I am committing the temerity of questioning you and the wisdom and experience of your outstanding career in the Indian army. As a citizen of India, I have full respect for your leadership and will come to the point without any further ado. I am writing about a statement attributed to you a few days ago, voicing your doubts regarding the assigning of combat roles to women in the Indian army.
I was brought up to believe that I have the freedom to choose the career I want and the life I wish to lead. I am well aware that far too many of my sisters across the country have not been as fortunate in this regard. For centuries, we have been “boxed” into certain roles that you have mentioned. We do not question the beauty and strength that comes from being nurturers. We are proud to be home-makers, mothers, sisters and wives. But what if we also want more — for instance, the freedom to choose?
Many men have helped us in our many struggles to come out of the box. I thought that you are one such supportive soldier, instead of being the one to tell us, nay order us, to be what you consider we “should be”. Do not let me and millions like me down, General.
You know how tired we are of being told that we are second-grade citizens. You are also well aware that within families, many of us are made to do with left-overs as our food. Spending on our health and education is minimal. We are not safe on the roads and most unsafe in public spaces after dark, or so our families think. There are so many restrictions on our movements and hurdles to our growth.
We have just about managed to come out of confined spaces and we are slowly gaining confidence in our own capabilities. It has not been an easy journey, as you know. But we have been steady and determined to make full use of the equality and freedom bestowed on us not by any individual but by the Constitution of India. We are in the process of utilising our rights and opportunities to develop our full potential. I am distressed that instead of rejoicing at our marching ahead in full steam you would want us to retreat.
Mistake it not, General, all we want is the freedom to choose. See how Mary Kom made the country proud when she chose the unconventional sport called boxing. At 35, her home is full of the well-deserved medals and also with the children she loves. There was no “ruckus” when she became pregnant nor did child birth or child rearing adversely affect her performance or commitment to her sport. And look at her husband who respected her choices and supported her.
In fact, the last Asian Games show that girls have finally arrived. Vinesh Phogat (wrestling), Rahi Sarnobat (shooting), Swapna Barman (heptathlon) must have been told that they cannot, yet they did. I am sure that they drew their strength from their families who believe that girls can indeed balance homes and careers.
General, many of the flights that you and I routinely take have women either as captains or first flight officers. Was it possible in India, say 60 years back? With both men and women accepting and supporting them, girls in India have dared to touch the forbidden clouds. Not to forget Bachendri Pal who became the first Indian woman to climb the Everest way back in 1984 followed by so many adventurous and ambitious girls. Then why should we shy away from the combat role?
Instead of declaring us unfit for combat roles without giving us a chance, dare us and we shall prove you wrong. The media quoted you as saying that “…she will say somebody is peeping, so we will have to give a sheet around her”. Please tackle the Peeping Tom and not the woman objecting to him. Some doubts about the combat role for women in the Indian army are expected, but not from you, General. You, in your position of leadership, are expected to innovate and encourage new ideas, lead us on the uncharted roads. How can you become a prisoner of the age-old stereotypes that you are supposed to discourage and discard?
Anyway, the message on the wall is clear for all to see. We, the women of India, have realised that we are not only the mistresses of our destiny but also capable of creating our destinies. There is no stopping us now. “Combat or no combat” will be our choice and not anyone else’s. Sorry for being blunt, General, but in my school, I learnt that equality and freedom of choice are the soul of our Constitution and I internalised it. With no apology, I claim my right to choose.
Warm regards and season’s greetings
The writer is a retired IPS officer and has served as Inspector General (Prisons), Maharashtra