Army womenWhen, Tharoor getting nominated for UN top job, Prime Minister giving Bangloreans a lesson or two on road manners, growing rate of economic growth and the youths reaction to affirmative action can take any patriotic high, there are things, like the comments of our Vice Chief of the Army, that bring one back to the hard ground with a thump (and that hurts).

“Ideally, we would like to have gentlemen and not lady officers,” the Hindustan Times quoted Lt Gen S Pattabhiraman, Vice Chief of the Army, as saying in an interview a couple of weeks back after a female officer committed suicide.

Lt Sushmita Chakravorty was under stress at work and unhappy with her job, one that of organising late night parties. What this incident brings to the forefront are the problems faced by the 1,000 women in non-combat roles in India’s million-strong Army. Though one should not feel moved by suicides, when someone belonging to such a small number expresses discontentment, the last thing the second highest authority of the concerned department could have done was to utter the words he did.

The lady officers in the Indian Army do not receive a pension, they do not enjoy a permanent commission, a lady officer working in the army for fourteen years still draws the rank pay of a captain and not that of a major and like all problems we face and forget, this too has sunk in and is a part of the raw deal the Indian army has in offer for aspiring women officers. Indian army smacks of discrimination and not just in salary slips but also in the delegation of responsibilities. Lt S Chakravorty was working in the supplies department. When the bosses called for the parties, her job was not only to supervise the food, drinks and entertainment but to stay up till the early hours of the morning till the party was over. Rediff did an exclusive on the Kurukshetra (East coast of India) training area of the Indian Army in its Republic Day Special earlier this year, and shows how hard it is for lady officers to become Lts. After the training they become troop commanders and ideally are supposed to lead a troop of 25-80 men, which of course does not happen that often. The Indian army, that has always been recognised as the gentlemen group of our country, is proving itself far too otherwise in its biased attitude towards women officers. The question of recruiting women in positions where they have to undertake combat responsibilities still remains an ethnic question and has number of factors affecting it. POWs for one. The utilization of lady officers in intelligence agencies could be one area to tap their skills. What the Indian army should understand is that a large number of aspiring women officers could be lost or under utilized if the army does not change its attitude towards them which in turn would mean more uninterested teachers, engineers and herd of other unprofessional professionals who always have something against their male counterparts.

The second in command has indeed apologised but his words should act as a constant reminder to the media that even the most highest and respected offices in India are after all held by Indians who after all are Indians holding Indian beliefs. Though, the Defense Minister has seeked a rapid enquiry into all matters pertaining to compensation and services of women officers, an unofficial assurance (like as a part of the Presidents speech in the coming 15th August) should soon be given to the citizens of this country that all steps would be taken to remove gender discrimination in the armed forces and not just the army but all the three wings of our defense would best utilize their women officers.