A day after Hindustan Times carried an exclusive interview with Army Vice-Chief Lt Gen S Pattabhiraman in which he said "comfort levels with lady officers were low" and the force "could do without them," the controversy assumed a political dimension with senior BJP leader Sushma Swaraj demanding the officer's suspension.
Talking to reporters in Bhubaneshwar, Swaraj said, "It is a reflection of the working of the army and its mindset. If I was the defence minister, I would have called the vice-chief and told him we can do without you, you can go." Asked whether women were suited for the defence forces in view of the practical problems they faced, she said, "The questions being raised about political problems are only excuses and women today are capable of doing any work."
National Commission for Women Chairperson Girija Vyas told a news channel the general should "take his words back". "The need of the time is that there should be more sensitisation in the Army because it is a...New field for women," she said.
Talking to HT from Bangalore, Lt Gen Arjun Ray (retd), the media coordinator during the Kargil conflict, said, "There is requirement of greater gender sensitisation in military commanders. Lady officers function differently. This understanding will help bridge the gender gap. They cannot be dealt with the way you deal with the men."
Mounting a damage control exercise, an army spokesman said, "The contribution of women officers has been outstanding. It is in recognition of this that the government has extended the tenure of the service of women in the army from 10 to 14 years." There are about 1,000 women in the army serving in non-combat roles.