Every time women make some headway into a generally male-dominated field, we all feel nice and satisfied, and the reportage around it gives us clear feel-good vibes. Like when we read about Madhya Pradesh’s first female truck driver, or Lalitpur’s only female tractor driver, or Karnataka’s first female bus driver (yes, we’re seeing a weird pattern too…).
Advances like these are always worthy of immediate congratulation, and a recent development in the Indian Army has garnered a lot of attention in pretty much the same way.
On 4 June, Army General Bipin Rawat said that the process to allow women in combat positions in the Indian Army is now underway — women will initially be recruited to the military police, and then into other positions. Currently, women are allowed in legal, medical, educational, signals and engineering wings of the Army, but not in active combat roles. This move is working to change that.
This move isn’t totally out of the blue. We’ve been hearing a lot of similar things lately. Last month, the government announced that it would raise all-woman battalions of police as a direct response to the viral images of girls throwing stones in Kashmir. On 30 December, it was reported that Karnataka would form an all-women battalion of police to deal especially with “riot control”. Last month saw reports that the Air Force was “wooing” women recruits with new ads.
Maybe it’s because I work at a feminist magazine and spend a good portion of my day trawling through the comments that misogynists leave on feminist Facebook posts, but the first thought that came to mind when I saw this new move was that Men’s Rights Activists would probably be happy to hear this. Every Indian MRA has memorised a list of seven complaints to “prove” that the world is actually biased against men, and right after they talk about men committing suicide more often than women, and before they get to how the laws concerning evidence in rape cases are unfairly biased against them, they faithfully spout a line or two about how only men die in wars and only men are assigned to active combat duty. It wasn’t just MRAs who were happy with this move: There have been think pieces written in the past lobbying for it, and the mainstream media is hailing this move as a sign of women breaking gender barriers. Nowhere is there a hint of a suggestion that this could be anything but a good thing.