Gunjan Saxena – Capability of women in armed forces

Today I want to talk about a film Gunjan Saxena on Netflix, yet to be released, which addresses many critical severe issues along with being a story about a real-life hero.

Suppose if I ask you to imagine army personnel of the Indian Army, you will picture about a male soldier only. Because historically and traditionally, our society hasn’t considered women fit to serve this post. Women have always been considered to take care of the house or cook in the kitchen. Never regarded as capable of the role of armed forces. Recently in February 2020, the honourable Supreme court gave permission that female officers can also take permanent commission posts and position of commands. Before February 2020 it was impossible, but if we see overall the percentage of female officers in the Army, navy and air force today, there are about 9449 female officers. Let us know what the percentage and role of female officers in the military forces and whether discrimination is prevalent, as well as the vital role of Gunjan Saxena, is.

The real story of Gunjan Saxena

Gunjan Saxena- the netflix movie poster

Gunjan Saxena was born in an army family in 1975. Her father is also a retired, Lt. Colonel Anup Saxena as well as his brother is also in the Army. She graduated from Hans Raj College in Delhi. She learnt the basics of flying an aircraft, cleared the SSB exam and entered the Indian air force. She, along with 24 other female officers, became the first batch of female trainee pilots in IAF. The high point came in her life during the Kargil War where Gunjan Saxena and 8 other pilots were deployed. Slowly when the scale of the war increased, she was asked whether she wants to get out of the danger zone and avoid the war being a female officer. But she refused. And this is how she became a part of the Kargil’s Vijay operation. Initially, she was sent to surveillance sortie missions in a particular area, but later she also participated in Supply, Relief and Rescue missions.  According to the NDTV report, Gunjan Saxena and Vidya completed 80 sortie missions. After the war, INA used fighter jets instead of helicopters, but by then Gunjan and Vidya had rescued almost 900 injured or martyred soldiers. Female officers like Gunjan Saxena compel us to talk about the role of female officers in armed forces. Her story proves that women are capable of serving in the Indian Army as well at the topmost positions too.

Women in armies Worldwide

According to the National Geographic magazine, there are only 16 countries in the world where females are allowed for combat positions in the armed forces. There are about 200 countries in the world, and this number is even less than 20. Norway, Canada, and Denmark were the first countries where females were allowed in the 1980s, and slowly the change was observed in countries like Japan, Germany and China. Only in 2016, the USA allowed women in all combat roles in their armed forces too (air force and naval permissions were obtained much before). Astonishing women played a crucial role in the world war as well. In world war II, Russia had 3 women regiments. This can be considered an exception because, during world wars, there was a severe demand for soldiers, and, understandably, some governments might have allowed women, soldiers. Now the question arises that why women are not allowed to serve in combat roles because most of the times the military forces are in shortage of soldiers. And why neglect almost half of the population?

Reasons for not allowing Women

Every country is posed by this burning question. Many say that if women are allowed in armed forces, there will be a negative effect on the psychology of the armed forces if women are taken as POW (prisoners of war) by an enemy country. This argument can still be considered to be discussed on, but sometimes arguments given by some governments are laughable. Like Indian government had said some years back that we won’t allow women in armed forces because it is against “prevailing societal norms.” What type of reason is this? Many officers unofficially say that if women are allowed in commanding positions, they fear that men who are below them in the position may not obey their commands and take them seriously. Reading these statements, Supreme court also said in their February ruling that they are ashamed to hear these thoughts.

avani chaturvedi- India's first women fighter pilot

We talk about “Beti Bachao, Beti padhao” (Save and educate the girl child) on one side but when the questions come of actually empowering women, we give lame excuses and take a step back. Another argument said by the government that women can’t provide the same commitment and sacrifice as men on frontline wars because women have to raise a child and take care of the family, which requires separate time and dedication. So they would need extended compensation offs from duty. This thought in itself is a backward mindset while hearing, and this is the sole reason why we have seen very little or slow progress of women in the Indian Army. The story of Gunjan Saxena is a story of 1999, and today we are talking about it in 2020 when the Supreme court has ruled in favour of women in armed forces.

History of women in armies

Pre 1992, women were only allowed in medical roles in the Indian armed forces. Post-1992, Short Service Commission (SSC) came into the picture where you can serve the Indian Army for only 10 years at max.  It was increased to 14 years in 2006. Due to SSC, people like Gunjan Saxena and other women could enter the armed forces and serve. The problem arose when it was known that according to government and SSC regulations, women won’t receive pensions for their service because a minimum of 20 years’ service is required for a pension. This wasn’t possible because women could serve the armed forces through SSC regulations for 14 years only. Questions were raised because of this discrimination. And in 2003, 2006 petitions were filed that women should also be allowed for permanent commissions. Delhi high court in their ruling in 2010 said that those women who were serving the Navy and the armed forces should be allowed for permanent posts on par with men. This ruling was followed by the Indian airforce, and in 2015, airforce opened the position of a fighter pilot for women. In July 2018, Avani Chaturvedi, Bhavna and Mohana Singhcreated history by becoming the first three Indian women fighter jet pilots. Today we find the highest proportion of women in Indian airforce. It took 9 years to bring change in the Indian Army, and in February 2019 the government opened few other positions for women to earn permanent commissions (approximately in 10 branches). But the conditions here are that it will be given to those women who have not completed 14 years of service as well as the commanding positions are still reserved for men. Maybe our defence ministry is still living with the backward mindset of societal norms.

Supreme court ruling in 2020

Supreme court in February 2020 directed the centre to grant permanent commissions to women officers in landmark verdict ending gender bias in 10 different army position streams in commanding positions as well. But but but only in non-combat fields. So there is still room for a significant change. Supreme court had given 3 months to the centre to launch this ruling but due to Covid-19 central government asked for 6 months’ time period. And on 7th July, Supreme court allowed a one-month extension only to implement this ruling. Along with this, the honourable Supreme court has also ordered in favour of permanent commissions for women officers in the Navy in 7 streams.

There is a significant shortage of about 9427 officers and 68864 jawans in the Indian armed forces. With the inclusion of able women, this shortage can be filled up fast soon. Seeing all this, it can be understood that significant changes take time, but it has to come eventually. Considering that for centuries women have to suffer oppression due to lack of equal opportunities with men, these 25 years is still small. But the point is about equal opportunities for both men and women being allowed to take commanding positions, earn permanent commissions, equal pay, same pensions etc. It shouldn’t be that due to biological differences, women are not given the same rights as men have. This is the critical issue in our society, in our country and in our mindset that if we deny half of our population with any opportunities, then how will our country progress in the longer run. To change the mentality of the society, it is crucial that we change our mindset first, be aware of what is happening around, search for the right information ,acquire wisdom and question our conscience of what is wrong and what is right. It is not only in armed forces but in our daily life, i.e. at home and jobs, men and women should be considered equal. We all have been talking about it for years, but understanding and application is still amiss.

Hope you liked the arguments and facts. Let me know in the comments what you loved and if I have missed any cases. Like and share the article and let’s watch Gunjan Saxena on Netflix together.

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