June 04, 2020
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He Has To Adapt

Maybe a veteran's words had a sobering effect

He Has To Adapt
Was it the more gender-sensitive perception of one his former colleagues that prompted vice chief of army staff, Lt Gen S. Pattabhiraman, to apologise for his remarks against women in the army? Outlook has access to a communication sent by Maj Gen Raj S. Mehta (retd) of the armoured corps to the vice chief last fortnight. In it he draws attention to some outstanding contribution by woman officers in operational areas.

Here's what he had to tell the vice chief about his experience of commanding women officers in combat areas: "It is my conviction that the army needs many more of them (women) in all spheres of endeavour other than actual combat, for which both physiologically and by universal consensus, there may be a problem in involving women. This does not close the issue; certainly not. A poll amongst women applicants applying to the armed forces should be taken for their willingness to serve in combat units. The army can certainly take the initiative in a pilot programme where volunteer women are inducted into fighting units. In this context, needless worries relating to the perceived need for toilet facilities, handling of unmentionables and so on should best be left for the women themselves to resolve or arrive at a workable via media and not be used as reasons for disqualification from combat service.

"...Let it be understood that the last set of people who need pampering, mollycoddling or a senior officer's favours are our women officers. Almost without exception, they wish to be treated at par with their male peers and abhor such dispensation when it does take place. As a community, I rate them as a class apart. They are special. One cannot and should not use stray cases of indiscipline or disorientation to lambast the rest of this cadre of brave women soldiers who are doing their duty and more, 24x7."

Mehta also suggested the establishment of an ombudsman in the adjutant general's branch at army headquarters to check—if not eliminate—sexual harassment by fear of punishment.
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