The world’s oldest war, the gender war, has finally arrived at the frontlines. The Supreme Court’s gallant ruling allowing female officers in command positions demolished the government’s argument that women are physically and emotionally weaker. In these nationalist times, when Rani Lakshmibai and Abbakka Chowta are feted as icons on history’s steroids, the misogynistic military argument is out of sync. However, allowing women in real battlefield situations is an operational and psychological dilemma. The US Army deploys women in combat situations, mainly as medics and support staff.
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Post 9/11, 149 American women soldiers have been killed by suicide bombers, IEDs, helo crashes and bullets. The lethal Israeli Army has the Caracal Battalion, a light infantry force in which 70 per cent soldiers are women. However, the Israel Defence Forces don’t send female soldiers into the field where the possibility of combat is high. Between 1962 and 2016, 535 female Israeli soldiers have been killed. India like Israel has been in a state of constant war with its enemies on the border. Israeli forces have women generals, fighter pilots, helicopter mechanics and women guarding highly dangerous border check posts.
It is absurd to say that women are unsuited to war—hundreds of Russian women fought in both World Wars; some as deadly snipers. Women Kurdish fighters battle the ISIS. Tamil Tigers weaponised women. Ancient history resounds with the proud exploits of female warriors such as Triệu Thị Trinh, who led a 1,000-strong Vietnamese force against Chinese invaders.
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Both Chandragupta Maurya and Moghul emperors prized women warriors for their loyalty. Legendary Persian woman commander Pantea Arteshbod could turn the outcome of a battle with her elite “Immortals”. Fearing capture in a battle against Imperial troops, 19th-century woman samurai Nakano Takeko asked her sister to cut off her head and bury it. In June 1992, Major Rhonda Cornum of the US Air Force recounted her experience in captivity in Gulf War I to a Presidential Commission: enroute to prison, an Iraqi guard unzipped her flight suit and fondled her breasts.
In Cornum’s words, she was “violated manually—vaginally and rectally.” However, the US Military is battling cases of young women being raped by their own NCOs. Authorised rape in war is a PsyOps technique to break the morale of a conquered population. Had Wing Commander Abhinandan, whose aircraft was shot down in PoK, been a woman, the outrage would have shattered the country’s spirit. The Supreme Court’s decision ends long years of gender discrimination. Now, it is up to the Army where to deploy our women warriors. While trying to capture enemy land, the capture of a single Indian woman soldier would traumatise the nation. Their bravery is not in question. Only the manner of their deployment is.
(Ravi Shankar can be contacted at email@example.com)