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Editor-in-Chief view on March Edition

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War is a man’s world. The much repeated cliche has come to develop its own momentum and universal usage. It is now the common perception that wars are created and fought by men. There is a gender gap when it comes to conversations about wars, defence and security. It is commonly accepted that war is a man’s business and everything around it has a gender barrier. In perception terms women are excluded from the world of wars. But this hasn’t always been the case in societies that functioned long before the Victorian era brought its own mores into the world.

There have always been examples of women combatants through history. Granted the lead role was reserved for men, but contribution in war by women has always been cited in history. And in many cases a direct contribution too. From providing logistic support to being daredevil combatants women have been known to participate in military campaigns. The last great example being the various Maratha armies that set the country ablaze. From being favoured queens to transforming into able military leaders they set an example that has been difficult to emulate since then. Rani Laxmi Bai of Jhansi of course being the most famous such example. Then for complex sociological reasons women came to be excluded from military ventures, but entered pursuits that had also been out of bounds to them. All of that changed in the brutal Nazi campaigns against Soviet Russia during World War II. In combating Nazi terror in Europe and across the world the role of women in Soviet Russia has been seminal. They were truly trailblazers in the modern world. That success turned the tide against the rampaging Nazis, until then unmatched and unbeatable. The experience of World War II proved to be a game changer for women in militaries across the world.

Following the devastation of the second Great War and as societies adapted to the chilling realities of the cold war, defence and security structures around the world came to adjust, both in the terms of gender as well as in responsibilities. Women came to be recruited in greater numbers than ever in the military and security fields. Granted the levels of responsibilities remained restricted, but the entry had been made. And it was only a question of time before commissioned ranks opened up to women. All of that changed once militaries came to professionalise in ever greater numbers. Once conscription had run its course it was a matter of time before women came to be granted greater access in a professional volunteer military service. So in the last few decades women have entered the penultimate of men’s military worlds – diving as submariners, jumping as paratroopers and flying as pilots. Women came to share the cramped underwater world of submarines with their male counterparts. Endless days roaming in the silence of the oceanic subsurface proved that women were equal to the task. Jumping into the same drop zone wearing the same kit also proved that women could perform their paratrooping tasks with equal gusto. And handling the same helicopters and transporters as their male colleagues women proved themselves as capable pilots. It was a matter of time before the ultimate in men's military world came to be challenged too. Women are knocking on that last door now.

Combat roles had remained restricted to men even as women advanced well into restricted military realms. There was no question of women being risked in war when it came to submarine activities, or jumping as combat paratroopers, or flying combat missions in air. The dilemma is a moral one and it involves the brutality expected against a prisoner of war. When brutality is expected why increase the risk for women is the query that has no easy answer. Each society has to approach that dilemma from its own perspective and its own restrictions. India has opened its military and security services to women. While there are enlisted women in the various Central Police Organisations there are only commissioned officers in the three armed forces. The closest it has allowed, thus far, are combat support missions by air. But when women are leading the design and fabrication teams for ballistic missiles in the Defence Research and Development Organisation it is a matter of time before they come to command that equipment too.


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