Retrograde view

Vice-chief of air staff Air Marshal P K Barbora has apologised for his recent negative comments on the induction of women in the fighter stream of the force but the remarks were yet another indication of the entrenched attitudes at the top levels of the defence forces. Barbora has said that his opinion was personal, but a responsible defence official has no business to express a personal view on an important issue in public. The burden of his view was that it was not a good financial proposition to have women fighter pilots as they cannot be utilised fully because of compulsions like maternity. He also said the policy can change only if some pre-conditions are met.

If President Pratibha Patil’s flight on a Sukhoi 30MKI was a symbolic gesture and the recent commissioning of two women as navigators in the Navy’s flying branch, which has combat duties,  marked a positive movement, Barbora’s comments were retrograde. India’s defence forces have to change their notions of male superiority and accept women as equal to men in all areas of functioning and operations. Women have proved their worth in all fields that require high physical and mental effort and involve stress and tension. There is a change of attitude in the police and paramilitary forces where there are more women now, though they also need to recruit more women. While India’s defence force leadership is still hesitant, others are not. Women make up 20 per cent of the US defence forces personnel and about 10 per cent of the UK forces. They are also deployed in combat zones. The Indian Air Force has only a few hundred women in the officer cadre. The situation in the Army and the Navy is not much better. This is when there is a severe shortage of officers and the forces find it difficult to attract young people to them even with the incentives that are on offer.

The idea that women are only good for certain occupations should be jettisoned. The government has often said that its policy is to give a greater role for women in the forces and has taken some steps also in this regard. Even here there are ifs and buts about the cadres that they could be inducted in. However, effective implementation of the policy will be difficult if the senior leadership of the forces stick to outdated ideas on gender roles.

Liked the story?

  • 0

    Happy
  • 0

    Amused
  • 0

    Sad
  • 0

    Frustrated
  • 0

    Angry