Waiting to Happen!

"In India, a man’s ego is still larger than his capabilities. As such a woman commander in a combat role would be a catastrophe."

Lady Officers in Combat Arms – A Mistake Waiting to Happen!

In the name of ‘gender equality’ there is a raging debate within the armed forces to induct lady officers in the ‘combat arms’ and in ‘combat zones.’ Gender Equality is a misplaced notion when biological anatomy of male and female genders differs and differ extensively. Not to allow women in the roles, they were not biologically suited, is not discrimination. It is a judicious employability —each one according to his/her mental and physical capabilities.

I am not against women entering armed forces — they must enter for the roles which the female gender is most suited for. I have no hesitation in saying that women excel men in certain roles, and they can perform much better. They can do wonders in technical, logistics, intelligence, and staff duty roles.

But to expect them to perform better in combat roles is a fanciful dream. They cannot be seen commanding men in the field — but they can help formulating plans. Women cannot be employed in executional leadership roles — however physically fit and trained they are.

The sub-continental social structure does not allow them this privilege. Let us stop aping the west before fully getting globalised and attuned to this culture. In India, a man’s ego is still larger than his capabilities. As such a woman commander in a combat role would be a catastrophe.

The constitution of India is not based on the tenets of the Indian social stratagem. It is a copycat of western ethos and the same have been fully enshrined in it. It does not give a due thought to gender equality. Now, do not give me examples of Rani Laxmi Bai, Razia Sultan or even of Chand Bibi. A few drops do not make an ocean, and exceptions, as such, confirm the Sub continental social ethos, I have been pointing out.

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I will draw a personal example from the Kargil Conflict (1999). I was officiating Brigade Commander of 268 Infantry Brigade. The Commanding Officer of 28 Field Ambulance had sent a young female doctor as the Regimental Medical Officer (RMO) to a unit deployed on the Line of Control (LoC) in a high-altitude area (HAA).

This girl, though physically fit, but was mentally not tuned to take stress of daily cross border firing and mounting casualties. The unit CO asked me to have her sent back because she was a bad precedence for the morale of his soldiers.

Therefore, gender equality may be a good idea in peace time environments or in technical/logistic roles in the rear areas but not in active and real combat roles. Well! If you want them as a ‘decorative ornament’ on ceremonial occasions, such as Republic Day, there is no harm. They can also be posted in the President Body Guards etc. No harm. But spare the combat arms and combat zones. It is a fact that bulk of the veterans, most often, suffer from self - righteousness. Precisely speaking, they are not prepared to look on the other side of our convictions.

I am reminded of a British philosopher, Bertrand Russell. Once he was accosted by one of his students, who asked him, if he would like to die for the principles he held so dear to his heart.

Prompt was Russell’s response to say “No.” “Why,” asked the student? “For, you never know, I might be wrong,” was Russell’s reply.

Sometimes, Indian scholars and veterans also must think that they could go wrong in their convictions. Therefore, they must take off the self- righteousness gown which covers their cerebral tissues. Modern India, still lives in ‘two states.’ One is urbanised, globalised, and westernised India comprised of middle class, which mostly provides the officer cadre to the armed forces. The other state is the rural poor still steeped into archaic social values where male gender dominates all affairs. It is this group, which even today provides resource for personnel below officer rank (PBOR).

It is immaterial whether they were matriculates, graduates, or post-graduates. Their social values have not yet changed, and they still think in terms of male domination. In this matter, India is at least, half a century behind western world. Therefore, women officers in combat arms and combat zones might not enjoy the same confidence and respect of their troops as would male officers.

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Most often, I come across an argument that women police officers are doing as well as male police officers. Perhaps this argument does not understand the dynamics of police officers’ job which is to enforce law and order, and a combat leader’s job which is to lead men into the jaws of death. Remember Lord Alfred Tennyson’s poem?

“Ours is not to reason why, ours is but to do and die, into the valley of death, rode the six hundred.”

Another argument I hear is that amongst insurgent and militant outfits, there were women commanders. If they could lead insurgents, why not soldiers? Another misplaced notion. No women insurgent leader acts independently. They work in close unison of male commanders. Name any insurgent organisation, headed by a women leader.

Yes, there are women insurgents who provide technical, intelligence and logistical support but do not carry out independent combat operations. There is no objection to women officers working in intelligence, logistics, technical and other rear zone operations.

Recently the Indian Army has introduced a batch of women soldiers into the Corps of Military Police (CMP). It is yet to be seen as to how effectively they could perform their roles in insurgency areas.

I understand that ‘Non-Contact Wars’ of the future are going to be technologically driven, where women can play a very important roles in the ‘Invisible war’ scenario. But, as on date, time in not ripe for women induction in combat arms and combat zones.

Finally, as a passing reference, I must say that gender equality is a myth created by western thoughts. India is far away from it even in 2021. If it is not so, why were Indian women politicians, still fighting for 33% reservation in Parliament. Let equality and merit decide.

It will take time before gender equality, as a social thought. would be accepted in India. Therefore, let us not jump the time. Let us first tune our social system towards this. To do so, the two states of India have to merge into one another.What did American poet Robert Frost say in his song of America?

“Woods are dark, lovely and deep, but I have promises to keep, and miles to go before I sleep”

Another American poet, William Whitman, highlighted social contradictions of American society.

“Do I contradict myself? Very Well! Then, I do. For, I am large, and I contain multitudes too.”

India is large and it contains multitudes too in its social stratagem. Let the kinks straighten out first.

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Response to the Article

Commander Mukund Yeolekar (Retd), Editor-in-Chief, Seagull Magazine

I concur with Col Kushwaha regarding induction of women in combat arms. My comments are as follows:-

  • The basic differences between men and women are in physical capabilities, emotional strengths and ability to stoically withstand extreme hardships. These hardships could be due to combat conditions, enemy capture, weather conditions and terrain related discomforts. A very small percentage of women can actually bear these hardships and exception is not the rule.
  • In Indian traditions take the example of any family. If there is a sudden extreme dangerous situation such as natural calamity like storm and floods or man-made situation like riots and arson or armed dacoity, the family members in the forefront to tackle and  face the situation will invariably be the male members of the family, like father or able bodied sons/brothers.
  • The female members will be kept out of harms way to the extent possible. Similarly at the national level too we ought to keep our women folk safe from the evil eyes of the enemy. We should not send them to the front because they are willing to. That many women are well motivated and highly patriotic is matter of pride but it doesn't call for their deployment on  combat duties.
  • We are fully aware of the savage treatment meted out to our captured soldiers by the enemy during Kargil Ops. I dread the thought of our young women being tortured by the unscrupulous enemy. These matters need to be explained to the powers that be prior to enacting laws regarding deployment of women for combat duties.
  • The physiological constraints such as monthly periods, pregnancy, post-delivery weakness, essential and inescapable role in child care all contribute towards an emphatic NO for their deployment on combat duties.
  • True, women are adept in various support roles such as Communication, Engineering, Logistics, Education and  Law. In these roles they may even outperform men. So why not bring out the best in women by deploying them in roles that are suitable for them? We should not jeopardise the security of the nation and lives of  women folk by an impulsive decision which could prove foolhardy.
  • Yes. Women should be trained  and made mentally prepared for combat so as to face unforeseen situations.

(Col. Rajinder Kushwaha is an ex-NDA, commissioned into 3 Bihar. He is a battle-hardened veteran who served in  ’71 War & has operated extensively in various insurgency environs across the country. He is a renowned author, and a highly respected defence & national security expert writing for several reputed publications such as  ‘Defence and Security Alert’ (DSA), the ‘Indian Defence Review’ (IDR) among others. You can reach him on Twitter: @RajeeKushwaha, Email ID: [email protected])

(Views expressed are the authors own, and do not reflect the editorial policy of 'Mission Victory India')

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