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Bullets and Bras: Women in Combat in India

With debates regarding the entry of women into less conventional professions, we need to confront their absence from the armed forces of the country and explore the reasons behind it.

Women have increasingly been venturing into less explored, ‘unconventional’ roles. Right now, they are employed in all wings of the armed forces except in direct combat. Last year, the Commander of Chief, Bipin Rawat, made headlines when he said “I am looking at women coming as jawans. I am going to start it soon. Firstly we will start with women as military police jawans.” The Indian Air Force also recently enrolled women as fighter pilots, while the Indian Navy has yet to recruit women as active combatants. The Indian Air Force’s Avani Chaturvedi made history when she became the first Indian woman to fly a fighter jet in January of this year.

While there have been many arguments regarding the recruitment of women in such positions, like the unsuitability of their bodies to harsh conditions, the male-dominated world where masochism pervades, the lack of longevity of female soldiers due to pregnancy and other bodily needs, the need felt by male soldiers to protect their female counterparts even in battlefields, and of course, the old argument that some things are best left to men. However, despite such arguments, women have shown to be of greater grit than they are culturally assigned. Historically, women in India have been employed since 1888 when they were recruited as a part of the Indian Military Nursing service. Even now, they are employed in many fields as junior ranks, combat supervisory roles, and allied fields such as law, engineering, combat nursing etc. Yet, the penultimate realisation is that the highest strata of positions in fields are still reserved almost exclusively for men. It is only recently that some women have been promoted to the higher ranks.

There is also a crucial need for revision in the framing of policies regarding the recruitment of women. There are a range of court cases being filed against the reluctance of the armed forces to provide permanent commission to women soldiers which would grant them pension. There is also a lack of change in cultural conceptions when it comes to the entry of women into such fields. The assumption that women are physically weaker and also more emotional restricts their recruitment. There is also the added ‘burden’ of motherhood that the policy makers automatically assume will be a part of every woman’s life. The lack of social experiments in the military speaks to this fact.

The bottom line is, regardless of whether or not women are more suitable for extraneous physical demands that the armed forces require, we need to at least give them a chance to prove their worth. As the groundbreaking Air Force experiment has proven, if given the opportunity, there is no battle a woman cannot win.

 

Feature Image Credits: Firstpost

Sara Sohail

sara.jagiroad@gmail.com




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