The battlefield is an unforgiving place. It does not understand decency and civilized behaviour, and it does not give consideration to physical or physiological differences. Mountains do not become any less steep, nor does the enemy stop firing because the adversary is not a male like him.
Simply because the female soldier underwent diluted standards of physical fitness tests in the academy does not give her the right to slow down her comrades nor compromise their safety because she cannot keep pace with them. It does not give her the right to seek privileges or special dispensations on account of her gender, because she has already demanded and been given equality when she demanded her right to enter the battlefield.
I am not for a moment suggesting that women are weak or unfit for battle. Our female athletes have displayed their prowess in the sports arena time and again. But in the stadium her opponents are of the same gender, and there are rules that are strictly followed. The battlefield does not have such niceties. There are no referees nor any appeals. Might is right, and the means don’t matter.
But if the honourable Supreme Court with its supreme wisdom opines that woman are indeed equal to men and are fit for battle, then who are we to think otherwise? Let us accept their diktat gracefully. But for the sake of the men that they will command and for the sake of the eventual security of the nation, let it be a level playing field for men and women alike.
Let the selection process, requirements and physical standards be the same regardless of gender. As an example, consider the minimum height for a male candidate for joining the OTA, the stipulation for which is presumably based on the envisaged job requirements.
Why should a male be at least 157.5 cms in height but a female is acceptable if she is 152 cms? Why should a Gentleman Cadet running 2.4 kms in 10 minutes be rated “satisfactory” but a Lady Cadet doing the same run in 12 minutes be graded “excellent”? Where is the logic in this? Are we training them for different battlefields and different adversaries?
Lest I be branded as a narrow-minded male chauvinist, let us view this issue from a different perspective. Let us assume that the male and the female are truly equal in the battlefield and we have achieved gender equality by inducting women officers. The question now arises, are we not now indulging in socio-economic discrimination? Why only officers? Why not a similar opportunity for female soldiers.
Throw open the doors for recruitment of women in every regimental centre. Let every infantry battalion, every armoured and artillery regiment be completely gender neutral. Otherwise, we are simply catering to the educated elite while neglecting the aspirations of other segments of society. And while at it, what about transgenders? Why are they being discriminated against? After all, history tells us that eunuchs were widely employed as security guards for harems in palaces!
The Chetwode motto says “The safety, honour and welfare of your country comes first, always and every time”. My sincere request to the honourable Court and other advocates for equality is, please pay heed to these wise words. The safety, honour and welfare of the country is far too precious, far too hard-earned to let it be compromised on the whims of those who are far removed from the reality of war.
And my sincere request to the senior hierarchy of the military establishment is, please follow the Chetwode credo. Stand up for what is right, do not forget that “your own ease, comfort and safety come last, always and every time”. Your subordinates will pay with their blood for the compromises that you make today. Think about it.
About the Author
Colonel (veteran) Shivaji Ranjan Ghosh was commissioned in the Punjab Regiment in December 1974. He is an alumnus of the National Defence Academy, the Indian Military Academy and the Defence Services Staff College. He has commanded an Infantry Battalion on the Line of Control and in Counter Insurgency operations and has served with the National Security Guard.
Subsequent to taking premature retirement from the Army in 2005 he has been working in the field of aviation emergency response in the Middle East and in India and is one of the pioneers in this subject in the country. Currently he holds the position of Associate Director Emergency Response in IndiGo Airlines and is based in Gurugram.