Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Three to tango - 1

There have been three things in the last 10 days or so that have made me more cynical than I already am (if that's possible), but it's also got me worked up (unnecessarily too, I might add). The three topics in question are:

1. Should women be allowed in combat roles in the armed forces?
2. Should Thiery Henry have admitted to 'handling' the ball?
3. Is the Lieberhan commission's report on the Babri Masjid demolition a load of crap?

No. I don't know. Yes. In that order. And yes, I'm still the liberal, food loving creature I've always been.

Let's take them one at a time, and this post will deal with question 1.

1. Should women be allowed in combat roles in the armed forces?

The short answer: No. Now by combat roles if you mean hand-to-hand combat roles, then no. If you include roles like missile/artillery officers, radar officers, signals officers, etc, then yes, they not only can, but should. The next logical part of my argument should detail the 'why', and that's precisely what it'll do. Our country (as with most other countries) has over eons been shaped to respect women and almost treat them with kid gloves at certain times when it comes to certain issues. So the obvious question when it comes to war is "What will happen to a woman soldier if captured by the enemy?". Without going into graphic details, one can imagine that a captured woman would any day be preferred by soldiers of the opposite side than a captured male soldier. With a male, the only possibilities are torture, and eventually death (or jailing them for eternity). With a female soldier, the sexual factor is almost a given - almost like a breath of fresh air to soldiers who've captured her. She wouldn't just be used, but abused to the point where a third party observer would want to kill her just to put her out of her misery.

Our lady newscasters on CNN-IBN and NDTV who've been championing the cause for inducting women into these close quarter combat roles fail to see the obvious that the public would most certainly be outraged to a far greater extent if a woman soldier is abused and tortured than if the same treatment is meted out to a male. It's in our psyche. Isn't that why we have harsher punishments in our criminal laws to people who abuse women, whereas those who do the same to men aren't meted out the same treatment? Isn't it why, the world over, the directive on a ship when it is sinking is "Women and children first" while boarding the rescue boats? Isn't it why, the world over, when a terrorist strikes, we say "why did they kill innocent women and children" and we fail to mention, and almost intentionally leave out the 'innocent men'? I'm pretty sure a lot of innocents killed in mindless acts of terror are men, and yet they don't find mention in the sympathies thrown forward. Most of the abuses that people use are aimed towards a person's mother or sister because this is far more likely to insult them the most, whereas insults to the male relatives isn't taken that personally (almost 99% of the times). So women like Sagarika Ghosh, Barkha Dutt, and Nidhi Razdan (who I thought, until now, is one of the more objective journalists amongst the lot), when having their talk shows on this topic, would do well to think through all the details before giving their opinions on the matter and deciding before what their stand is on the matter.

When it comes to the Indian Air Force, I'm not quite sure which former Air Chief it was (Air Chief Marshal Krishnaswamy I think) who said it, but the reasons he gave were quite compelling. He said that the fleet of fighters the IAF has primarily consist of the Russian MiGs, with French Mirages and British Jaguars making the rest. Flying the MiGs requires constant practice as it's not as easy as flying one of the American fighter jets, and if a woman goes off on a maternity break, when she comes back she won't be 'in touch' with the flying - this isn't like driving or swimming where once you learn it, it's with you life long. The MiGs our air force operate are very unforgiving and even small mistakes due to concentration lapses or because of being out of touch can cause a fatal crash.

Recently, Air Marshall Barbora, the new Vice Chief of Staff commented that it wasn't prudent to have women fly fighter jets, and his remarks set off a chain reaction with people calling his remarks as sexist. I so wish people who said such things about the vice chief would go learn some English first. The language used by the vice chief was absolutely professional, and he was only stating facts and operational issues, nothing else. I don't see how one could question the validity of his statements. He said "...after investing 'x' crores on a pilot, the IAF would recover the cost if the pilot serves for 12 to 14 years. But with women, they'll have to go off for family responsibilities, and so it's not prudent to have them as fighter pilots." I don't see anything wrong with this. Also, more importantly, isn't he right? If a woman goes off for maternity leave, that would leave the squadron short of a pilot, compromising it's effectiveness. What if the country faces a situation that requires the IAF to take action, and they are missing a few pilots because of 'labour' issues? Who'll fly their planes then? Sagarika? Nidhi? Who?

I'm not going to get into discussing the red herrings that are usually thrown around - namely, women can handle pressure situations better than men (I haven't come across any study that conclusively says that), and that women are physically as strong as men (again, pure bullshit), etc. because even IF these were true (big if), the arguments I've given above would quite easily take precedence over these.

Given all of the above, any logical person can come to only one conclusion: at present, women can't be allowed into close quarter combat roles in the Indian army, and can't be allowed to fly fighter jets in the Indian air force. I'm not being sexist, I'm just being rational, and coming to my conclusion based on hard facts and ground realities. As always. I'm always been a liberal, and have advocated equal rights for women (as is quite visible in some of my previous posts), but when faced with facts, the only right thing to be done is to doff your hat, sit back, and relax.

Reactions are welcome (I know it's been a while since I last posted...apologies for the same), but please keep the comments sane.


Jil Jil Ramamani said...

Where a woman knowing the risks involved, wants to still take on a combat role in the army, she does not have the choice. Given the choice, there won't be many women who actually take the job. Having the opening and being able to make the choice matters, doesn't it?

Karthik Shetty said...

It would matter, but I think the arguments provided are so compelling that it's going to be hard to have the opening anytime soon (or ever, given the way our society is shaped).

Provided by website-hit-counters.com site.