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Army and Women

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The reputation of the Indian defence forces is taking quite a battering lately. Lieutenant Sushmita Chakravorty's suicide in Udhampur had stirred up a hornet's nest. The whole issue of whether women are capable of handling the pressures within the military has been underscored by her death.

Having stayed away from civilian society and built up a kind of hermetically sealed world, the armed forces now find it difficult to deal with situations and people outside their gamut of defence services when it comes to social issues like these. And this has got proved in Sushmita Charaborty's suicide case. Look at the manner in which the Army has dealt with the suicide of a young, lady officer.

The Vice-Chief immediately reacted by saying that the Army was not yet ready to cope with women as officers. An honest admission, probably, but totally out of sync with the real world, where females have joined the work force in large numbers and have also proved to be strong leaders. Though the Ministry of Defence later said that he was misquoted, the remark brought to fore the problems that women are facing in the Army.

It is worth mentioning in this regard that though women have been serving in the medical corps of the military for a long time now, it was only in 1992 that the Army began inducting women for other duties as well. But there are cases where women have had to face indifferent, if not hostile attitudes, on part of the male officers.

According to many women, the problems are evident at the training level itself. The treatment meted out to men and women cadets are conspicuously different, with women getting "softer treatment".

On the other hand, their male counterparts are of the view that considering the fact that it's only been 14-15 years since women were inducted into the armed forces, it will take time for men and women to get used to each other. "I think the military is doing fairly well. These are initial teething troubles. Suddenly, one incident is being highlighted as an example to show that women are not treated well. After all, women doctors have been serving in the military for quite a long time and there have never been any problems," pointed out Vijay Sakhuja, Former navy commander.

In an article published by the United Services Institution of India in December 2005, retired Captain Deepanjali Bakshi, an alumnus of the academy, gives significant insight into the discrepancies. According to her, special concessions are made and physical standards are lowered for women. As a result, differences in assignments and attitudes continue throughout their service.

It is worth pointing in this regard that women are only trained for 24 weeks while gentlemen cadets are trained for 44 weeks, even though they cover the same syllabus.

In addition to this, separate accommodation, physical training, weapons training and even the marches at the passing-out parade only reinforce this feeling of gender bias within the service.

"These concessions, coupled with the mostly patronizing, derisive and sometimes supporting attitudes of men result in a plethora of integration issues cropping up," pointed out Captain Deepanjali Bakshi in her article.

Like Bakshi, many women are of the view that women cadets need to be put through equal mental and physical rigours, so that they can pass out as equals. "There is an urgent need for



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