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Discipline and punish

Tales of sexual harassment and misconduct against military personnel have been heard of in other armies as well.

india Updated: May 22, 2006 00:58 IST

Tales of sexual harassment and misconduct against military personnel have been heard of in other armies as well. We would have imagined that the Indian Army with its high sense of honour would have effected a zero-tolerance regime. But recent reports suggest otherwise. Disgraceful allegations of misconduct at the lower unit levels have not been adequately dealt with by the higher commanders. By their very nature, armies around the world tend to be sui generis as institutions. Functioning in democratic societies, their justice and way of life appears authoritarian.

At the heart of the military system lies discipline, based on a functional requirement of getting a group of individuals to meld their identities into the collective will. This is absolutely vital for the organisation to perform its critical function — defending the nation. This bonding is not merely a mechanical exercise, because the kind of cohesiveness needed to overcome extreme hardship — not excluding death of the individual — can only come through a kind of camaraderie where each element of a unit must completely trust the other. This is what makes the recent cases of molestation, harassment and alleged rape of women officers in the army and air force particularly distressing. Let us not forget that the armed forces did not allow women to begin serving in their units as a random act of gender justice, but because the armed forces desperately needed them. In the past two decades, all three services have faced an alarming shortfall of officers of a certain calibre. Women officers have more than made up for that shortage as they provided first-rate replacement for their male counterparts who were not available or qualified.

Women engineers, doctors, pilots, lawyers, logistical specialists and managers have been a huge asset for the three services. This, therefore, required that the armed forces leadership ensured not merely that they were provided a safe and secure environment to work in, but also one where they were given their due recognition. Yet, they have only got grudging acknowledgement and their terms of service and the areas they are employed in remain restricted. Whatever be the case, the duty of ensuring the honour of the women serving in the armed forces rests squarely on the shoulders of the higher commanders and leadership of the three services.