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Respecting women: ingrained culture of armed forces

Across the country, clubs and institutes run by the defence services have cancelled New Year Eve celebrations reflecting the nation's sombre mood in the wake of the tragic death of someone who has become an icon for the nation. No surprises there. Mandeep Singh Bajwa writes
Hindustan Times | By Mandeep Singh Bajwa
UPDATED ON JAN 01, 2013 02:37 PM IST

Across the country, clubs and institutes run by the defence services have cancelled New Year Eve celebrations reflecting the nation's sombre mood in the wake of the tragic death of someone who has become an icon for the nation. No surprises there.

The institution that gives the highest respect to women in our country is undoubtedly the armed forces. It's something ingrained within the philosophy of the defence services and reflected in the grace with which they do things. Even a Field Marshal will salute a subaltern's wife. The widow or mother of a martyred braveheart going up to receive his gallantry award will always be escorted by another soldier of appropriate rank.

Indian soldiers' conduct towards women has always been of the highest order. Indian troops have fought in some 50 countries worldwide, including the UK, France, Italy, Egypt, Congo, Iraq, Iran, China, Japan, etc., without any allegations of wrongdoing on their part where women are concerned. In fact, one came across women in Italy while shooting for a military documentary who remembered the chivalry and generosity of Indian troops during the World War 2 in sharing their own rations with the starving population and protecting young women.

The coming days will see number of measures taken both by the government and civil society to protect women. One of these could take the form of squads of ex-servicemen volunteers being formed in cities to escort young women from their places of work at night.

Aspirational youth and the armed forces
Thousands of young, educated people are out on the streets to protest against the rape and murder in Delhi of the nation's daughter. They're not believers in any political ideology or committed to revolution. They don't want radical changes in society but just want the system to work properly, for the rules to be followed. These are the children of liberalisation, born and brought up in the shadow of far-reaching economic changes in the 90s, which brought about the present growth and prosperity. They're angry but their anger is channelised and will not take the form of violence or destruction. Their aspirations, hopes, dreams and idealism will shape the future of this country.

The armed forces are no strangers to the aspirational youth of today. We saw the same young men growing up in the 90s storm up the steep slopes of Kargil braving murderous enemy fire or fight the elements in Siachen and who stand guard today on the LoC or fight pirates in the Indian Ocean. The greatest characteristic of these children of liberalisation is a deep sense of duty. To these Vikram Batras, Balwan Singhs, Kanad Bhattacharyas, Padmapani Acharyas, Harminder Pal Singhs, Sonam Wangchuks, Kieshing Clifford Nongrums, Haneefuddins, and Manoj Pandeys we bequeath this nation and its future. Guard it well!

Activism regarding army's recruitment, manning policies
A lawyer has approached the Supreme Court to rule on whether the army should persist with corps/regiments based on regional or caste composition holding such policies unconstitutional. Not for the first time, in the past the judiciary has rightly accepted the government's plea not to interfere in the army's working. In the 90s, the army had proposed the change-over of the entire infantry except the Gorkha Brigade to a system of all-India, all-class recruitment.

Caste and regional names of regiments were to be done away with and replaced with numbers. New crests were designed and a complete make-over effected right down to the coining of new battle-cries.

However, senior officers felt that the time was not right for such a radical change, which would take time to assimilate and might affect the cohesion of the forces with the country facing multiple threats from within and without. There was a great outcry from the regiments themselves. The plan was shelved.

The threat perception has if anything grown over the years. The army is unlikely to change its mind on the issue at this juncture. Nor will the government apply undue pressure to do so. Change-over of some units especially in the artillery from fixed class to all-India, all-class composition or vice versa has not changed these perceptions. One can safely say that activism notwithstanding, the army's views on recruitment and manning will continue to be cast in the traditional mould, a few changes here and there not making any substantial difference to the system.

Red Eagle Division's 74th raising day
India's oldest fighting formation, the 4th Reorganised Plains Infantry Division (RAPID) (Strike), celebrated its 74th raising day in Uttar Pradesh recently. Formed during the World War 2 the formation achieved near mythical status as one of the great combat divisions of military history. After Independence, the Division added more laurels to its name at Asal Uttar in 1965 and in liberating western Bangladesh in 1971.

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