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'Army should be gender sensitive'

Reacting sharply to the Vice-Chief's remarks women group activists branded the force as discriminatory.

india Updated: Jun 17, 2006 14:26 IST

Reacting sharply to the Indian Army Vice Chief's remarks that it can do without women, activists of several women organisations on Saturday branded the force as "discriminatory and gender insensitive".

Lt Gen S Pattabhiraman was on Saturday quoted as saying that "comfort levels with lady officers are low" and that the army "can do without them".

"This is a clear reflection of discrimination on the part of the Indian Army. When a top officer makes such a comment it points to the insensitivity of an institution," said Annie Raja, general secretary of the National Federation of Indian Women (NFIW).

"We think the army needs to be given a course on gender sensitisation," Raja said.

She said the issue would be taken up with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Defence Minister Pranab Mukherjee.

"The comment was uncalled for and needs to be condemned by one and all. Women are no way inferior and they should not be undermined. They are equally efficient and capable of handling any given task," Raja contended.

Pattabhiraman's comments were "filled with prejudice and will not serve any good", according to Abha Choudhry, head of the women's wing of the ruling Congress party's New Delhi unit.

"The institution is male dominated and finds it difficult to accept the contribution of women. Instead of making such comments, the authorities should create favourable conditions for women to work in," said Choudhury, a former member of the Delhi Commission of Women.

Pattabhiraman's comments were reported a day after a woman officer, Lt Susmita Chakraborthy, committed suicide in Udhampur in Jammu and Kashmir.

The 25-year-old officer, who had been commissioned 10 months ago, ended her life apparently because she was "dissatisfied and unhappy with her job". The army has ordered an enquiry into the incident.

"With statements like this coming from the highest level of army, I can understand the degrading treatment that women army officers must be going through," said Anjali Menon Sen, a leading women activist of the capital.

"It calls for a public apology from the officer. There are a lot of women in the army's medical corps and they do a commendable job. Such comments will be demoralising," said Sen, chief of SANGAT, a South Asian NGO working among women.

Sen said they were networking with 46 other organisation and would send a protest letter to President APJ Abdul Kalam, the supreme commander of the armed forces, Defence Secretary Shekhar Dutt and army chief Gen JJ Singh.