Induction of Women in Special Forces in Indian Armed Forces
Women’s’ role in the Indian army can be traced back to as early as 1888 when the “Indian Military Nursing Service” was formed during the reign of the British Raj. It was only in 1992 that the Indian army decided to induct females to serve in combat units like the Infantry, the Armoured Corps, and Mechanised Infantry. To their credit, both the government of India and the defense ministry have finalised their plans for setting up a permanent commission for women officers in law and education and naval constructors’ branch. While a set of policies concerning the grant of permanent commission to women officers in certain branches of the Indian Air Force have been issued, the Indian Army is yet to issue any similar policies. As of 2018, women have yet not been allowed as combatants in the combat specialist forces, such as Ghatak, Garud, MARCOS, para-commandos. Current policy also takes from them the right to be inducted into arms of the Indian Army which involve a direct combat role.
Web Series: The Test Case (2017)
Directed by Vinay Waikul and Nagesh Kukunoor, The Test Case is a fictionalised account of Indian Army’s first woman officer undergoing the Special Forces training in Indian Army. Captain Shikha Sharma is considered to be a “test case” by the first Indian woman defence minister for being inducted as a commando in Indian Army. As expected this creates a big furor in the lives of all related to the Special Forces Training School, starting from the top brass in Army headquarters to the Special staff such as a Lady Medical Officer, her Ustads, the course mates and the Commanding Officer of the training establishment. With the likes of Nimrat Kaur, Juhi Chawla, Akshay Oberoi, Atul Kulkarni, Rahul Dev and Sumit Suri in key roles, for a change Balaji Productions and Ekta Kapoor tried to create a nearly perfect patriotic-watch for the weekend. The 9 episodes web series is available on Netflix and is worth a one-time watch for all Indian Army lovers.
The show became famous for all the wrong reasons due to the exit of Nagesh Kukunoor in the post –production phase due to certain creative differences between Ekta and him. Many criticized the show for its over-dramatised scenes, esp in the first episode; the personalized vindictive end; disturbing background score and leaving loose ends in characterizations. Critics still praised Ekta Kapoor and her team for her experimental beginning, the realistic direction and gritty screenplay; and of course, composed performances by all the actors.
Since there are only a few worthwhile military reviews available on net about the series; I take this opportunity to present my views as a combatant and a common woman about the show. The series does become significant for today’s youth who would want to join the Armed forces in any capacity for it succeeds in portrayal of certain inherent issues bothering Indian Army for past few decades,such as:
the working environment of a Special Forces Establishment, camaraderie between NDA course mates; differences between the Direct Entry officers and the NDA trained officers;
the ease enjoyed by second generation officers under units commanded by their parents; the regimental superiority within few army units; and the cultural mind block of the superiors as well as subordinates in accepting and addressing woman officers
These have been subtly shown in the very first episode. Although the director and writers have taken certain creative liberties throughout the series, they succeed in presenting the main idea in an impressive way. Jumping to save another brother officer in the very first week at the unit; sharing the same bathing area and dormitory with the gentlemen officers; the ultimate sexual assault and handling of the indiscipline case in a melodramatic way in front of all are just a few of them. Also, the rising tendency of officers and other ranks indulging in writing anonymous letters about cases of injustice rather than using the existing honourable procedures and espirit-de-corps being forgotten for personal benefits and promotions has been amply portrayed in some of the main characters. A military way out instead of a personalized solution of the problem would have definitely enhanced the overall universal appeal of the series.
Women in Special Forces Worldwide
There are roughly a dozen nations that have opened “close combat roles” to women as discussed before. Some of these countries have taken “three to ten years to go through this process, to integrate women” into combat roles. In many parts of the world, these efforts have moved quickly once they’ve begun.
1. In 1985, Norway became the first country in NATO to allow women to serve in all combat capacities, including submarines. Norwegian women are also subject to the draft in the event of a national mobilization.
2. Women have been able to serve in all defense units, including infantry and artillery units, since New Zealand too passed a law to that effect in 2001.
3. In 1989 Canada opened all combat roles except those involving submarine warfare to women. In 2000, women were given the green light to serve on subs as well.
4. Since 1988, Denmark has had a policy of “total inclusion,” which came on the heels of 1985 “combat trials” exploring the capabilities of women to fight on the front lines. Danish research showed that women performed just as well as men in land combat roles.
5. Women make up nearly one-fifth of the French military and can serve in all posts except on submarines and in the riot-control gendarmerie. Though permitted to serve in the combat infantry, however, most chose not to.
In 2001, the country opened German combat units to women, dramatically increasing the recruitment of female soldiers into the ranks. The number of women in the German Armed Forces is now three times as high as in 2001.
7. In 1985 the Israeli Defense Force (IDF) began putting women into combat positions and by 2009 women were serving in artillery units, rescue forces, and in anti-aircraft forces.
8. In addition to the U.S., Australia is another country to most recently remove barriers to its front-line units, provided women meet the physical requirements. In 2011, Australia’s defense minister announced that the last 7 percent of positions that had been closed to women—including Special Forces, infantry, and artillery—would be opened up to them.
Arguments against utility of women in Worldwide Special Forces
The military will be forced to lower or compromise its current standards to accommodate the new gender parity. This lowering/compromise of the standards will have an adverse effect on mission accomplishment, lower unit cohesion and erode esprit de corps.
2. Special Operations units when deployed operate in austere environments. Many times the facilities given for units to live and operate in are small and very cramped. Separate bathroom and living quarters may not be available and living in close proximity to women will have an adverse effect on the unit.
3. The Special Forces teams are like a family. There is very little disparity based on ranks and mutual respect is commonly based on each other’s physical and leadership skills. In such cases, there is a tremendous amount of trust placed on each other to accomplish their mission. Putting women in such tight situations in such units would mean letting in distrust and preference between the members.
4. Integrating women into Special Forces units would erode unit cohesion as there will be a double/separate standard set up for female combatants due to lack of similar infrastructure existing in Indian special forces units/establishments.
5. The men would not have confidence in the woman’s leadership abilities and most importantly there would be a lack of trust in their ability to uphold an equal share in watching each other’s back in real time combat operations.
6. Women are demonstrably weaker, more breakable, have drastically less lung capacity, and even shoot less accurately. Thus their performances in combat operations would not be up to the mark.
Even if women manage to meet the laid down standards, they would be more likely to be disabled than their male counterparts and to receive a physical disability discharge for severe
physical disorder. They’re more likely to suffer stress fractures and other disabilities related to combat.
8. Besides the physical aspects of the job, women will have to battle cultural prejudices that exist in many rural parts of the country where women warriors are not a common sight. In many of the states where our Special Forces now operate (remote parts of Chattisgarh, Rajasthan and J&K), women are kept separate from men and women leaders would never be accepted.
9. Special Operations by Special Forces are generally conducted in deep dense forests in cross-border areas. The strongest argument against use of women in such situations still remains to be the detrimental Post Operation Trauma: social, emotional and physical in case if any woman operator is left behind as a POW. The chances of her being sexually assaulted, tortured or the worst impregnated cannot be denied.
10. The shelf life of any well-performing gentleman MARCO ranges from 05 -07 years. In case of women, due to the societal Indian customs would be reduced to 03-05 years; which would be too less as compared to the amount of training, man hours and finances invested in them.
Pertinent issues related to Women in Forces in Indian Armed Forces
“You were so preoccupied with whether or not you could that you didn’t stop to think if they should.”Jeff Goldblum in Jurassic Park
Somewhat similar to the disturbance caused by genetic rebirth of the dinosaurs in the Hollywood series Jurassic Park; the Indian government has caused an unwanted chaos which would be disturbing both for the Army as well as the women. Although the Armies world over might have started to induct women in branches such as Artillery or Infantry, they have still limited the role of women in Special Forces to areas such as internal security, surveillance and/or intelligence.
Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Joseph Dunford, a Marine general with several tours of duty in the Iraq War and Afghanistan presented an internal Marine Corps study in 2015 with evidence that women suffered drawbacks not only in the more obvious areas involving strength and stamina, but were more likely to get injured in training and were much less capable of hitting a target.
In 2012, when the issue wasn’t even special ops but just women in combat, Marine Capt. Katie Petronio published a powerful essay entitled, “Get Over it; We Are Not All Created Equal.” She knew what she was talking about: Her body was broken by two combat deployments. Due to the time she spent in full combat load, she suffered numerous nerve damage and physical problems.
Keeping such experiences in mind, utility of women in actual combat in a cross-border conflict in the Indian sub-continent would depend on answers to basically three questions.
1. With the kind of Jihadi combat operations going on worldwide, is this really the time to begin inducting women in such highly specialized jobs?
2. Is our Army really ready to take them? Putting women in a traditionally male-dominated area such as Special Operations is going to be tough for considering the cultural block in their male counterparts and the lack of infrastructure required for them.
3. And finally, will the Indian Army be stronger as a result of including women in Special Operations?
“I have to be clear: You have to meet the physical standards, because the job is still the same. It works very well as long as women hold the standards. It’s not a big deal because women who go into these fields know the standards, and it’s not that hard for women to train up to the standards if they really want.”
said Colonel Gjerde, an infantry officer and the commander of Norwegian forces in Afghanistan in 2012.
A study on the integration of female combatants in the IDF between 2002 and 2005 found that women often exhibit “superior skills” in discipline, motivation, and shooting abilities, yet still face prejudicial treatment stemming from “a perceived threat to the historical male combat identity.” The accuracy of support weapons such as aircraft and artillery has improved, but battles are still decided by the grit and competency of the people on the ground. And both actual combat and the experience of combat conditions have actually become more difficult since Vietnam because of one simple factor –will power. Both men and women with great physical standards can survive or succumb in extremely stressful situations, provided they will. Hence, the biological limitations might be just one aspect of the whole argument about induction of women in Special Forces in Indian Army.
“War is not a Nintendo game.”
-Commanding General H. Norman Schwarzkopf declared in the 1991 Gulf War
Inducting the women in Special Forces for winning the Lok Sabha Elections and then limiting the
role of such women to ceremonial duties and VIP security would be cheating the Indian Army and the Indian masses, in general. Hence, in order to make the whole change worthwhile, certain recommendations need to be considered prior to taking the new step would be:
1. To conduct a real-time Needs Analysis and Readiness for the induction of women in SF.
2. To clearly outline the role that would be played by the newly enrolled women.
3. To culturally, mentally and physically prepare the male counterparts about the induction.
4. To create appropriate training environment for the women trainees to handle close-combat situations.