Women in combat
December 16, 2009 Leave a comment
One of the world’s largest armies, the Indian Army has finally clarified that ‘Combat’ roles for women are not on the anvil atleast for now.
This clarification puts to rest all the speculation about women joining the battlefields and rubbing shoulders with the brave jawans who protect our borders.
I seriously think that this decision requires some examination. Is this decision taken on grounds of possible weakening of the armed forces or the unimaginable possibilities of women taken as PoW or is it pure gender bias ?
Before we delve deep into this examination, I want to go back to history on the combativeness of Indian women. But even before we go back to history, we have ‘mythological history’ to contend with.
Ramayana and Mahabharata unarguably the most important ‘mythological recounts’ of India have references to women in battlefield. The banishing of Rama to the forest by Dasaratha was courtesy the promise he gave to his wife Kaikeyi in return for her efforts to save him in the battlefield. The mother of the Pandavas, Kunti is also noted to have participated in battles.
On to ‘real history’ Jhansi Rani springs to my mind as someone who stood up to the Mughals in the battlefield. If we expand the definition of ‘combativeness’ from a mere physical context to a state of mind or strength of character, then India throws up lot of examples of ‘combative women’.
The list of our freedom fighters who participated in the independence struggle includes an impressive list of women who were no less ‘combative’ in their outlook compared to their male counterparts. Annie Beasant, Dr Sarojini Naidu, Vijaylakshmi Pandit can hold their forte among any league of men with steely resolve. I also think that these women did not get their due in terms of recognition.
From the above, I suppose we can surmise that ‘combativeness’ is not something alien to women. If we turn our attention to ordinary people, one would see more striking evidences of ‘combative women’. Ordinary women are anything like the ‘sacrificing-crying-saints’ that are portrayed on the various television soaps. The mere sight of a water tanker would bring out the best (or the worst) combative spirit of the women, especially in water-starved cities like Chennai.
The relatively lower divorce rate in India in my view is also a testimony to the combative spirit of Indian women. Though I don’t support the continuance of an unhappy marriage for sake of ‘society’, in my view the lower divorce rate is a very good indicator of the faith that the womenfolk have in turning around their marriages.
There is also the growing phenomenon of the woman’s combativeness breaching the boundary of reasonability. As much as there are all women police stations, there are exclusive societies for the hen-pecked men. A strange case of the victims turning their tables on men.
Indian movies for a better part have no worthwhile role for woman. She is either only for prancing around the trees or she makes the best kheer in town to find her lost son. There are a few actresses who have managed to break the shackles of ‘creative boredom’ imposed on women by taking on adventurous roles.
Yes, you guessed it right, it is to vijayashanthi that I turn to. She is perhaps the actress with most number of ‘action movies’ to her credit. She turned to action at a time when her ‘prancing-around-the-tree’ career was on a downhill. Very much like Rajni she created another niche for herself.
The worst example that I can think of a meaningful movie converted to a lousy joke is the ‘indianised version’ of a French movie. This movie whose name I remember as ‘Nikita’ was screened in a IFFI event held at Chennai (back then Madras). This was a movie about how a girl battles the establishment after her family is cruelly eliminated by the police for knowing too much. A gripping 90 minute movie was morphed into a terrible tamil movie casting Gowthami (of Kamalhassan fame now) and Bagyaraj (poor equivalent of Hindi’s Anil Kapoor and a reasonable equivalent of Telugu’s Rajendra Prasad). The meaningful role of the French leading girl was reduced to a ‘rain-song-dancing’ ‘paisa-vasool’ heroine.
Back to the topic, I have a sneaky suspicion that the decision has got much to do with ‘gender bias’. While I am not oblivious to the physical limitations of a woman, it is equally naïve to think that they are not capable of any physical role.
It is also quite ludicrous in my view to think that combat roles only need physical power. Physical power is a need, no doubt but not every strong Indian can be a good Army man. The nature of the wars (God forbid) that will be fought in the future in my view would need very little ‘direct combat’. Future wars may require more technical prowess and strategizing. In that context, would India be ready anytime in the future for a woman to head the DGMO – Direct General of Military Operations ?
Surely we don’t expect our women to survive in the cold conditions of Siachen or be part of a group manning the MBT – Main Battle Tank – Arjun but I certainly believe that they can be given combative roles of a strategic nature. Or atleast create a roadmap for the same.
I out rightly dismiss any suggestions of the decision being taken in the interest of ‘protecting’ the women. These are just crocodile-tears that we can shed for the women.
While the real issues concerning women namely female infanticide, poor education access, malnutrition, pregnancy related deaths, self-help groups, micro-finance access remain unattended, there can be no case for offering “protection” to women.
It is terrible that we are not doing anything significant about the lowering sex ratio, the biggest concern in my view.
These are the real issues that the Indian woman needs protection from.
To end on a brighter note, I think the decision has been taken without probably considering ‘Amma’ Jayalalithaa and Manyawar Kanshi Ram’s Mayawati. Can there be women more combative than these two leading lights of Indian politics ?
There can be no sight more pleasing than a stream of men, both young and old, prostrating at the holy feet of ‘Amma’ in full public view.
That should put to rest all doubts about the combative capabilities of the Indian woman.