Fight for the front line by Priya Ramchandran


Priya Ravichandran is Programme Manager for the GCPP programme at the Takshashila Institution.


Fight for the front line

Serving your nation by serving in combat is an honour. Not allowing half the

Indians to do so is depressing.

In August this year, 35 CRPF women in

Chha0isgarh became the first Indian

women to be deployed for combat

duties. For a country that is still atavistic

in its beliefs about women entering

combat zones, the move to send this all

women group out for counter

insurgency operations into Maoist areas

was a sign of a quiet revolution. It

would have been logical to use the

experience from this mission to start a

larger conversation on allowing women

to enter into combat roles and to set the

stage for a gender neutral military. The

government and the military however

seem to prefer to shirk away from such

logical persuasions.

India traditionally does not allow its

women to serve in the infantry, artillery

or armoured corps, on board

operational warships or fly fighter jets in

combat. Women are also required to

retire after 14 years of service and can

seek permanent commission only in the

education corps and the legal branch.

The arguments against having them in

combat roles and in positions that might

7! Pragati- The Indian National Interest Review

Minnesota National Guardrequire them to control troops during

combat, have ranged from the

paternalistic to sexist. Retired military

officers have called into question

women’s ability to handle the pressures

of a combat role, PoW situations,

disturbance in rank and sexual

harassment in the military.

India’s views on having women in

combat operations is not new. However

what is troubling is the resistance to

change this a0itude in the face of

mounting evidence that proves women

to be at par with men, during combat.

Countries starting from Canada, Israel,

US, Brazil, Australia, France, Germany

have all pushed for and ratified

measures for inducting women into

infantry position and to serve on the

front line. Women have been sent to

Afghanistan, Iraq and are on the front

lines in the Israel-Palestine border.

One of the oft cited reasons for not

le0ing women sign up is the idea that

women are physically weaker than men

and therefore cannot sustain themselves.

Every one of the above mentioned

countries have figured out ways to

ensure that the standard requirement for

the military does not fall or the armed

forces itself does not suffer from sub par

candidates. Canada has maintained the

same standard of drills and tests for

women as they were for men. Canada

has maintained the same standard of

drills and tests for both men and

women. The United States of America is

looking into modifying the standards.

Women, have passed these tests and

have gone on to command platoons and

show exceptional courage under fire in

the most unforgiving of conditions. The

pressures of the combat role or being on

the front line have not shown to be

significantly higher in these women

neither have they been affected more

than men in facing war.

Opinions in the armed forces, point out

to the fact that a woman’s need to take

maternity leave and time for her family,

might potentially disrupt training and

add to the expenses. Women in any

profession are known to take time off for

their family. It is illogical to assume that

this would hinder her career or

progress. For a woman jawan who has

pledged to serve the nation and give her

life fighting for her country, working

during her ‘fertile’ years or arranging for

external assistance to help take care of

her family is not too much of a stretch.

Sexual harassment is something that

needs to be addressed. Proper combined

training exercises and appropriate

disciplinary measures much like the

ones that exist in corporate structures

can be put in place to ensure that an

integrated military works. Cultural

differences are but a crutch to lean on

when all else fails. The military is an

institution that demands the highest

standards of discipline, honour,

commitment and valour from all those

who are associated with it. To assume

that men, especially those belonging to a

rural background, would not pay heed

to a woman commander or would risk

suspension for sexually harassing an

officer, is to not trust those who work in

8! Pragati- The Indian National Interest Review

To assume that a

woman’s life means more

to this country than a

man’s is paternalistic,

and morally

reprehensible.the front line. India has moved forward.

We have had women sarpanchas, women

chief ministers, a woman president, a

woman prime minister, women

commanding policemen and even

women dacoits. If a man could subject

himself to listen to a woman in all of

these areas, the surely the military and

the government are underestimating the

capacity of Indian men.

One of the most ridiculous arguments

made against women combat officers

was by Air Marshal (retired) Sumit

Mukerji, who asked if we as a nation

were prepared for women PoW and to

see them be subject to the same

treatment as the men PoW. The

comparable question would be to ask

whether we as a nation are okay with

women stepping outside their homes

and being raped, tortured, maimed and

killed. To sign up for frontline duty is to

know that the possibilities of capture,

disability and death are all possible. A

soldier irrespective of gender goes into

war prepared for the worst of all

possible situations. To assume that a

woman’s life means more to this country

than a man’s is paternalistic, and

morally reprehensible. If a woman’s life

did mean more, then rape, infant

mortality and female illiteracy would be


An integrated military and women in

the front line and in combat situations is

not much of a stretch. A voluntary

armed forces is the most valuable

institution of a country. Serving in the

army and serving your nation is an

honour. Not allowing half the

population of the country to do so, is

depressing. There is a need to address

this deficiency and to ensure that people

following the footsteps of Shanti Tigga

get a chance to serve their country with



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