For the first time rifle women at LoC: Journey and way forward
The deployment of rifle women for the first time near the Line of Control (LoC) is again the significant step toward gender equality in the armed forces. This article will look at how the women had face challenges in adorning the combat uniform over the year, and what are problems ahead?
For the first time, the Indian army had deployed the women soldier near the line of control in Jammu and Kashmir. The women soldiers are on deputation from the Assam rifle, India’s oldest paramilitary force, formed under British in 1835 called Cachar Levy. The Assam rifle works under the Indian army’s operational command and performs various roles, including the provision of internal security to conduct counter-insurgency and border security operations.
The rifle women of Assam rifle is the command of Captain Gursimran Kaur of the Army Service Corps. The women’s platoon is assigned to check the smuggling of narcotics, arms, and ammunition across the border. Deployed at Sadhna pass, 150 km northwest of Srinagar, connects the Tangdhar-Teetwal areas of north Kashmir to the rest of the valley. The deployment came after intelligence input, confirming the smuggling of drugs, brown sugar, arms, and ammunition across the border using women and children.
The women and children are usually exempt from frisking at the check posts. The women’s deployment will fill the vacuum and play a key role in surveillance operations along LoC although most of the women Jawans hail from far northeast and slow clad mountains, harsh terrain is an entirely new battleground for them.
However, for these furious and energetic Jawans, the deployment turned out to be a dream posting, and they all are ready to take up any challenge in the valley. Women officers started inducting in the army from 1993, under ‘special service scheme,’ which later converts into short service commission. The women officer gets a permanent commission in the stream of Judge Advocate General (JAG) and Army Education Corps (AEC) in 2008. After the Supreme Court ruling in February 2020, entitling all SSC women officers to consider permanent commission and shall consider for a command role.
Earlier in 2019, the government issued a notification to grant permanent commission to SSC officers of the army, with officers up to 14 years of service to consider. The ministry of defence in July 2020, specifies grant of permanent commission to SSC women officer in 10 stream- Army Air Defense (AAD), Signals, Engineers, Army Aviation Corps, Electronic and Mechanical Engineers (EMEs), Army Service Corps (ASC), Army Ordnance Corps and Intelligence Corps, and JAG and AEC. However, in May, the army made the Battle physical Efficiency Test (BPET) mandatory for all women officers, including those commissions before 2009 and over the age of 35. In March this year, it made junior command course at Army War College, Mhow mandatory for women officers.
However, the Indian army was recruiting women in small number that to as officer only. It was only in 2019, and the military begins recruiting women as ‘Jawans’ or Soldiers. The army enlisted 50 women as Jawans in the Corps of Military Police (CMP), who are under training. Further, the army plans to hire another 800 women in CMP, with a yearly intake of 50 personnel. Until the first batch training finishes, the military had deployed the women personnel from Assam Rifle. Women in ‘commanding position’ and women in ‘combat role’ are the two different aspects of assigning the duty to women in armed forces. At the same time, the Supreme Court and later centre had cleared the air over allotting women a commanding position but showed reluctance in giving combat roles to women.
The women in a combat role is always a matter of discussion, and even the country like the US and Israel recently start inducting women in an infantry combat role. Still, India’s condition can never be compared with that of the western country, looking at the different economic and social condition of the country. The first and foremost argument is whether Women are capable enough to take up the harsh and intense challenge faced by ‘Jawans’ during the War? Consider sports, where women have set records but that too while competing with their female counterparts. Now consider, what will be the probability and possibility that they face female ‘Jawans’ of the enemy in the tense battlefield.
The War is not the platform to advocate for women’s rights; it’s a matter of life and death, not only to a soldier but to a country as well. Further, consider a women pilot captured in place of Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthman, who in 2019 shot down Pakistan’s F-16 and later was shot by Pakistan Air Force, but landed safely in Pakistan’s soil. Imagine the emotional uproar and pressure in India over the issue where women consider the symbol of pride, taking into perspective that women can get exploited by the enemy and further not to mention the enhanced bargaining capacity of the enemy over female prisoners of War.
The army deployed female officers from the Army Medical Corps in sensitive areas; had to use additional force to prevent the kidnapping of the officer. The extra strength just for the protection of female officers will add liability to the military during the War. Further, the male posted in the harsh terrain where survivability is a challenging task. They carry out daily chores in the environment unacceptable to the civilized world like defecating in the open, sleeping, bathing together, and many more. Even the situation comes, where soldiers had to share a single bad among three, four-member, working under a pathetic hygienic condition and not to talk about temp dropping below -20 degrees. Thus, creating infrastructure, especially for the female, is again challenging and adds burdens to the already constrained budget of the Armed forces.
Further, one can quickly point out that these are the challenge easily manageable after proper allotment of funds, but there is a catch. The crucial point is that the army does not always remain in peace and can go into War at any point in time. During that time, the combat role of women is under test. It may be possible that there will no hygienic facilities in the operation, and if women officer and rank are in periods, it may be a glitch in the security. During peacetime, any soldier’s misconduct can penalize under the army act, but what if the situation happens during War? First, it may create infighting within the ranks, and second, it may degrade the morale during the crucial hours of operation. Pointing such an issue is not the trait of misogamist.
Still, it is the practical understanding of things on facts and figures when the security, unity, and integrity of nations are at stake. Nobody is questioning the ability of the female. Still, here the question is not about women’s ability but more about the capability of armed forces to give such roles to women. Another critical point is the parameter regarding women’s physical, emotional, and mental fitness. As pointed earlier, here, women will not be competing against women. It is an accepted fact that women’s physical capability is not par with the men. The organization, like the army, cannot compromise on its basic standards of physical fitness. So, if equality is so paramount, why keep the disabled away from the armed forces?
The army does not distinguish between genders but focuses on full physical fitness. Even every soldier cannot be part of the elite Para regiment because it was never about the discrimination, but it was all about excellence. Thus, the induction of women into armed forces should also be under the same criteria as men.
Further, the argument also holds relevance that until and unless the women perform and execute in battle, there is no point in denying them such role. Even before giving responsibility in non-combat, these arguments were prevalent, but women have shown their velour and performed exceptionally well.
The evidence that men come from villages and not ready to accept the female as a leader lost its value, looking into the penetration of education and communication to the country’s remotest part. India has seen the women Prime Minister, such thought about women shows the patriarchal mindset of the people in power. Further, the nature and scope of armed forces had changed a lot. It is more moving toward unmanned warfare where machines will fight on behalf of man. Thus, the weapon does not discriminate between genders, and women had shown enough calibres and flair in such fields.
In the present time, women excelled in all fields. Is it science, medical, space, information technology, sports, politics, or any other field but only area where the role of women is contesting, is in the armed forces as combat Division. The women in the non-combat have already shown their presence and might. All the fields where women had contested and excelled are a non-physical field means the physical attribute is not under challenging circumstances.
If even if challenged, they have fought among themselves, i.e., we have not seen the female runner competing against the male. Thus, War is such a scenario where physical attributes matter. The enemy will not relax its norms to make sure that the woman of the opponent gets playing field as well, and the army is the organization that looks after the War. In all the areas where women excelled, physically disabled people had also excelled; it does not mean that physically disabled people would also be allowed to join the army.
However, the purpose is not to compare the female with disable a person but to understand the requirement of a particular job. Every organization had specific parameters that need to fulfil first. If any person, irrespective of gender, can meet those criteria, they need to welcome with an open hand. Thus, it is out of the question, whether women can lead the man in combat or not and prepare to take up the challenge. They may perform to the best of their capability. Still, in the army, it will not be about women’s capacity, but the ability of all the forces and during war liability can have a considerable cost.
Women’s entry into the combat role cannot come with the relaxation, attributing to their physical parameters. They must ready to go through the same set of physical fitness and training. If capable enough, there is no point in denying such a role to women. Otherwise, just demanding equality because men are doing the same will compromise our national security.
Further, not to forget, the army remains the only organization where the policy of reservation is not applicable, seeing the requirement of the armed forces because the national security demands utmost excellence and only the suitable can be allowed to guard the nation with pride. Thus, if women can prove their excellence in physical attributes at par with their male counterparts, there is no way restricting them from a combat role. Even their sacrifice will count with pride for the nation.
However, the deployment of the rifle women will surely boost the morale of women, and down the line, the women will deploy in a further sensitive position. Also, depending on the needs and objectives of the army, women can be used accordingly.
The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Kootneeti Team