The government’s gesture of acknowledging women’s power by including a contingent of female officers for this year’s Republic Day parade is indeed welcome. The annual event holds huge significance for the country. Display of India’s might infuses a sense of pride and accomplishment among its citizens. At the same time it projects its military might across the globe. The preparations and rehearsals stretch over months before the parade is held.
In a landmark initiative, the country’s defence services opened its doors to women officers in 1993, starting with granting them temporary commission for five years in non-combat jobs. Now they are being granted permanent commission and a wider ambit of tasks. They have still to be assigned combatant duties. I feel it’s just a matter of time before this milestone is also crossed.
Women down the ages have proved they are no less than men in any field. However, societal compulsions and male dominance has continuously dented their confidence to take on equal challenges.
Women have a history of participating in military activities dating back nearly four millennia. From the early 1970s most western armies began permitting women to serve in active duty. Since then they have graduated to performing combat roles in more than half a dozen armies, including those of Australia, Canada, New Zealand and France.
In the Indian context, the Rani of Jhansi regiment of the Indian National Army (INA), founded by Subhash Chandra Bose in 1943, was recognition of women’s untapped potential in taking part in combat operations.
Certain contentious reasons like comparatively weaker physical strength, requirement of exclusive administrative and housing facilities and the pitfalls of being captured as prisoners of war have been advanced to resist women’s claims to be able to take on combat roles. However, almost all the reasons being trotted out accrue from their upbringing and status in Indian society.
The role of daughters is virtually decided at birth. Subdued existence, backstage persona, nutritional restrictions, lesser emphasis on physical fitness, playing second fiddle to male siblings, marriage and childbearing as the natural career graph, being homemakers – all shape their future course of life, with exceptions being few and far between. Things are changing but only to a miniscule extent.
Yet the marching column of women officers of the army, air force and navy, led by Capt Divya Ajith Kumar, a sword of honour awardee from the Officers’ Training Academy, is a significant step in the right direction. This should make a strong case for women officers to wield combat roles for the security of India. We look forward to the new era. firstname.lastname@example.org
(The writer is a retired army officer. The views expressed are personal)