The Supreme Court Verdict On Women Entry To NDA: The Broad Picture

“Where the induction women is a force multiplier, the armed forces should welcome it”

The Supreme Court Verdict On Women Entry To NDA: The Broad Picture

Editor's Note

This comprehensive piece by Nixon Fernando on the ' Supreme Court verdict on Women Entry into NDA ' gives an overview of the role and rights of women in Indian society, their employment in the Armed forces in different roles leading to the recent SC verdict to induct them into the armed forces through the NDA. It examines the basis, reasoning and implications of this decision on the effectiveness and efficiency of the armed forces.

The Army would be the most affected by this verdict as all their arms, regiments and services collectively comprise around ninety percent of the armed forces. This deeply analysed and well-articulated piece is serious food for thought for all the stake holders of our selection and training systems, policy and decision makers of the Armed Forces and the nation, including the highest court of the land, the judiciary in general and most of all the parliament.

Nixon Fernando has been a very capable, committed, and conscientious Lecturer and Counselor at the NDA for over a decade and has a deep insight and understanding of the training of cadets at NDA and the 24hrs curriculum in the academy. The debate of women entry into the prestigious NDA seems to have been reignited!

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Part 1:

Is the ‘rights’ perspective always right?

The recent verdicts by the Supreme Court on the Entry of women to the Ayyappa temple in Kerala and women as cadets in NDA have a deep impact on indigenous beliefs, traditions and lives of the people. And the failure (if any) to understand the significance of these decisions, and to mitigate the negative outcomes on society (if any), lies on the shoulders of neither the Indian Judiciary nor the Executive; it would be the failure of the Indian parliament.

The temple of modern democracy, the parliament, ever since Independence, has been performing as anything but a temple. Much of its responsibilities it has known to abdicate to the Executive; it is almost routine now that the Prime Minister and his cabinet decide on important policy matters. But in a democracy the parliament is the forum where the ideas that impact the lives of citizens must be debated upon and laws made accordingly.

The Parliament has with it the powers to call upon the best of intellectuals and the highest of ideas/ideals from across the world. It has at its disposal the academicians of the various universities of the nation and then the public forums ranging from the best of magazines right down to Whatsapp University where a lot of thought can be tossed around.

And it must use all this to generate a view on those significant matters that affect the nation and its peoples. It is therefore the parliament’s job to do its best to wrap its mind around the matter of women’s rights, and its performance on this matter too is not up to the mark.

So then “what is wrong in the ‘advanced’ thought of giving ‘Equal’ rights to women?”

Despite all the hype about wanting to  give equal rights to Women in India according to the present global scheme, the truth of the matter is that this ‘rights’ language goes only half the distance. When a ‘rights’ based approach is applied on a ‘duties’ (Dharma) based civilization like ours, a lot needs to be thought through before moving on it.

Lady officer conferred award at CME; File Photo

Lecturing Indian Civilizational thought on the issue of equality is like showing a torch to the Sun. Atrocious though this may sound, the essence of Indian thought does indeed celebrate the equality of man, woman and transgender. And even more surprising is the fact that the equality of one and all is inherent in the essence of the caste consciousness too.

According to the wise the primacy provided, to the ‘Highest’ known to man, is another way of expressing the truth that we all are equal in laughter, joy and death. Man (male, female or transgender) is essentially spirit it says, and that spirit is universal. According to this line of thought, that person, who is respected as the ‘best’ amongst all, is the one that has found the permanent source of joy within himself and is neither bound by wealth nor the lack of it.

When one says Namaste to the other it means ‘the divine in me salutes the divine in you’. This universality, inspired by sublime thought, thus gets infused into the life and traditions of the land. Therefore, celebrating the fullness of this contented life is inherent in the lifestyle of the Bharata Clan. The term used is ‘Dharma’. A Dharma inspired life has a certain sense of ‘completeness’ and ‘excellence’ integral to it and it constitutes the heart of the approach to life in the Indian Civilization.

What passes for living tradition in India currently is flawed alright and is subject to attack western thought. But that flaw in the traditions is on account of wrong application, which, in turn, is inconsistent with the core indigenous thought.  But despite the flaws and the dubious reputation there is no denying the fact that essential ancient Indian wisdom contains the recognition of the “Highest” known to man, and that in turn points to a life of identical fulfilment to every person; no matter who.

In military terms this core thought says that there is celebration in one’s participation in a righteous war,  regardless of whether one meets death on the battlefield or not. It speaks of warriors going for battle as complete/fulfilled individuals seeking to perform their duty (dharma) rather than incomplete individuals seeking power, prestige or wealth.

Be that so, what does it have against women’s rights that are propounded in the global scheme of ‘Human Rights’?

The Human Rights perspective, according to this ancient scheme of thought, is a limited view, and to understand how it may be limited one must understand what Human Rights exactly is.

The simplistic view of the origin of human rights is this: “I am Government in this country, you are government in that country, and he is government in that country, let us all get together and promise that when we govern our respective countries we ensure that so and so rights of citizens and non-citizens will be protected.”

So in signing the rights pact, the Indian Government has taken upon itself that it will do justice according to those rights. Essentially the governments are pledging themselves to high goals and it is a good thing. But what happens if an individual adopts this approach in his own life and applies it to himself? He reads it as: “This is my right! Give me my rights! I live for my rights!”

The contrast is deep. The Indian civilizational thought says ‘I am complete. Please tell me what my duty is’. This alternate approach by individuals says “I am incomplete. I want to be full. Give me my rights”. This promotion of rights based existence actually promotes individuals to live in a ‘deficit’ attitude of existence as against the tradition-promoted “fulfilled” existence. Experts know that there is no excellence in the deficit mode.

Therefore, the ideal scenario would be for Governments to ask “What rights should I protect?” and for individuals to ask “What duties have you assigned for me (towards us collectively protecting those rights)?”

I had a choir group leader who used to say “Men are cool! Women are wannabis!” (They want to be men)

Well no, they are not wannabis: but trying to say that a woman will have fullness only if she does everything a man can do is an absurd way of going about it. Instead, it needs to be all about allocating duties to all members of society in such a way that the “human rights” are protected for everyone.

This allocation must be such that everyone experiences essential equality and everyone lives in a society that is tuned to excellence. And it must definitely not imply the simplistic solution that everyone (read men and women, king and pawn) must be given identical resources and be doing exactly the same thing…

The judges will go by the established law and they are doing their jobs. But it is for the parliament to debate and generate laws that not only does justice to human rights but also upholds the well instructed civilizational thought that underlies indigenous tradition.

And therefore, in the context of the order by the Supreme Court on the entry of Women into the NDA, a lot remains to be done by the stakeholders to generate a well thought out view not only about the impact, of this application of human rights (and the associated laws), on indigenous tradition but also the direct impact of the order on the traditions, strength and excellence of the armed forces.  

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Part 2:

The present disposition and how women fit into it

Today, with rapidly progressing technology, it is clear that brute force is not the be all and end all of war fighting. But even when it was the matter of swords and spears, the likes of Rani Lakshmi Bai and Kittur Channama excelled and are remembered among warrior legends. Surely in the times of remote controlled drones, laser targeting and sniper firing it must be far easier for the ladies. The question, though, is whether their induction into the core fighting arms of the ‘present’ set up of the Indian Army will turn out to be a force multiplier or a capacity dampener.

The abilities of women can bring a lot to the table for the armed forces. True that in sports women fight women to win trophies while in war there are no such restrictions; women must take on men too. And when women take on men there will always exist a fraction of women, however small, who can get the better of most men. Such probability would be low in activities that are rather physical.

But when it comes to sports like shooting and Archery and to many mind related games like Chess, or solving the Rubix Cube, the number of women that can out-do men rises significantly. And added to that there are also established traits in women that can render them advantageous in areas like nursing, medicine, communications, coordination and training, And surely they can go shoulder to shoulder with men on espionage...

A scientific finding, some years back, even suggested that in a twin pilot aircraft the most effective combination of pilots would be a man-woman pair. The idea was that their abilities would complement each other and maximize efficiency and effectiveness. It is only likely that there will be plenty of such opportunities in a modern context where the wars become increasingly button driven. This would mean that a modern fighting force could in all probability use the services of Women for greater efficiency; surely so in certain areas.

And yet it remains to be seen if a sudden induction of this kind, as by the Supreme Court order, will truly strengthen our fighting forces. And this doubt arises because the Indian Army is actually a modified British Indian Army. Based on regiments, the British Indian Army had built up significant strength and the Indian subcontinent was eventually held together primarily using this strength. These regiments, which have existed for even centuries now, have stood the test of time.

Lady officer addressing Russian troops during a training exercise; File Photo

They initially consisted of Officers who were primarily British and Men who were primarily Indian. After Independence, the British officers have been replaced by Indians but the structure has been retained more or less in its original form. And the reason for this was that it was already established by that time that the alternate systems more or less failed against the British Indian Army. The fighting spirit of these regiments makes our army the effective force that it is today.

In this system the ladies were essentially spouses. Needless to say, these ladies were no less brave than the men because it takes a brave lady to send her husband to battle with the right attitude. And she should have the ability to hold the home fort even during the complete absence of the man. She was not paid but she formed an important part of the strength of the officialdom.

When Lady officers were first introduced into the Indian armed forces after the earlier Supreme Court order, the officers in the units, who were welcoming the women officers for the first time, were at sea with the idea. Some were known to have shown lady second lieutenants the respect accorded to senior Officer wives. In fact even the women officers, have found it difficult to context themselves socially in respect of fellow officers’ wives.

And similarly difficulty is experienced by Lady Officers while making their husbands comfortable in the company of their colleagues. Then there is the interaction of woman officers with the jawans, which in turn brings in its own set of complexities. But it has been 30 years since the women were first inducted for training in the OTA, and having ambled along for these three decades now, some kind of working equilibrium has been reached, and Lady officers are now more or less integrated into the system with the occasional hiccup.

But it is still not smooth sailing and the new order may just push the equilibrium to a new normal that may make it even tougher. And it remains to be seen if it is all indeed headed in the correct direction.

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Part 3:

The overall impact of the SC order on the NDA, Regiments, Armed forces and the Nation

The order by the Supreme Court on the issue of entry of Girls into the NDA has added new complexities to the already existing ones. If we go by the notion of ‘equality’ which the Supreme Court is promoting then does it mean that we get the girls to do all that the boys have been doing at the NDA?

NDA cadets have always claimed that NDA takes in males and produces females… then they clarify saying its ‘Fe-males’—Fe standing for Iron. So do we change this tag line in this new scenario? May be we want to say, “NDA takes in Boys and Girls and makes them Fe-males”?!

The training at the NDA has of late come under great scrutiny. There are doubts whether the addition to the personality of a cadet at the NDA is indeed positive in all respects. The traditions have sometimes degenerated into some very ‘funny’ ‘informal activities’ that border on the absurd. For one it has already been established that these unstructured informal activities are known to send cadets packing from the academy for medical reasons. And a study to assess the psychological impact of these activities on cadets is still pending.

A particular point of interest in the present context is the fact that cadets, in the past, have been relegated for ‘unnatural activities’, and one can easily guess what that is… Is it really good to put in young girls, who have just about become majors, into the same cauldron in which the boys have been ‘surviving’? Clearly, before we start coming across cases where cadets have to be withdrawn for ‘natural activities’, much work needs to be done to revamp the training so that the probability of such incidents, that can be attributed to misuse of power, is minimized to zero.

When leeway is given for the cadets to learn command and obey in informal training, excesses can happen, so a radical change in approach is surely necessary. But using the notions of ‘equality’, would it mean that the ‘tough’ (NDA type) erstwhile training for the boys must be downgraded, especially taking off the informal unstructured part of the training—maybe even completely?

Some would say ‘Good riddance for bad rubbish’, but others would say ‘that would not be the real NDA anymore’. The NDA thought it was inducting soldier leaders, especially for the Regiments of the Armed forces, who were at least half as tough as the commandos. And now would that quality, which it provides to the military leadership, not drop? No scientific study is conducted that can establish the truth about this.

While doubts remain there are more questions to ask. Would the regiments retain their zing with these ‘softer’ officers coming in? Besides, would it make sense to induct women in the fighting arms because after all that is the primary reason why a four year long training would be desirable? After this induction of women would the regiments continue to be the successful fighting machines that they have proven themselves to be? Or then is the present status of the regiments just about past glory and WWII fighting modes and therefore is it a good time to change?

The regiments must make their stand clear whether they want to change. If not, then what may be done so that the women inducted into the NDA are channelized appropriately for careers suitable to the women in the armed forces. The women must also be accorded equal opportunity as the men, especially with respect to career growth. And after due consideration at all levels the parliament must decide on laws which will ultimately lead to the best for the Nation, the armed forces and women in that particular order of priority.

And this cannot happen without reference to the larger framework of the indigenous culture as applicable to the whole nation.

Do we move in the direction of the west? The specific example is Britain, which recently crossed a dubious milestone in its demographics: the number of eligible singles outnumbered married persons. Or then do we move in a manner so as to favour traditional families? Does the law need to support ‘normal’ families or then give free licence and promote the ‘modern’ equivalents of families?

The modern situation has resulted in nuclear families, fewer children and easy outsourcing of home tasks to technology and to commercially available services, thus making the role of the home-maker far lighter than it ever was in the centuries gone by. So women have extra time on their hands and can constructively use their talents outside home, working at their passions, jobs or careers. But considering everything it seems to have led to an imbalance that works to the detriment of women.

Women are working two shifts a day: one at a career outside and another with the career at home. At the outdoor career they are in competition with men who, in turn, have only one career. Most of these men end up having a House Wife who in turn will hold forth on the home front. The career women on the other hand wishfully think of House Husbands so that they too can single-mindedly pursue their outdoor careers.

To add to the mess the present economic scenario seems to make two job families a requirement rather than a luxury. So women are more or less forced to manage these two (or at least one and half) careers. And it takes an immensely considerate husband to offer a helping hand at home for these working women.

Female solider patrolling the jungles with male counterparts; File Photo

And nature too has this asymmetry in that it has provided only the women with the pipe works for bearing babies. Slotting this maternity issue into the career graph of the women, while at the same time maintaining parity/equality with men, is another Challenge for planners in society. If society must put everyone at ease, there is need for the lawmakers to take all this into consideration before harping on equality

At an even subtler level of consideration, the parliament has to account for the fact that the traditional society in India is ‘duty’ based, and therefore ideally tuned at excellence. Is India, therefore, messing itself with solutions that are applicable to ‘rights’ based societies? Adopting this ‘rights’ based approach, without understanding the consequences or without instilling the necessary attitudes to target excellence, is a flaw the law makers and the movers and shakers of society must recognize, acknowledge and factor into their suggestions.

‘Women in NDA’ is the law as of now. The problem with the new order is the probability that it could imply the taking of the armed forces the whole length towards a radical change. The fear is that it may be the biblical new cloth patch on an old garment: one wash and the new cloth rips a bigger hole in the fabric of the garment.

It may so happen that one ends up doing more harm than good to the security of the nation. The wearers know where the shoe bites and therefore all stakeholders, especially the leaders in the armed forces, need to come up with well-considered views and articulate them in a manner that parliamentarians understand and make laws with full awareness.

To the extent that the induction of women is a force multiplier, the armed forces should welcome it, but if it is otherwise then it is apt to ask for exceptions using the same laws in the Constitution which allows for a no-reservation policy in the armed forces. This does not mean that we look at the issue of women as ‘in or out’, (or pick: ‘this way or that’?). It seems best when the situation is seen in shades of grey rather than a digital black and white.

Let’s have a great nation, an excellent armed forces and happy excellence-tuned families. May the wise speak.

About The Author

Nixon Fernando is a post graduate in physics, government and business administration. He served as lecturer and counsellor at the NDA for 10 years from 1996 to 2007. A versatile sportsman and ballroom dance instructor, his services were appreciated and commended by the Commandant and Principal of NDA. His latest assignment was as research assistant to the late TN Seshan, former CEC of India. Currently he is working on his passion: ‘Rising to Second Freedom’ and ‘Dharma: Cornerstone of  Indian Civilization’, which are about the rising of India to be the Golden Bird. He can be reached on Email: [email protected]

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