The army is known for its discipline and efficiency, but resorting to measures such as these – that discriminate between genders – seems to be another hallmark. Married women are not welcome into the ranks of the Judge Advocate General, the legal branch of the Indian Armed Forces. This is to discourage women whose “pregnancy or domestic needs resulting from marriage” would come in the way of their training time and availability at work.
Kush Kalra, a law student who found the policy “discriminatory and unconstitutional,” had earlier filed a Public Interest Litigation case, but to little effect. Not only did the army clarify that this rule applied to all departments, it also maintains that it is a “reasonable restriction.” It tried to state that even male candidates were not allowed to marry during or after the training period, but has not in the past or at present, required army men to be unmarried.
The justification that married women or mothers will only slow down work, or increase expenditure has been evoked time and time again, in workplaces of every kind, but the gender-gap in our armed forces is particularly severe. Data analysis by IndiaSpend found that women accounted for only 5% of the total strength of military officers in the air force, army, and navy combined. Further, they are only allowed ‘temporary’ positions not exceeding a period of 10 years.
In May, 2015, Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar said the Air Force would never recruit women in combat positions, only to protect them from becoming prisoners of war. A year later, Parrikar rectified this and personally welcomed the country’s first ever women fighter pilots, but this change of heart could hardly change the paternalistic, patronizing and even condescending attitude towards women that has been at play for nearly a century. The armed forces are about as male-dominated as it can get, characterized by “masculine” requirements of ‘aggression,’ ‘strategy,’ and ‘being on the offensive.’ These are qualities that women are traditionally not encouraged to emulate. But even then women have been making small inroads into this highly generated space. Women make up 15.3% of active-duty personnel in the US military. It was only last year that combat roles in America were opened up to women, with 220,000 positions up for grabs. Our own neighbour Pakistan has 300 women in combat, but India continues to be slow on the uptake.
While having a policy that debars women from the Judge Advocate General is clearly riddled with issues, and it does appear to be cognizant of a larger reality. Not only do societal and economic pressures compel women to marry by an ‘acceptable’ age, but the weight of unpaid care-work invariably falls to them as well. Similarly, institutional provisions like maternity leave will mean little in the longer run if workplaces do not give equal parental leave to both mothers and fathers. The army’s policy was made specifically keeping in mind all of this – not to alleviate it, of course, but to circumvent it entirely.
But as both institutional and social discrimination exist in tandem, altering such policies is crucial to really achieving gender parity in all workplaces. And these two processes ensure that few women work in the army, and even fewer women consider these jobs at all.
Until such time that men and women have equal shares of work and resources, we cannot expect the gender gap – in the army or otherwise – will soon close.