The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Pranab and army at variance
- Bigger women’s role depends on combat decision, say forces

New Delhi, June 27: The armed forces will oppose granting of permanent commission to women despite defence minister Pranab Mukherjee’s instruction to the Chiefs of Staff Committee to do a feasibility study.

Opinion in the armed forces headquarters is unanimous ' that permanent commission cannot be granted to lady officers unless they are fit for combat. The option is to give women recruits a choice ' by making a combat role voluntary and subject to demanding physical standards.

But different standards of training, lack of exposure to commanding troops and a preference among the women cadre for peace station postings go against the operational logic and orientation of the armed forces. Also, with lady officers often preferring peace stations to be near families, commanders are left with limited posts in which to post officers after stressful operational assignments.

Simply put, this means an officer who has done his assignment of a minimum three months in, say, a tough post in the Siachen Glacier and in the Kashmir valley has earned the right to a less stressful staff posting in a peace station. But because peace station postings may be taken by a lady officer, the authorities will have a hard time finding a suitable office for the weary Siachen Glacier commander.

However, an affidavit filed by army headquarters in Delhi High Court in 2003 tries to capture some of the complexities that the Chiefs of Staff Committee chaired by the navy chief, Admiral Arun Prakash, will have to grapple with.

The affidavit was filed by Lieutenant Colonel Alok Vaid of the Adjutant General’s branch of army headquarters in response to a public interest litigation initiated by a non-army person asking for permanent commission to lady officers. Two crucial points made in the affidavit are:

Ethos, customs, norms, conceptual planning, training, etc. in the army are dedicated to the development of combat leaders. The organisational hierarchy, lack of mobility, coupled with insignificant career progression, in view of limited role played by women officers in the service, do not permit extensive assignment possibilities. The existing policy consciously excludes women from serving in combat, whereas the core principles and training values are directed at combat training. Therefore, unless and until a policy decision is taken on combat role for women in service, no regular commission can be granted

The background of our troops who hail from rural areas with fixed concepts of women had to be considered at the time of induction of women as officers. Grant of permanent commission would result in placing women officers as commanding officers of units, which was considered inappropriate.

Army headquarters made the point that training for women “is structured in such a way that it is less demanding physically and therefore the female officers generally receive lower ratings than men in physical training, leadership and tactical subjects”. Due to this inadequacy, there were “assignment constraints on utilisation of women officers to a great extent”. As a result, they are not placed in direct command of troops and are not exposed to combat.

The Adjutant General’s branch emphasised that the Indian army is “command-oriented”. This means that higher ranks are given to officers selected on the basis of their performance in command. While the women serve alongside the men in staff appointments, the difference in physical standards and the lack of combat training ' such as an infantry attachment (that is compulsory for all gentlemen cadets) ' will mean that they will be subject to unfair competition.

Though this document deals exclusively with the army, in the navy and the air force, too, there are similar questions being raised. The most important, probably, is whether families across the country are willing to accept the cultural issues that may arise with men and women working in combat units and in confined spaces ' such as in submarines.

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