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Battle of the Sexes: The Military's Old Guard Continues to Resist Change

Lt. General Raj Kadyan's skewered opinions on giving women permanent commission are not representative of the jawans and show that the problem lies at the upper echelons.

The jargon of an army man is often that of honour, respect and integrity. The institution epitomizes service above self and bravery. However, this emphasis on honour respect and bravery seems to slip away like a thinly veiled façade when the issue of inclusion of women in the army comes to the podium. And this is where toxic masculinity raises its ugly head.

An army, just like any other arm of a government, is but a reflection of the society it represents and just like the society, it is subject to social reform and change for the advancement of the society as a whole. However, it seems from the perspective of the top brass in the army, which is 100% male, by the way, the example of society is only to be invoked to keep the doors of equality shut on their female comrades. This is where Lt. Gen. Raj Kadyan’s skewered opinions are rooted.

Watch | ‘Our Jawans Won’t Accept Women Commanding Officers’: Lt Gen Raj Kadyan

I wish to rebut the points made by him.

Firstly, there is no argument as the issue is not of inducting women, which was done 26 years ago. So if anything, we have moved forward. Where does the question of jawans not accepting women come from? They have accepted women for over two decades, so why will they object to women having a permanent commission under their belt?

Describing the movie as being a ‘laboratory for social experimentation’ would have had any meaning back in the 90s, when women were being inducted. Gen Kadyan, the experiment has already been done and is successful in its hypotheses and with positive results.

That the prospect of women in commanding positions is troubling only shows a mind that would like to see women being subordinate or maybe equal. But accepting them to be above (even if only in rank) is like shaking the hornet’s nest. This clearly shows that the problem is not in the mentality of the jawan, but those at the higher echelons of the military.

The jawans come from the same society which accepts women as district magistrates or police officers and takes orders. I wonder what would have happened if all were to think in the same fashion and we would still be ruled by the upper caste. General, in rural India, there is a caste divide but it is up to the state to uphold equality. Imagine if someone were to argue, “Dalits should not be in places of power because Brahmins will not take orders.”

Police women march during India’s Republic Day parade in Chandigarh, January 26, 2017. Photo: Reuters/Ajay Verma

Across India, women toil in fields and in Uttarakhand, the state that I come from, women carry weight uphill while men bask in the sun. Yet it is the state with the largest representation in the armed forces. Studies have shown that women from the hills are the most hardworking and laborious of all working classes across the world.

However, debunking the narrative that Lt General Kadyan promotes, and the perception he is pushing that somehow his views are representative of the men and women of the armed forces is imperative.

Not all military men are sexist bigots. If this was the case, the struggle to open up combat roles for women in the Indian Air Force would have been even more Herculean. It is largely because of the massive support we got from our fellow officers, mostly male, that we were able to succeed in our battle. However, the men at the top of the pecking order are the ones still stuck with their caveman ideals and that is why getting women permanent commission as well as command roles is so important. Till women are not given leadership roles, the intent of the army to reform in this regard will always be lacking.

One would think that after 26 years of hearing the same justifications the old guard makes to keep women down, that I would have become used to it. But it feels like an old wound being reopened afresh every time. To be considered less than my fellow male officer just because of my gender, and not on my performance is something no one should have to deal with.

It is astounding that the army was able to hold out in brazen contempt of the order of the Delhi high court without having a single scientific or logic-based reason to do so.

Also Read: The Army Was Peddling Its Sexism by Proxy, But the SC Was Not Fooled

The arguments come from this predetermined conclusion that the army is somehow above the ideals our constitution deems to fulfil. The makers of our constitution were fully aware of the ground realities of our nation’s society, its patriarchal and casteist nature. Yet they still chose to enshrine the ideals of an equal, free and liberated India.

Dr B.R. Ambedkar famously wrote:

“Constitutional morality is not a natural sentiment. It has to be cultivated. We must realise that our people have yet to learn it. Democracy in India is only a top-dressing on an Indian soil which is essentially undemocratic.”

Imagine if Ambedkar, along with the Constituent Assembly, shared the same weak resolve the top honchos of the military have. Who would want to live in such a dystopia? The imposition of constitutional morality is never popular, as can be seen from the opposition to the Hindu Marriage Act, the Hindu Succession Act and their successive recent amendments, along with contentious impositions like the Triple Talaq Act and the Sabrimala judgment.

All of these impositions are based on of Article 15 of the Constitution which states as follows:

15. Prohibition of discrimination on grounds of religion, race, caste, sex or place of birth.
(1) The State shall not discriminate against any citizen on grounds only of religion, race, caste, sex, place of birth or any of them.

Thus, the Constitution obviously bars sexual discrimination by the government in the clearest terms. Even international law clearly states through the Convention to End Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), discrimination against women as “…any distinction, exclusion or restriction made on the basis of sex which has the effect or purpose of impairing or nullifying the recognition, enjoyment or exercise by women, irrespective of their marital status, on a basis of equality of men and women, of human rights and fundamental freedoms in the political, economic, social, cultural, civil or any other field.” By accepting the convention, states commit themselves to undertake a series of measures to end discrimination against women in all forms.

Supreme Court of India. Credit: PTI

Supreme Court of India. Photo: PTI

The army is further bound by the Delhi high court’s Wg. Cdr. Anupama Joshi vs Union of India judgment. The Supreme Court in the case of Air India vs Nargesh Mirzaset aside the discriminatory employment rules for female flight attendants of Air India. While the court had been cautious to delve in the internal policies of the military, they have chosen at this juncture to break the glass ceiling,

This is the Army that fought the 1971 war under the prime ministership of Indra Gandhi, the same army that’s boasts of a caste and religion inclusive history. If the caste and religion of an officer don’t matter, why is their gender always called into question? Why are only women to be kept at the margins of the military?

Another point that Gen Kadyan makes is that women will not be able to survive the Herculean training regimen that male officers follow. Sir, let the women compete, and qualify only those who pass the standard. Provide them training. If they survive the regime, good. If not, too bad. If they ask for any shortcuts, do not, I repeat, do not give them this option. Let them compete on the same playing field. Do not give concessions, give them the choice to lead.

For the last time, judge them for their efficiency and not gender.

I rest my case.

Anupama Joshi retired as a Wing Commander in the India Air Force. She was the original petitioner in the Delhi high court’s judgment on granting permanent commission to women. Inputs for the article weer provided from Aaryaan Sadanand.