Monday, July 26, 2021

Right move

The recent announcement of the Indian Army to induct women as soldiers in Military Police is a small step, though long overdue, on the road to provide gender equality. This is also being seen as a big leap in providing full parity between men and women in the armed forces of the country. Till now, women had been allowed in select corps of the Indian Army such as medical, legal and engineering as officers and only in few branches mainly the administrative and ground duty in the Army and Indian Air Force as soldiers. The Military Police wing is generally tasked with maintaining order in army establishments and cantonments, handling of prisoners of war among other duties for which the recruitment has been opened recently. Induction of 1700 women in the Military Police Corps will be a tiny proportion of women in the army may not be a substantial boost but at least it paves the way for parity in one wing. At least, this will be one door open for the women, who have not been recognized as an important part of the workforce, that has plunged drastically in the recent years particularly after the demonetization and implementation of the Goods and Services Tax (GST) which took millions of jobs away in both the formal as well as informal sector in India. This number is still short but a progressive armed force should aim for full parity between men and women including the combat roles in the 21st century. The armies of Israel, America, Australia, Denmark, Russia, among others, are already there, having pitchforked women soldiers into the frontline and found them as capable as men. In India, with a regressive mindset, the debate over the role of women has often tripped on cultural vetoes, which are nothing but patriarchal squeamishness in disguise. There is the argument made that the rank and file of Indian men, often drawn from conservative social pools, will refuse to fight side by side with women. That is simply imagining an element of wilfulness in Indian soldiers that does no credit to a disciplined force like the army. The arguments about biology or the imagined impediment of parenthood are too retrograde to be admitted in the jet age. Social hierarchies and their inherent structures do shape institutions; but the converse is equally true. Hard, progressive and forward looking decisions also have the power to bend institutions towards equity. The Indian Army, with its rich, varied history and diverse composition, is up to such challenges. The logic of this decision, therefore, must be followed through and not get tangled in the usual tokenism. A roadmap to induct women across the board, across roles and ranks in the Indian army, must be drawn up with definite deadlines to be achieved in a fixed timeframe. It is unfortunate that some of the stories of valour, heroism and honour are aspirations that have driven the imagination of human beings through the ages have been centered around men but not women. And somehow the thrill and pride of war has been exclusively a man’s domain despite the fact that many women warriors have turned up in history to challenge and contest that logic. In Indian history, women warriors have made their mark while fighting alongside their men colleagues and in some cases led their soldiers against the enemy and won the battles in middle ages and in ancient periods. The present generation and rulers of the day have chosen to forget the contribution of women soldiers while they are being taught in the history books only. In the Indian context, these stories of valour of women need to be told time and again when equality is being discussed and debated in every sphere of life. The young Indian woman, vested with the uniform, too, is ready to claim that full range of human potential, whether it is the responsibility of violence or the code of the soldier’s life. It is true that the internal structures of the Army might rumble and resist the change. But that’s a battle worth fighting for ensuring parity between men and women in the battle ready situation or in peace.