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Saluting the women

india Updated: Jun 19, 2006 02:00 IST

Hard on the heels of Rahul Mahajan’s medical records being disclosed by doctors at Apollo hospital, we have the Indian army blithely revealing the psychiatric records of Lt. Sushmita Chakravorty, who committed suicide last week. This was perhaps spurred by the huge battering its public image has got over its attitude towards women officers, and was aimed at convincing everyone that Chakravorty took her life as a consequence of chronic depression. However, revealing this information publicly is a major breach of the basic moral and ethical rule that binds doctors, especially psychiatrists — to maintain complete confidentiality. In the event of Chakravorty’s death, none but her family — and least of all the media — had any right to any knowledge of her medical history.

Further, Vice-Chief Lt. Gen. S. Pattabhiraman hasn’t helped matters much by proclaiming that the army would prefer to do without women. Unintended though it seems to be, his statement that the army is forced to recruit “suitably qualified women” since few capable men are coming forward is a backhanded compliment to the women. What the general is saying is that the army is not doing itself a favour by recruiting women. This is all the more reason why he and the rest of the army need to realise the need for treating women fairly and equitably, rather than ‘compassionately’. There is, as Lt. Gen. Pattabhiraman admits, little doubt about women officers’ abilities or merit. The problem lies in the mindsets of male officers who, despite the passing of more than a decade since women were first recruited into the army, are obviously still struggling to adjust to having them among their ranks.

Sexual harassment of women officers by their seniors, while serious and deserving of severe punishment, can and does happen elsewhere too. But the armed forces should be held to higher standards because of the increasingly important role women military officers play in electronic warfare, logistics and ordnance units, which are no less important in a combat environment than physical prowess. The sooner male officers realise that women officers are their equals the better it will be for everyone, especially the armed forces.