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Army treads on gender minefield

New Delhi, June 17: In the aftermath of the suicide of a lady officer, army headquarters today admitted that it was grappling with the management of women in its officer cadre but more of their number will be recruited to its non-combat wings.

Lieutenant Susmita Chakraborthy, who shot herself in the army’s Northern Command headquarters in Udhampur on Thursday, was frustrated because she was being assigned duties she did not want to perform. She told her father she was being made to organise late-night parties and gift bouquets to visiting dignitaries ' tasks that the MSc in Chemistry hated to perform.

The army has appointed a court of inquiry to investigate the circumstances leading to her death but preliminary reports that include her consultations with a psychiatrist suggest that she suffered from “low self-esteem”, said Major-General R.S. Sujlana, speaking for army headquarters here today.

“Life can be tough in the army and men or women need to be adequately trained. They should be mentally prepared to find a different type of life. We would very much like lady officers to become an integral part of the army. We hope to learn more from the sad and tragic case of Lieutenant Susmita Chakraborthy. In keeping with the changing times, we are looking to induct more women officers,” Sujlana said.

He added that instructions had been given to the Officers’ Training Academy in Chennai (where women cadets are put through the paces before being commissioned) and to field formations to suggest measures on “how to further refine management of women officers”.

Army headquarters said it was keen on recruiting women who (like men) must come “mentally prepared for the rigours of army life”.

Recruitment to the army is heavily skewed against women. Women are being recruited under a special entry scheme that began in 1993. There are only 918 lady officers in the 10.5-lakh-strong force.

The scheme was launched because army headquarters was seeking to meet the shortage in its officer cadre. But it was difficult to find suitable male candidates in adequate number.

The army is not immediately considering the recruitment of women to combat units. The current policy allows for women to be inducted as officers on short service commission only in such wings as the Army Supply Corps (the outfit in which Susmita served), the Judge Advocate General Branch and education.

But more women will be recruited to the intelligence corps as area and/or language specialists, analysts and logistics-managers.

The induction of women into combat wings is more of a cultural and political issue. The government will have to amend policy to make it possible. But an unstated emotion guiding the policy on women recruits to combat wings is how to deal with a scenario in which she may be taken prisoner of war.

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