Friday, January 12, 2018

The Most Valid Way to Counter Islamism

Basically, four approaches are suggested to counter the menace of Islamism (right-wing political Islam, of which jihadist terrorism is the most extreme manifestation) – the first is anti-Muslim bigotry, which is actually counterproductive and only gives further fuel to the jihadist fire, the second is to harp on Muslim victimhood exaggerating it but without asking Muslims to introspect, which fails to explain why a harmless minority like the Yazidis of Iraq or a school-girl like Malala have been targets of jihadist terrorism, the third is denigrating Islam as a faith to make Muslims abandon Islam but which is only intellectually consistent coming from an atheist or agnostic for all faiths have controversial dimensions, and tu-tu-main-main debates over right or wrong interpretations of Islam or any other religion to prove superiority (otherwise, I do support promoting humanistic and progressive interpretations of Islam as accurate) can be endless, and the fourth one, which I subscribe to, is to promote a liberal and humanistic understanding of Muslim identity and Islam, rebutting wrong notions of perennial Muslim victimhood and portraying the likes of APJ Abdul Kalam as role models, which I think is the only viable option, and so, to acknowledge Kalam's Muslim-ness is essential if he is to be promoted as a role model for Muslims.

I do not believe that communalists under any banner, except arguably those actually resorting to killing innocent civilians, should be dehumanized or can never be logically made to modify their views, as the must-watch movie Road to Sangam, based on a true story, demonstrates, and to draw an analogy, you can see this video of a Muslim who initially wanted to become a terrorist wanting to blow up Jewish civilians but changed his standpoint about Israel for the better after visiting that country.

Thursday, December 21, 2017

Can India's Hindu Majority Be Entitled To Say It Has Grievances?

Our left-liberal friends never tire telling us about how the Indian Muslims joining the ranks of jihadist terror outfits are often victims of Hindu extremist violence, but can’t the same logic be applied the other way round too? Isn’t it possible that many of the Hindu extremists engaging in violence against innocent Muslims could have been victims of Muslim extremist violence by way of terrorist attacks or riots?

Violent Muslim extremism with the Indian Mujahidin, Indian Muslims joining the ISIS and Al Qaeda, vandalism in Malda, Muslim extremists killing Hindus in riots (including even the Gujarat riots of 2002, which weren't one-sided even after the Godhara train-burning), often instigated by hate speeches by leaders like Azam Khan and the Owaisi brothers, DOES EXIST in India (not only in Pakistan). The prospect of Hindu Majoritarianism taking an absolute fascist form to extinguish democracy some day or even taking us anywhere considerably close to that, as worrisome as it is for me, doesn't mean that if Muslim extremism can't dominate the country, the damage to Hindus' life and limb shouldn't still be a matter of as much concern for everyone, and communalism under one banner feeds communalism under the other; so, a genuine fight against communalism can never be selective.

I sincerely wish that a lot of left-liberals opposing negative stereotyping of Muslims (something I completely support) were equally careful to not make instances of Hindu extremism sound like "almost every average Hindu is out to get you, Muslims", such as by labelling our country as 'lynchistan' (when very many Muslims lead regular lives alongside Hindu friends, and Muslims from weak economic backgrounds have gone on to make it big in India, some examples including APJ Abdul Kalam, Irfan Khan, Nawazuddin Siddiqui, Irfan Pathan, Yusuf Pathan and several Indian Muslim entrepreneurs) or be okay with even lying about having been complete denial of justice for Muslim victims of hate crimes. Hundreds of Hindu extremists have rightly been convicted in the Gujarat riots for massacres in Ode, Sadarpura, Naroda Patiya, the Best Bakery, the Bilkis Bano gang-rape etc. at the behest of Hindu activists like the late Mukul Sinha (and not all Muslim extremists have been convicted; think Bitta Karate, killer of many Kashmiri Pandits, and Azam Khan, a venom-spewing politician allegedly involved in fanning riots from the Muslim side in Muzaffarnagar and Sahranpur), and many Muslims implicated in terror cases have even been acquitted... even in the case of beef lynchings, there have been several arrests, as you can see here, here, here and, here.

Yes, conscious, subconscious or unconscious bias in the form of a sense of bloated chauvinism based on birth-based identity and/or a general apathy towards extremism perpetuated against "others" by those of one's own community does exist among many Hindus, but the same is equally, if not more, true for very many (not all) Indian Muslims, who have an even higher section insisting on making scripture-based scientific claims without much basis, a propensity towards seeking to see themselves as perennial victims, having generalised hatred even for communities they have experienced no harm from (like Jews in the case of many Indian Muslims, or take the doctrinal intolerance towards Ahmedias) and believing in bizarre and baseless conspiracy theories that deny the very existence of jihadist terrorism, and if there are Hindus who don't sufficiently acknowledge secular Muslims, the vice versa is true as well, as many liberal Muslims concede, and to Hindu readers, I’d say that just because a lot of Muslims may not express their bigoted ideas to your face, it doesn’t mean that you must imagine that bigoted talk happens only among Hindus.

Besides, negative stereotyping of Hindus by Muslims is less understandable than the vice versa, for Muslims come in contact with Hindus more than Hindus do with Muslims (and secular Hindus are quite visible in the media, NGOs, judiciary, political class and academia), and given that owing to Muslims as an aggregate whole having failed to embrace wholeheartedly modern constitutional secular democracy (how many such Muslim-majority countries do we have? - yes, there are a few like Albania and Burkina Faso), sections of Muslims globally find themselves in conflict with those of other faiths (it's not just about Hindus in India), and therefore, it's for more and more Muslims to come out and prove their tolerance by being fully impartial in their outlook, for intolerance by others is largely (not entirely) only about antipathy to Muslims, there being hardly any very powerful, armed non-Muslim terror groups seeking to impose dictatorial theocratic rule. Indian Muslims would do better to (as many already do) embrace the approach of secular Indian nationalism of Maulana Azad (here is a piece by me clarifying misconceptions about him) Ashfaqullah Khan, APJ Abdul Kalam (who was a practising Muslim), and Muslims in our Indian defence forces, rather than imagine themselves as some marginalised monolith that needs to keep crying hoarse about some perennial victimhood (I have rebutted that line of thinking here) and sympathising with extremists from their community or believing in all kinds of bizarre and baseless conspiracy theories that deny the very existence of jihadist terrorism, and while wanting non-Muslims to care for Muslims' concerns, themselves overlooking the concerns of non-Muslims [except paying some lip service to the cause of those non-Muslims who fit into the "the enemy of my enemy is my friend" syndrome (like Christian victims of Hindu extremism, or victims of human rights violations in the northeast or Adivasi areas rather than only Muslim-majority Kashmir) or "I can use their victimhood to paint that community in a certain fashion" idea (like in the case of Dalits to promote Hinduphobia, just as many Hindu rightists cite issues like burqas and triple talaq not because they care for Muslim women but to portray Muslims as regressive people), but not caring for Hindu victims of riots and terrorism like the Kashmiri Pandits or Jat victims of Muzaffarnagar riots, over say, the Palestinians]. Fringe extremists among both Hindus (e.g. cow vigilantes) and Muslims (e.g. jihadist terrorists) have launched onslaughts, but no entire community has launched any onslaught on another. One ought to feel sad about Hindu riot victims in Muzaffarnagar, Assam, Gujarat and other places as much as Muslim riot victims, and the pain and suffering is the same, irrespective of which side the victim toll has been higher, and even feel sad for innocent Hindu shopkeepers beaten to pulp and consigned to wheel-chairs in places like Malda. Or for that matter, Hindu victims of Christian extremism in the northeast as you can see here, here, here, here, here, here, here, and here.

Thursday, November 16, 2017

Examples of Women Outperforming Men in Sports

Examples include Sarah Taylor and Kate Cross from England and Elysse Perry from Australia, who have interestingly made a mark in domestic men’s cricket. Sarah Taylor, an English wicketkeeper, had, at the age of 23 years, even been interestingly selected for the Sussex Men’s Second XI team to represent the English county, and she did play a men’s cricket match in Australia, even taking two catches. One of the most important developments in the area of women’s cricket in the recent times has been the story of Kate Cross, the fast bowler from England who became the first woman to have played in the Lancashire league in its 123-year history. There are other precedents to this as well. Arran Bridle had also played in the Lincolnshire Premier League in 2011. She played for Heywood and performed well in at least two matches. She took three wickets in one match and eight wickets in the other, against Clifton and Unsworth respectively. Elysse Perry is an Australian who has represented her country in both football and cricket and was the youngest adult cricketer for Australia (men included). She has also played in Sydney men’s grade cricket and took wickets of men in the same too.

An interesting piece of information with respect to domestic cricket in our country may be cited. In 2010, for the first time, the Baroda Cricket Association pitted its senior women’s team against under-14 boys’ teams in the under-14 DK Gaekwad Tournament and in the first match the girls played against the under-14 boys’ team of the Kiran More International Cricket Academy, the girls emerged victorious. In fact, they won three of the six matches they played in the tournament (the age difference should also, however, be taken into consideration, but would still be hard for male chauvinists to digest). An interesting fact is that in the first such match, the girls’ team comprised Taslim Sheikh, daughter of Mehendi Sheikh, coach of the famous male cricketers, the Pathan brothers – Irfan and Yusuf. And the captain of the girls’ team was Tarannum Pathan, another Pathan cricketer from Gujarat!

A prominent name historically that can be cited is that of American shooter Annie Oakley (1860-1926), who with her remarkable precision, thrilled spectators. At the age of fifteen, she outperformed famous marksman Francis Butler, who was ten years older to her and had laid a bet that he would perform better than her.

Danica Patrick from the United States of America was the first woman to win an Indy car-racing event and come 4th at a Las Vegas speedway event competing against men, Laleh Seddigh from Iran, a female Muslim female car racer has been a national champion competing against men, and is even known as the ‘Schumacher of the East’, and Alisha Abdullah from India has outperformed men in car-racing and bike-racing competitions.

In early 2015, a women-only crew won the Volvo Ocean race in Lorient defeating all the men’s teams! Female endurance athletes like Rory Bosio, Pam Reed and Lael Wilcox have beaten men in some of the toughest races in the world.

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

The Need for a Right to Education Act and a Strong Child Rights Commission in J&K

The importance of child rights commissions in the context of education can be gauged from an example from J&K, where the RTE Act doesn’t apply owing to Article 370 (the desirability of which is another debate altogether), and the local politicians there have only dilly-dallied over making a law giving effect to the idea that education in the age group of six to fourteen years is a fundamental right (fortunately, in 2014, however, we learnt of a bill to this effect being drafted in J&K), though Article 10 of the constitution of J&K gives J&Kites the same fundamental rights as other Indians. The incident relates to a school in the Poonch region denying admission to certain students, in which the students had to stage protests and finally, the school relented on pressure from the district authorities. However, had J&K had an institutionalized right to education in neighbourhood schools for a certain age group, their state child rights commission (which does exist), if given the requisite powers, could have taken charge. Those with access to education in Kashmir, have, in some cases, become technology entrepreneurs, scientists and public policy analysts, more of whom we need, as against more militants and stone-pelters who have played a major role in crippling the Kashmiri economy and earlier drove out most of the Hindu minority of the Kashmir valley. As Neelesh Misra and Rahul Pandita point out in their much acclaimed book The Absent State, the handling of successive central and state governments in the Maoist belts, Kashmir and the northeast demonstrates considerable public policy failure, and while even several educated people do get radicalized and identity-based and ideological fault-lines do need to be logically eradicated, access to public goods and services, like roads, education and health care (which even free market economists like Milton Friedman have held to be a responsibility of the government, at least to a certain extent), obviously remains an important part of the equation, though given the militancy in these particular regions, even this does become more challenging than elsewhere. Institutionalizing the access to these public goods and services as rights can go a long way in preventing neglect of some regions compared to others owing to low electoral representation, as is the case with the people of the northeast in the national context, and Jammuites and Ladakhis (cutting across religious lines) in the context of J&K or even the Darjeeling region inhabited by Gorkhas, Lepchas etc. in the context of West Bengal, for example. Given that the BJP is in power in coalition in J&K, it would do well to push for an RTE Act there for the children of Jammu, Kashmir and Ladakh, but one which ought to be free from the original drawbacks of the central statute.

Tuesday, July 4, 2017

The BJP and Religious Pluralism

While one may have many differences with the ideological and policy approaches of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, including on the issue of handling the question of communalism (and I do, especially given that I found rather distasteful, among other things, his remark snubbing taweez during the Bihar elections, something he would never do for say, rudraksh, and his long period of silence in the wake of very problematic statements concerning the Dadri episode not only from MPs but even ministers like Mahesh Sharma, which is not to say that I support appeasing communal and regressive Muslims or handing out religion-specific doles, that parties like the Congress, SP, RJD and Trinamool Congress have indeed engaged in), I believe that everyone ought to appreciate efforts made to integrate the minorities by encouraging them to adopt ancient Indic cultural facets without compromising on their religious beliefs, such as outreach attempts to practising Muslims to participate in the International Yoga Day celebrations in 2015, telling them that chanting what they may see as religious words or verses was not compulsory and that yogic exercises are very similar to namaz, being beneficial for physical fitness.  Prime Minister Narendra Modi has, time and again, stressed the need for religious tolerance, most emphatically at a church congregation in Kerala, and has condemned illegal vigilantism, while asserting that Indian Muslims ought to be neither appeased nor be subjected to hatred, but the need of the hour ought to be to reform them to enable them to be a part of the national mainstream, while having acknowledged that there are Indian Muslims who live and die for India, and that there is no need for any Indian citizen to prove his/her loyalty to the country day in and day out. He has praised in public the positive dimensions and contributions of Islam and good, public-spirited Indian citizens like Noor Jahan from Kanpur who formed a group of women engaged in making and renting solar lanterns and Imran Khan, a school teacher in Rajasthan’s Alwar district who created 40 Android apps and distributed them to students free of cost, other than the government awarding a Padma Shri to Jalpaiguri’s Karimul Haque transporting the poor to hospital on his motorbike as also a Rajiv Gandhi Khel Ratna Award to tennis player Sania Mirza, and there having been substantial budgetary allocations for modernisisng madrasas in tune with the present times. Both Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Home Minister Rajnath Singh made efforts to allay fears of Kashmiri Muslim students in different parts of India, as you can see here and here.

Also, while many people (including me) were deeply disturbed by the appointment of Yogi Adityanath as the chief minister of India’s most populous state, given his history of rabble-rousing (that had drawn criticism even from BJP-supporters like Anupam Kher) with no administrative experience and absolutely no other proven unique track record until then, and many have even been critical of some of his subsequent policies, as you can see here and here, it is noteworthy that the police, under him, has taken action against Hindu extremists on several occasions, as you can see here, here, here and here.

Sunday, November 6, 2016

What I Think of Chetan Bhagat

Chetan Bhagat is a commercial fiction writer who supported Narendra Modi for PM, but should that make him an object of ridicule? Those supporting Modi included several acclaimed public intellectuals like Andre Beteile, Lord Meghnad Desai (soaked in the Marxist tradition), Dilip Chakrabarti, K. Gopinath, Kapil Kapoor and the likes.

However much one may despise Modi, should their scholarship be written off on account of their believing that Modi was a reasonably good administrator, and was the best option for India at the time (as compared to a then thoroughly discredited Congress, an inexperienced AAP and a potentially unstable Third Front), with one not possibly being completely sure of his involvement in the riots in Gujarat in 2002 and given Modi’s many efforts at demonstrating his commitment to religious pluralism? (I may clarify that I, for one, I did not wish to see Modi as PM, and I voted for the AAP in the Lok Sabha elections in 2014.)

Moving on, has Chetan Bhagat just blindly supported Modi or the BJP on every occasion and has he ever exhibited bigotry towards the minorities? His views on the religious minorities can be seen in these articles of his, which don’t exhibit the faintest trace of bigotry. Nor, as these articles make clear, is he a blind fan of Modi or the BJP, nor was he even before Modi became PM.

Finally, coming to Chetan Bhagat’s credentials as a fiction writer. He is not a very literary writer and writes commercial fiction in a sincere, though not serious, manner that appeals to large sections of the youth, telling their stories, and he raises legitimate issues like sexism, regionalism, communalism, income divides and drawbacks of the education system in our country, with fairly interesting and gripping plots, which have even done well in cinematic adaptations. While one may not like his genre, to ridicule him as a writer is just symptomatic of an intellectually elitist superiority complex, which doesn’t suit left-leaning folks. This article exposing Bhagat's snobbish critics would make a good read in this regard, as would this one on Chetan by Aakar Patel, who is interestingly also a known Modi-basher.

Friday, September 9, 2016

Women Combatants in India and the World

Feminism as a consolidated movement against the discrimination of women is a powerful social movement against patriarchal values and self-fashioning of cultures that implicate themselves on certain markers of identity. The body, as Judith Butler theorizes, always takes on a form that is obviously an effect of ideological repetition. The forms and performative gestures of gender do not attend to a human being ‘naturally’, but constitute a vast body of pre-existing potentialities that are quickly acquired as a person grows up. The body then, does not remain merely a site for the application of external power, but is simultaneously formed by power. In this light, it is interesting to see the leakage of power in the vast continuum of human history in the form of women emerging as ‘a’ great fighter against ‘a’ powerful force. But these are profane, nonetheless. The sacred is always Virgin Mary, or some other figure of humility or motherliness, and a Rani of Jhansi thus ‘emerges’ from the depths of consciousness to reclaim a structural freedom from discursive formations that was denied originally (all pun intended to the original sin).

But now the profane seems to have become the sacred. One of the most aesthetic expressions of this reclamation is the not the emergence but the consolidation of the position of the women combatants, who have fought alongside men in battles. The sprouting of these individuals in history is also very important and this article will deal with both the aspects of writing about the emergence of woman combatants- the individuals in history who enjoy legendary status in the imagination, and the ones who are changing the apparatuses of imagination by making the acts of valour ‘natural’.

Throughout history, we see many individual women who have been valiant fighters and have become legendary figures and sources of inspiration for other women. Rani Abbakka of Ullal near Mangalore is one such woman who fended off the Portuguese on several occasions. The Portuguese by the 16th century had most ports of the Indian Ocean in their firm control. Another similar figure, Queen Mangammal of Madurai fought many kings ranging from the Mughals to the Marathas to several other small kings who refused to pay the annual tribute and declared rebellion against her. She was able to suppress most of these rebellions against her kingdom and ultimately proved to be a much greater ruler than her husband. Mai Bhago was also a great fighter against the Mughals and saved her Sikh community from the hands of the Mughals. In this way she resisted conversion to Islam. Examples of such brave fighters from other cultures are also present and should be hailed as great. The Celtic queen Boudicca fought against the Romans in Britain. It was customary for the Celtic kingdoms to train their daughters in sword-fighting and other similar activities. The other examples from ancient history are Chilonis who was a princess of Sparta and had married Cleonymus who was not allowed to accede to the throne and was sent away from Sparta. He attacked his homeland, but the queen Chilonis along with her lover Acrotatus, was able to defend her land. There are more examples of such brave women fighters which can be found here. Joan of Arc is also known for her bravery when she fought for France in the Hundred Years’ War. Recently, S.P. Harish and Oendrilla Dube have shown that there was 27% increase in wars when a woman was in power in Europe between 1480 and 1913. The explanation is that there was a greater division of labour when the queen was in power. This means that the queens were keener to place their spouses in official positions and be free to think about wars and aggressive foreign policy in general. On the other hand, when the king was in power, he would be less inclined to place their wives in official positions and so would have to manage both the state affairs and foreign policy, which would have been a very difficult task. This theory is open to debate, but nonetheless is the illustration of instances where women have tried to break free from existing paradigms of identity formation.   

If we look at more recent history, we can find more and more women becoming combatants and active participants in wars, revolutions and uprisings. Constance Markeivicz was an active participant in the Easter rising against the British Empire. She was also able to hurt a British sniper and put into solitary confinement and the only one out of the 70 women to have met this fate. Blaanca Canales, the Puerto Rican nationalist was involved in an armed uprising against the United States in the year 1950, when the United States passed a bill that made printing and publishing a crime by law. Celia Sanchez, the life-long partner of Fidel Castro, was a great revolutionary, who led many combat forces and was the main orchestrator of the 1952 coup of the Batista government when more than 80 fighters were brought to Cuba in order to make the coup possible. During World War II, Lydia Lydvayak became the first woman in history to score an aerial kill. This was made possible by the fact that the Russian army decided to recruit women aviators.  

Carrying on the tradition of women engaging in armed struggles, the most important turn has been in the last five years. With the Arab Spring and the subsequent rise of the ISIS, a large number of women have come out to defend themselves and their countries. The ISIS is a death cult and has transformed the very notion of the nation-state by showing that the nation-states cannot protect their citizens. Against this vicious idea, women have stood up from Yemen to Syria to Iraq and many other middle-eastern states. The Yazidis are a people that have been hated by the ISIS and have been the victims of the most brutal of human crimes possible. A big salute is due to the women fighters of the Yazidis who have named themselves the “Sun Ladies”. They were the rape victims of the ISIS and were witness to the devilish nature of the Islamic State, where mothers even threw their babies off the cliffs and then jumped themselves in order to die in a better way. Alfred Yaghobzadeh has masterfully captured the plight of the Yazidi women fighters, most of who even deny that they were raped by the ISIS militants because of the culture of shame. The photographs taken by him have delved into the resilient mentality of these women and also others like the Kurdish women fighters, who had saved the Yazidi women from the ISIS. This solidarity between the Yazidis and Kurds was an effect, in a sense of the formation of Rojava, or the small sub-states in Syria by the Kurdish minority and that have been targeted constantly the Syrian government. Many men had fled, but around 16000 fighters had stayed back in Rojava to fight the ISIS. A basic principle of the Kurdish struggle was gender equality. The YPJ or the women’s wing of the army, was born out of this principle. Rehana became an online celebrity when she killed 100 ISIS militants in Kobane, one of the worst sufferers of ISIS attacks. The Iraqi Kurdish women’s army, known as the Peshmerga (those who face death) had also been active in parts of Iraq that were controlled by the ISIS. The Christian minority in Syria has also produced female fighters in north-east Syria who fight alongside the Arab and Kurdish fighters against ISIS. Umayyah Naji Jabara, an Iraqi politician was killed in a combat with the ISIS. She was personally leading the combat when she was hit by a sniper. A Canadian woman, one of the very few from the western states to have joined the fight against ISIS, is an example of voluntary participation in the war against terror. She is of the view that the Kurds have displayed extreme gender equality in this struggle and women have been treated very well.

In the Indian context, apart from Rani Abbakka and Rani of Jhansi, there are several other women in Indian history who have been great fighters. In the ballads of north Malabar, for example, we have the legend of Unniyarcha, who saved her village from the Moplahs in the 16th century. Even before the formal rebellion against the British had started at a large scale, Kittur Rani Chennamma was involved in a fierce struggle against the British when they did not accept his son as the heir to the throne but instead wanted to annex the kingdom. In Awadh, for example, the wife of Nawab Wajid Ali Shah, Begum Hazrat, with the help of a number of associates provided the longest and the toughest resistance to the British after the sepoy mutiny took place. The begum ruled for 10 months as a regent in Lucknow and died in Nepal in 1879. Rani Laxmibai, or better known as Jhansi ki Rani does not need much elaboration here. She fought against the British after the repeated appeals against annexation were rejected. But she fought her fiercest fight in 1858 when she had to flee from her fort to Gwalior, before she was finally overpowered by the British. Another great example from this period of Indian history would be Jhalkari Bai, who was a part of the army of Jhansi and was trained in swordfight. Azizun Bai and Uda Devi are also remembered as legendary fighters in the 19th century. Moving forward from the 19th century, new forms of rule and power demanded new forms of resistance. The provisional Azad Hind government during the Indian Independence Movement was formed in Singapore. During the world war, when the army of the Azad Hind was aiming to overthrow the government, Laxmibai, or Captain Laxmi was leading the Rani of Jhansi regiment.

Recently, the Secretary-General of the United Nations praised the peace-keeping unit of the Indian police force that works for the UN. Their work in Liberia, especially during the Ebola breakout has been praised. This police unit of the UN entirely composed of Indian women police officers is the first of its kind. To give such other examples, Yamin Hazarika made it to Indira Gandhi’s security team from Assam. She had cleared the police service examinations but was appointed in DANIPS (Delhi, Andaman and Nicobar Islands Police Service) Sanjukta Parashar is regarded as the first IPS officer from Assam, because it is not clear whether Yamin Hazarika was ever promoted to the police forces. She has been fighting the Bodo militants and has killed 16 of them and has arrested over 64 militants. But this is not the only reason why people respect her so much. She is known to be a very humble person. She holds a PhD in US Foreign Policy from JNU. Every six months, around 5000 women graduates take various examinations for the posts in the Indian army. They have achieved various laudable feats and are ever-growing, showing how the Indian society is changing and more women are coming to the forefront. The army is generally, however, reluctant in appointing women officers, but the ITBP is a glaring exception. It has employed female veterinarians in their ranks. They have also expressed the desire to employ 30% women in the general duty cadre. Valour has also been exhibited by women like Vinaya Patil, who is the wife of Flight Lieutenant Shashikant Damgude. She joined the IAF after her husband died. The first woman to be awarded the sword of honour is Divya, who made great contribution to the Indian army and is a source of inspiration for other women. Lieutenant Kiran Shekhawat became the first woman to die on duty. She was on a Dornier aircraft which went down. Apart from these individual feats, some structural changes are also taking place. Indian Navy has expressed the desire to recruit more female flyers. Sapper Shanti Tigga is also an inspiration for other women. She is in fact the first lady jawan among the 1.3 million-strong defence forces. She has time and again outperformed her fellows, all of whom are male. She is a widowed mother. The most positive development this year, however, has been the recruitment of three female flying officers. As mentioned above, too, the IAF had been asking for more female recruits and this was made true by this latest recruitment.

Despite such positive developments, both in the Indian and global context, the debate whether women can be good combatants and a force to reckon with, is far from over. The main concerns of the army officers, in India too, among others are the issues of psychological complexity, which might prove to be an obstacle in the way of the women participating in combats and also the fact that they would, for example, not be able to carry other male officers when they are injured, and hence seriously hindering the relief measures. While these concerns may be true, the women are also hopeful that they would be able to bring about a change in the dimensions of the relationship with male officers. Concerted efforts can be taken up for the purpose of training the women well. But that needs a lot of will power from the society.  

(Co-authored with Suvankur Sukul)