In my opinion the vice-chief's attitude towards women officers in the Indian Army as reflected by his now infamous comment raises many critical questions, not only about the public perception of women in society but also some pertinent questions about quota/reservations.
It is now a well-known fact that the army is facing a serious shortage of officers and considering that women have been allowed entry into the hallowed trenches of the armed forces. That said, it is a little perplexing that despite being a policy adopted by the ministry of defence, how is it that the vice-chief has allowed himself to make such a sexist, indiscreet and prejudiced remark.
Women may or may not be kept away from combat but there is a wide array of services that they can perform as uniformed officers, in the supply, communications and medical departments, to mention a few.
Women constitute 50 per cent of the population and what bothers me is the fact that the top army brass seeks not only to keep this 50 per cent of the Indian population at arms length but has also since independence deprived fifty per cent of the population, which includes the Scheduled Castes and Tribes as well as the other backward classes from the defence services as there is no reservation of jobs in the army.
If 50 per cent of the jobs in the police services, administrative services, income tax officers, doctors, engineers, architects can be reserved for the SC/ST and OBCs then why are jobs not available to these sections of society in the armed forces? Especially considering the fact that there is a shortage of officers in the army?
This brings me to another extremely sensitive question where the capabilities of entire sections of society are held to be below standard and therefore unacceptable. In the light of the raging debate over reservations in institutes of higher learning like the IITs, medical colleges etc. my humble query as a thinking citizen of this country is that if a person belonging to the OBC category for whom society must make affirmative action can be put through the rigorous IIT courses or medical studies, why can such a person not be trained as an officer of the Indian Army at Dehradun or at Kharakvasla and these provided to them through quotas as everywhere else?
If a person can train to perform delicate heart surgery, why can such a person not be trained to fight in the trenches as an infantryman?
It is therefore highly relevant in view of General Pathbhiraman's remark to examine this elitist policy of the top army brass and glaring omission of government policy that the armed forces do not allow any reservations in jobs or military education. With the Indian Army strength at more than ten million strong, there would be no shortage of jobs for those belonging to the other backward castes.
These are critical questions in the reservation debate that need public awareness and participation before politicians are allowed to take decisions affecting the lives of millions in this country.