Once more, TV has brought Indian Army Chief Bipin Rawat to the forefront to enthral the public, and he has not disappointed his fans, who recall past pronouncements on illegal immigrants and stone-pelters. Now, while insisting that the Army must not be dragged into politics, he appears to have no knowledge of the feminist credo from the Sixties, “the personal is the political”, and hit all the shiny buttons in his interview to News 18. While he said that he and the Army were ready to post women to frontline duties, he successfully demonstrated that the Army is totally unready. Indeed, all his quotable quotes so far have been deeply honest, and exposed the reality that the rank and file remain premodern.
The General told Shreya Dhoundiyal of News 18 that modern India is “copying the Western model” in seeking the advancement of women in the Army, while the reality is that we have a “peasant” force. That may be factually correct, but it is not clear why women’s prospects should be limited on that account, instead of modernising the outlook of the force. It was fodder both for prime time and social media, and incensed references to the Rani Jhansi regiment of the INA were made, and attention was drawn to the fact that the Air Force has women combat pilots. But there is a world outside India.
Let us take General Rawat at his word: that a “peasant” army drawn mainly from rural areas cannot be expected to appreciate the norms of gender sensitivity. But let us look at the US army, which takes gender issues quite seriously. The Clinton administration had even regularised the employment of gay people in the military, and the officer behind its most damaging leak ever is a transsexual, Chelsea Manning. Now, about recruitment. The facility in Montgomery, Alabama, is a major contributor of human resource, sourced from one of the poorest regions of the US, which is mainly rural. They are not reported to be peeping Toms. Toms appear to be General Rawat’s main concern, along with maternity leave and women coming back in bodybags.
But the US is an advanced country, it may be objected. Consider the USSR, then, where the Red Army traditionally recruited mostly from rural populations. Almost 80 years ago, during the Nazi push into Russia, many of the most decorated snipers in the Red Army were women — Lyudmila Pavlichenko (309 kills), Nina Lobkovskaya (83 kills), Roza Shanina (59 kills), Aliya Moldagulova, Tatyana Baramzina, Natalya Kovshova, Klavdiya Kalugina and many more highly decorated snipers. Sniping involves high physical and psychological stress, performed right at the frontline.
Another example from wartime USSR: the all-women 588 Night Bomber Regiment, execrated by the Germans as the ‘Nachthexen’ (Night Witches), for their strategy of cutting the engines of the converted cropduster biplanes they flew, and reaching the drop zone in complete silence, except for the keening of the wind in the wires. The squadron’s 40 planes flew 23,000 missions in three years and dropped over 3,000 tons of high explosive and 26,000 incendiaries over German lines. Thirty-two fliers were killed in action.
While the Indian Army is mulling problems that were successfully solved elsewhere 80 years ago, the US forces in Syria faced an unprecedented situation, as their president declared that the Islamic State was defeated (this has to be the fifth time, at least) and pulled them out without ceremony. CNN reports that Senator Bob Corker, outgoing Senate Foreign Relations Chairman and long-term critic of the Trump White House (last year, he had called it an “adult day care centre”) had been waiting in some ante-room to see Donald Trump when the meeting was cancelled.
US TV channels showed Corker lamenting that in 12 years in the House, he had not seen such a “massive decision … where nothing is communicated in advance.” Strangely, it seems that Trump has failed to battle-harden the American mind. Over here, we are quite used to massive decisions being taken without consultation.
Indeed, we have become so hardened in general that far too few have been shaken or stirred by the news that a television journalist in Manipur has been detained for a year under the National Security Act for
uploading material critical of the government in the state and at the Centre. According to a state home department statement, state governor Najma Heptulla was reported to have okayed the recommendation of the Advisory Board of the NSA, “after considering the proximate past activities of the detenu…” Detenu. That word has not seen much currency in the press after the Emergency.