Women In Indian Military - Debate Continues

"The word 'Debate' in an article is enough to steer the conversation on two extremes. The responses need to be fact based and objective and not subjective. Additionally, these responses need to be backed by data and not anecdotal" - Opines Capt Shilpa Saxena

Women In Indian Military - Debate Continues

Editor's Note

The last debate on 'Women in Indian military' was published on 13 Apr 2023. The responses to that debate were triggered by the decision of the Govt to give women officers posts of Commanding Officers (COs) of units. The responses from male veterans were highly critical of the Govt's decision and apprehensive of their ability to shoulder the heavy responsibilities of COs. An article by Lt Gen Ravi Dastane published by The Quint on 5 Feb 23 brought out various reasons why women were unsuitable for joining the Regiment of Artillery. When a photograph was circulating on the social media of five women that were recently commissioned from OTA Chennai into Regiment of Artillery it drew a strong response from Maj Gen Rana Goswami against this decision. However, a few seasoned veterans strongly felt that women would be able to meet this new challenge of serving in select fighting arms and would disprove all their critics. With a view to make this  debate more objective and balanced responses were invited from women officers. The very first response received from Capt Shilpa Saxena has added the much needed women's perspective. A few more such responses from women officers will surely enable this debate to lead to broader objective findings and conclusions. All the responses published below should take this debate forward and hopefully trigger more responses especially from our women officers.

How Indian Army’s Move To Deploy Women In Artillery Is Only A Battle Half Won
On one hand, we’re promoting our women officers while on the other, keeping physical standards much reduced for them


Brig. Pradeep Sharma

In India, there is much more to it than mere induction of women into the Armed Forces and we can't seem to think things out completely. There is a genuine requirement for Social Change in attitude and Acceptance of woman as well as by women of the biological equation, the role and responsibility at home, the risks involving many things not excluding sexual promiscuity and that of being taken prisoner.

The western world with limited population, open society and attitudes different to ours has inducted women but has the maximum cases of sexual abuse! Can this be acceptable to Indian Society?

The physical equation of same standards and performance apart, one needs to think through every aspect. The courts should not entertain pleas by women seeking equation and promotion unless the internal machinery of redressal has been exhausted.

Neil John

We are a hilarious lot! There is no this and no that. They are now ours. For us to keep till we die and the army exists. It’s been passed in black and white.

Now you get control of your egos and thoughts and think about how best we can utilise them and at the same time keep in mind the biological and humane issues. She is a woman, she has a different physiological build up. She will become a mother and a wife.

She can be a soldier and she will be a good one. If you let her and also if you put her in jobs that will help the organisation and her own understanding of it. When a situation has been forced upon you, you need to take control of the situation, not sit around and castrate.

Brig. Sanjay Sangwan

Those already in service and undergoing trg have to be absorbed undoubtedly but their employment can certainly be discussed and further induction be reviewed and kept restricted to peace time and administrative roles. For the next two decades there is likely to be fair amount of turmoil globally including possible conflicts.

Neil John

My reply to all who are giving all kind of goli on women in the combat arms. Especially some socially bashing my poem on giving the women a chance.

Comparison with officers in physical aspects. I don’t know how this misnomer has set in that in war it’s the brawn that will win. I purely feel that in war neither the brawn nor the brain will win. What will win is the psychological toughness and the ability to withstand huge periods of silence and loneliness after the salvos have ended, in the midst of the wounded and the dead.

Women if taken prisoners, will be Ill-treated, there will be physical abuse. There will be psychological effects not only to them personally but also the fear in the masses, the social media and the parents and family watching news channel hyperventilating on tv.

But what we need to realise that we are talking about women in combat arms, not in combat. In the armoured we have appointments that women officers can tenant. Like the adjutant, QM, OC LRW, TECH OFFR. Likewise in other combat arms. These women have chosen what they want to do in life. The hardships are known to them. If and when anything abnormal happens then they have to bear the repercussions of the same.

As for HR management we need to stop treating women officers softly. Treat them adequately. No compromises on the basic requirement. The equal playing ground in terms of postings, vacancies and courses has to be ascertained and pragmatically evolved.

We have to there is no other way.

We are a hilarious lot. There is no this and no that. They are now ours. For us to keep till we die and the army exists. It’s been passed in black and white.

Now you get your egos and thoughts organised positively and think about how best we can utilise them and at the same time keep in mind the biological and humane issues. She is a woman, she has a different physiological build up. She will become a mother and a wife.

She can be a soldier and she will be a good one. If you let her and also if you put her in jobs that will help the organisation and her own understanding of it. When a situation has been forced upon you, you need to take control of the situation, not sit around and castrate.

Col. Rajinder Kushwaha

Our society is transforming! The sacred institute of 'Marriage' is breaking up. 'Live in relationships' are gaining momentum. Women, being financially independent, are breaking centuries of social shackles. They seek equality. How long can you deplore?

Globalisation of the world is pushing it for a global society. Why don’t you see the VALENTINE’s day celebrations or even X MAS, with vigour and gusto and declining importance of colours in HOLI or ban of fire crackers during Diwali. These are signs of transforming society and merging with the ethos of global world.

I suggest, let us reconcile — let us not think of today or tomorrow.

My advise to veterans is to relax, you had your days, let Indian women be treated at par with their qualifications in a global society. You can not delink yourself from the transforming norms of the social system.

Shed your fears about women in a future war. They know the hardships they would face, CRPF has women battalions. Don’t you underestimate women of India.

As for rape, molestation or sexual harassment was concerned, these happen in a normal life too. There are laws, rules and regulations to deal with it.

Why are we scared of these hassles? I can only see our own lack of confidence to handle such cases and our growing incompetence.

Capt. Shikha Saxena

The word 'Debate' in an article is enough to steer the conversation on two extremes that is 'Yes she can’ and 'No she cannot'. But the fact is that this is a topic which has shades of grey and needs due deliberations. The responses needs to be fact based and objective and not subjective. Additionally, these responses need to be backed by data and not anecdotal. Unfortunately, so far all 'Debates' revolve around 'subjectivity', 'My experience' and extreme ends. The feedback collated is no exception be it by male officers or lady officers.

My take on this topic is that there is no sufficient data to support either of the claims – i.e. she can or she cannot. Relying on west data is unfortunate as their social, psychological, and work conditions are all very different and hence should not be used to form opinion in  Indian context. The inorganic integration forced by honourable Supreme Court on Indian Army (I am restricting my view on it as it is the most talked about topic) is the outcome of Army denying the inevitable and not working proactively on collation of data which could have given teeth to their arguments in the court. The decision on permanent commission came almost after three decades of women induction in forces which was a sufficient time period to study the “Compatibility of women officer” in different roles  over the life cycle of an officer but no such study is ever quoted in any discussions or arguments.
Going through the feedbacks of the male officers all I feel is that they are emotional and anecdotal.

I fully agree with the first line of the article that states “Women officer candidates ought to be adjudge in similarly postings must also be similarly handed" and I can reassure that none of the lady officers will ever contest this statement.

BUT the question today is that the Women officers who today after a long battle have got the command positions, were they nourished and groomed in the system like male officers to step in these shoes? Were they nominated for various posting, courses and training to gain the experience required to effectively run these command positions? Were they ever given a “Hope” also to strive out of the way to learn against all odds and dream of these positions and roles? The step motherly treatment given to them (You can read it as the perceived cosmetic addition or showcasing) by their own organisation at each step was aimed at withering their spirit and not at promoting and enhancing the talent that they bought on table.

Each lady officer story is an anecdotal story where the highs and lows of her serving period are associated with the quality of the people who commanded them and not with the systems and process of the organisations BECAUSE there were none. And it is this reason that lot of male officers also suffered in term of postings and roles and the result is that each officer be it male or lady officers when today speak on this topic stand on the two extremes of the debate – Yes or No.

Success story narrated by any and every lady officer revolves around a supportive environment, a supportive CO and supportive colleagues who not only placed TRUST in her and her capabilities  but also guided them at each step. Anywhere where 'Inclusivity' was practiced all officers irrespective of the gender have a positive feedback on women induction.

But at places where 'Exclusivity' was practiced and women officers were 'TESTED' deliberately on their capabilities by not providing them a level playing field the stories are stories of discrimination, cosmetic enhancement, misfit and misconduct.

So the challenge was with the 'environment' and not with people.
But the fact is that all this cannot result in questioning the 'CAPABILITY' of lady officers. Capability 'was' 'is' and 'will' NEVER be an issue. The issue is 'COMPATIBILITY' and let’s not confuse it with capability. Each lady officer goes through the SSB and meet the bare minimum requirement of being an officer. Can she be a commando? Can she perform in combat Role? Well answer to these questions lies in giving them an opportunity in 'controlled environment' to perform these roles before pronouncing the final verdict. And more importantly the opportunities should be given not in 'vengeance' or in forced environment but in an organic way.

Maj Gen. Raj Mehta

Capt Shikha Saxena politely but firmly points out that most of the anti WO tirades one gets to read stem from mindsets and misogyny that is traceable to Manu and his treatise on law, Manusmriti, a BC document rarely read objectively leave alone questioned.

So we have s lot of comments by officers who haven't really commanded or trained women officers or Lady Cadets but presume that their physiology disqualifies them from the combat zone that and their perceived load on infrastructure.

So we face a barrage of half truths and assumptions about WOs without declaring firsthand experience if any on actually handling them in the field.

Maybe the time is at hand to replace scoffing with a fair assessment of WO worth. This at a time when the Services remain 13000 short in officer strength despite 45 years of ham-handed efforts to improve our crippling deficiencies.

My own view is simply stated. Have run a unique male - female Elite training camp for 20 young UG/PG kids selected on pure merit for 6 years in the Western Ghats above Pashan of 2 weeks in tented mode with ex NDA men instructors. The kids were in uniform and had cdt appts. The final ex was attacking Singarh by night the  actual ghorpad way, with the attack on actual timings and appts changing from men to women based on merit.

I was present and in uniform all through.

Had WOs under comd as RR Sect  Cdr and Div Cdr in the Valley...gave them tasking that threatened life. Made them fire with male offrs severally in the comb zone, Pattan, Baramula, Uri etc.

They were acceptable. At Singarh in the valley during the huge snow Tsunami 2005.

My take be fair. Be objective. Dont prejudge. We need to take them along. Start now.

Col. Pradeep Dalvi

I have gone through responses of many officers and WO on the subject. I have had around 30 yrs of experience in MECH INF and around 10 yrs in CORPORATE WORLD. My views on the subject of WOs in combat arms (Arty has given green signal already) needs to be done after due diligence taking into consideration various aspects  of hardship, technical know how, and most importantly men - women relationship. Like brought out earlier, all WOs must be provided level playing field. Let me elaborate further. They must do their relevant combat arm courses, Arty WOs should be able to handle gun drills and it’s deployment, they should be trained through JC/ SC and specialised courses like their male  counterparts. At no stage they should be given soft glow treatment. It’s easier to use terms like forced environment, vengeance, organic training ,etc , but these must be converted into ground reality and WOs  must be put through such environment. Coming to future battle field scenario, with technology and new concepts finding its way as to how to fight a battle, I have a strong feeling that WOs  can assist with their agility of mind, technical knowledge, multi tasking, etc, and perform better than male offrs. We need to identify which slots can be given to WOs. Let’s take Arty for example. Will they be better located at Gun Position, Comd and Control location or MFC/ FCO, Obsn Officer with assaulting units in combat. With new technology and wpn system being inducted in all combat arms suitable jobs needs to be identified accordingly. This can happen in all combat arms. The government has already prepared talent acquisitions for WOs starting from Sainik Schools, NDA and other avenues. In future we are likely to induct better cadets in Academies who are mentally and physically fit and will perform better than today’s WOs.

Gp Capt. Johnson Chacko

The first professional problem that cadets face at NDA is how do I get respect from a soldier as an individual? We were all told that one has to do everything better than the soldier -  run faster, run longer, play better, fight better (as in boxing), clear obstacles faster, shoot better ,etc. Then the soldier will look up to you and follow you to death if needed. Respect comes out of professionalism. Personal power matters, Positional power goes out of the window.

If women cannot achieve this, then they don't deserve his respect and hence cannot lead them into battle.

There should be no compromise on physical standard even though there may be biological vulnerabilities.

A flt cdt pilot trainee was heading for suspension from flying. His father, a Gp Capt (pilot) flew in to save him. I showed him the fg trg folder and told him to read his performance in each sortie. Then asked him whether he wanted his son to become a pilot? He conceded as he wanted his son to be alive. I was a Sqn Ldr then.

Allowing a woman who does not have the required physical standards to lead men into combat is suicidal and is a disservice to her parents and the nation.

Maj Gen. Rajan Kochhar

We need to look at induction of women officers in combat arms and services separately. These are like chalk and cheese. In services where the women officers have been in almost two decades is somewhat a success story. Job specifications are such that their temperament and skills bring a lot of value addition. I can say this because I have trained them in CMM Jabalpur and had them under my command in three units over 6 to 7 years. They not only earned respect from soldiers but also delivered with a few exceptions. With regard to Combat Arms the same cannot be said especially in our context. Therefore, I would prefer to wait and watch to see their performance.

Five are being commissioned into Arty. WC Mehak Saini – 125 SATA Regt, WC Sakshi Dubey – 113 FD Regt, WC Pious Mudgil – 172 Med Regt, WC Akanksha – 1880 RKT Regt, WC Aditi Yadav – 220 Fd Regt

Maj Gen. Rana Goswami

May God help them and the regiment they go to. During our days, the first month of joining, we lived with and trained with the men, to get to know them better and get trained by the havaldars, the Nos 1 of different trades, to gain expertise in gunnery related issues, none of which were taught in the training academies. I suppose they'll have to make drastic changes? I can assure you, the men will be in shock! While on picquets with the infantry, where will they go for their call of nature? Perhaps only male officers will be sent there? Then who and why will only male officers perform their duties? In the Gunners, at least in the last 40 years, the low numbers of officers preclude any officers at the guns. All officers serve with the infantry/armr as OP officers, Bty Cdrs or as a CO. In war too, that's where they'll be through defence, attack or any other operation of war. There won't be any sheltered appointments in the Gunners. So????

(Views expressed are the respondent's own and do not reflect the editorial stance of Mission Victory India)

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