The Centre’s arguments against women in commanding posts in the Army reinforce the system that has kept them out
It might not be shocking given how tragically well-adjusted society is to patriarchal attitudes, but the Centre’s ill-considered response to the Supreme Court on the matter of denial of permanent commission to women officers in the Armed Forces is beyond the pale. The Centre has insisted that the appointment of women officers to commanding posts that would result from granting them permanent commission would not be acceptable to the male troops. It further argued that the presence of women in all-male units had its own “peculiar dynamics”—the “unique” all-male environment that is the Army would be disrupted since women’s presence would require “moderated behaviour” on the part of male troops. Other arguments presented by the Centre harped on the physiological differences between men and women—lower standards of physical strength for the latter, and the resultant inability to lead a unit in battle, or their greater vulnerability to the trauma of being taken as a prisoner of war—as well as the difficulties a military career would pose to women’s domestic responsibilities.
It goes without saying that the Centre’s assertions are of the kind that belong in the trashcans of the 20th century. The Centre’s opposition to opening up the military forces to women is long and amply evident in the fact that women were allowed to apply to even non-combat, short service commission posts only in 1992. To reason that troops are not “mentally schooled to accept women officers in command of units” due to “prevailing social norms” is grounds to allow the systemic problem of women being denied equal rights and opportunities to continue is to, well, shame reason. If it cannot refrain from propagating regressive notions about gender, the Centre would do well to at least refrain from employing chicken-and-egg arguments in doing so. As for the assertions regarding women’s inferior strength, or the paternalistic attitude towards their safety, if a fresh look at scientific research and global practice of inducting women into the military at all ranks doesn’t show the Centre the folly of its argument, it is not clear what will.