| Pranab Mukherjee, Sushma Swaraj
June 18: The defence minister and the army today praised the role of women officers and personnel and said one Susmita Chakraborthy’s death shouldn’t deter women from joining the armed forces.
“We want more and more lady officers to join the armed forces. Those who have joined are doing well. There are problems but they can be tackled,’’ Pranab Mukherjee said in Calcutta on the sidelines of the 105th annual general meeting of the Merchants’ Chamber of Commerce.
In Delhi, the army mounted a firefight following its vice-chief Lt Gen. S. Pattabhiraman’s reported remark that the force could well do without its women officers.
“We are proud of our women personnel and it is the government’s policy to encourage them,” an army spokesman said.
“The contribution of women officers and personnel 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.”
He added that less than 1 per cent of the army’s 918 women officers ' excluding those in the medical corps ' had left the force in the past three years.
In Bhubaneswar, BJP leader Sushma Swaraj demanded that the defence minister suspend the army vice-chief for the “disparaging” remarks he is reported to have made.
Swaraj said the statement reflected the army’s mindset, which she blamed for Susmita’s suicide. “Had I been the defence minister, I would have called the army vice-chief and told him, ‘We can do without you’.”
She said that Congress president Sonia Gandhi, being a woman herself, should ask the defence minister to act against the general without delay.
The BJP leader said she would travel to Bhopal soon and meet Susmita’s parents. She cited the claim by Susmita’s father that she had been upset at having to organise late-night parties, and added that the matter should be probed.
Swaraj argued that women were just as capable as men at handling field assignments and desk jobs in the army.
She advised the army to create a conducive atmosphere for women to join the force.
Mukherjee, referring to Susmita’s suicide, said the army had a “mechanism” to monitor the stress suffered by personnel. “That mechanism will be strengthened.”
Some 30 members of the Forward Bloc-affiliated All India Students’ Bloc stopped Mukherjee’s motorcade in front of the meeting venue, demanding the Centre make the Mukherjee commission’s report on Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose public and accept its findings.
After the police and the army dispersed the crowd, the minister said the report, which has concluded that Netaji didn’t die in an air crash, would be tabled in the monsoon session of Parliament.