Allow women in combat roles

The Indian Air Force’s move to allow women to don the role of fighter pilots is undoubtedly welcome, though this was one decision that should have ideally come several years ago. India merely follows a plethora of countries including Pakistan, Turkey, Afghanistan and Israel, all of which have women fighter pilots. The real question is what took so long for the decision-makers to break the gender barrier? As in several other professions, the male mindset was the reason behind not allowing women to perform certain tasks.

Indian women have been piloting commercial aircraft for several years now, as also the IAF’s own helicopters and transport planes with equal, if not better, efficiency than men. Even last year, Air Chief Marshal Arup Raha had dismissed the idea of Indian women in combat roles. The current decision too comes with a rider, which is that the women fighter pilots will not be allowed to cross the country’s boundaries but take on the enemy in defensive roles over Indian skies. The argument justifying this is that in the event of a female pilot falling into the hands of the enemy, the implications are more serious than for a man. While this may be valid, is that the only reason for denying women the role of fighter pilots for this long? The Indian Navy still does not allow women to pilot or handle weapons in its warships while the army has blocked women in its armoured corps, infantry and mechanised infantry. Historically, men always couched their prejudices and protected their turf by giving excuses such as women are weaker and that their physical attributes would come in the way of several jobs. Once many of these tasks were opened to women, in none was any of the preconceived notions found to be valid. The Indian military is among the last few institutions known to zealously safeguard its male turf. 

Women were inducted as officers only in the early 1990s, that too for a short five-year tenure. Gradually, the periodicity has increased with the help of the courts. In 2010, the Delhi High Court ruled in favour of IAF women officers being given long-service permanent commissions. Only last month did the navy follow suit, again after a court order. Women officers are already doing dangerous assignments, as people in the frontline with the engineers, services and logistical services. The way forward is clear. The male military leadership, instead of cowering behind imaginary fears and gender biases, should, in one stroke, sweep aside all barriers for women and employ them as they would any individual based on aptitude.

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