Wednesday, November 7, 2012



Short Fiction – An Apocryphal Story
A Naval Yarn

Disclaimer: Please read this apocryphal story only if you have a sense of humour. This is a yarn, pure fiction, a fantasy, a figment of imagination.

Did you know that there are Naval Officers who never go to Sea?

“A Naval Officer who doesn’t go to Sea” – sounds strange, isn’t it?

How can you be in the Navy, don spotless white naval uniform, and yet you never have to sail on Ships?

It is possible. Believe it or not. You can be in the Navy and yet you don’t have to go to sea. It can happen. Yes, it can happen only in India

Around 20 years ago, sometime in the early 1990’s perhaps, they decided to induct women into the navy (which till then was an all-male preserve).

This could have been a progressive step had they treated women on par with men and inducted women into seagoing branches and applied the same standards and performance criteria to women, as is done in some foreign navies.

Unfortunately, in India, induction of women in the navy seemed to be mere tokenism and the implementation was quite cosmetic in nature.

Maybe at that point of time this “historic” step was taken just to earn a few “gender equality” brownie points

Women were allowed to join only as landlubbers in the Education Branch of the Navy.

Though women naval officers wore the same white uniform they were restricted to shore duties and never had to go to sea.

Today, we are at the end of the year 2012, and more than 20 years have passed since women first joined the navy and I feel that it is high time that lady naval officers are given seagoing duties.

Women have broken the glass ceiling in almost all careers, but sadly, as far as the navy is concerned, we remain stuck in an outdated archaic prehistoric cultural time-warp and we still don’t allow women naval officers to have a full-fledged seagoing career which requires them to sail on ships, shoulder to shoulder with their male counterparts.

On the other hand, women naval officers must be prepared to face the same tough life and hardships as their male counterparts face at sea and women must not ask for concessions, special considerations and relaxation of standards, especially since the navy is a fighting force.

To put it in a nutshell, women naval officers must not expect the navy to mollycoddle them. They must not ask for preferential treatment just because they belong to the “fairer sex”. Women must be prepared to be treated on par with their male counterparts, in all aspects of service life.

In the latter half of my naval career, I did have a few women officers as my colleagues and most of them were highly qualified, dedicated and proficient in their work and it was a delight to work with them. Most of us treated women officers as equals and it made no difference whether it was a male or female officer – both delivered the goods equally well.

But unfortunately, in some cases, the archaic mindset had not changed, and there still existed a patronizing attitude towards women, and in some cases, a few women naval officers took undue advantage of this favouritism.

Take the case of marriage. One is free to marry whoever one wants. But even in this personal matter there was a rather amusing patronizing attitude.

Though not explicitly stated in black and white, there was a tacit encouragement for women naval officers to marry within the service – yes, if you were a lady naval officer, getting married to a male naval officer had great advantages; and conversely, if you got married to a civilian, you were at a comparative disadvantage.

To illustrate this, let us take the case of “A” – a brilliant young lady naval officer.

“A” had a degree in Electronics and Communication Engineering from a premier engineering college. She had passed out at the top of her class in first class with distinction and was offered excellent jobs with good career prospects in the best of IT Software and Engineering Companies during campus placement.

It was puzzling as to why she decided to join the navy despite the fact that she was aware that she would have limited career prospects in the navy, unlike in the civilian world where her career opportunities and scope for advancement were much brighter.

Firstly, despite being technically qualified, she would have to join the education branch (since technical branches are seagoing branches and women naval officers do not go to sea).

Secondly, she was being offered a short service commission of 5 years (as was the norm for women officers those days).

Being in the education branch she would spend most of her time on instructional duties teaching basic science and mathematics to trainee sailors and this surely would not add value to her technical experience and, once she left the navy after 5 years to search for a job, she would be at a professional disadvantage as compared to her “techie” counterparts who were gaining valuable relevant experience doing technical jobs in the industry.

We found “A” to be an outstanding officer and whatever her duties, she performed them cheerfully with efficiency, diligence, sincerity and competence.

Just a few days earlier, the moment she was 25 years of age (the navy marriageable age) “A” married her college sweetheart who worked in a leading software firm in Mumbai. Luckily, after serving at different places, “A” had been posted to Mumbai 6 months earlier and looked forward to spending the next two years with her husband in Mumbai by which time her short service tenure in the navy would come to an end.

“A” was a lively person, full of life and always in good cheer, maybe because of the first flush of marriage. She was a delightful person who enlivened the atmosphere of the workplace.

One day we were quite surprised to find “A” in a sour mood.

We asked her what was the matter.

“I am going to be transferred out of Mumbai,” she complained bitterly.

“That’s not possible,” we said, “You’ve just spend 6 months here and the normal tenure is 3 years.”

“I know, Sir,” she said, “but they want to move me out to accommodate my batchmate who has married a naval officer who is under transfer to Mumbai. They want to move her to Mumbai along with him so they can be together. So we have to exchange places – she comes here in my place and I have to go out of Mumbai to her place. I told them that I too am recently married but they said that my husband was a civilian working in a private company. They are favouring her because she married a naval officer and discriminating against me because I married a civilian.”

“Are you saying that you feel that they are victimizing you just because you did not marry a naval officer?” we asked her.

“Yes,” she said indignantly.

“Don’t worry,” we said, “we’ll do something.”

I rang up a friend in the education branch and told him to find out the true facts.

He rang back a few hours later saying that, indeed yes, there was an unwritten policy that a “naval couple” was to be accommodated in the same station as far as possible.

“This amounts to victimization?” I said.

“Victimization?” he sounded surprised.

“Yes. It is all relative. If you favour someone, then you end up victimizing someone else. While trying to favour one lady naval officer for marrying within the service, you cannot victimize another just because she did not marry a naval officer,” I said.

I also told him that we were going to take up this matter.

“Okay, okay, I’ll do something,” he said.

Her batchmate who married a naval officer was “accommodated” in some other billet in Mumbai and “A” remained with us in Mumbai till the end of her tenure and “A” was able to spend the first few years of her married life with her “civilian” husband.

Later, after retirement, I met many young girls who had joined the defence services and I realized that marriage was indeed a dilemma for a girl serving in the army, navy or air force.

If she married someone from within the service it was fine – the “service couple” would be looked after and, as per the unwritten policy, all efforts would be made to keep them together.

But if she married a civilian she would have to be prepared for a long distance marriage.

And if she did not marry while in service, by the time she completed her short service tenure of 7 or 10 years, she would be well past what is considered to be the “marriageable age” in India and it would be difficult for her to find a suitable groom.

Considering this predicament, that’s why, probably, most girls who join the defence forces prefer to marry within the service and, maybe, there is some merit in encouraging this trend by giving some tacit incentives, though there may be some concomitant disadvantages as well.

I have observed contrasting views regarding romance at work and marriage within the organisation. Someone told me that there were old-fashioned “boxwallah” companies which prohibited marriage between two employees (one of them had to resign). On the other hand there are some “modern” firms which encourage marriages between employees and even facilitate in-house romances by giving incentives like dating allowance.

Dear Reader: What is your view?

Copyright © Vikram Karve 2012
Vikram Karve has asserted his right under the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988 to be identified as the author of this work. 
© vikram karve., all rights reserved.

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About Vikram Karve

A creative person with a zest for life, Vikram Karve is a retired Naval Officer turned full time writer and blogger. Educated at IIT Delhi, IIT (BHU) Varanasi, The Lawrence School Lovedale and Bishops School Pune, Vikram has published two books: COCKTAIL a collection of fiction short stories about relationships (2011) and APPETITE FOR A STROLL a book of Foodie Adventures (2008) and is currently working on his novel and a book of vignettes and an anthology of short fiction. An avid blogger, he has written a number of fiction short stories and creative non-fiction articles on a variety of topics including food, travel, philosophy, academics, technology, management, health, pet parenting, teaching stories and self help in magazines and published a large number of professional  and academic research papers in journals and edited in-house journals and magazines for many years, before the advent of blogging. Vikram has taught at a University as a Professor for 15 years and now teaches as a visiting faculty and devotes most of his time to creative writing and blogging. Vikram Karve lives in Pune India with his family and muse - his pet dog Sherry with whom he takes long walks thinking creative thoughts.

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Vijay Leo said...

Vikram, interestingly I had my first glimpse of women officers serving in a Navy, when we went with Indonesia with INS Tir on a cruise way back in 1988.They were still not serving on combat roles, but was in a number of support roles.Very smart and chic in their American designed uniforms, it was a pleasant surprise to all of us.
Language was a barrier, otherwise they intermingled freely.They were I think if I remember correctly about 20% of the Navy then.
There is no doubt women can make equally good combatants and military leaders when compared with men.Fighter and transport pilots is one area they can fit in easily.
I personally think they are better focused, capable of multi-track thinking and given the right psychological training even kill in battle with a clinical ferocity that can surprise men.
The Indian women soldier faces the same cultural,gender bias and gender directed exploitation that their sisters in the civvy street also face.
The more rigid discipline of the Armed Forces though makes her may be relatively safer too but never completely safe from a predator male colleague/superior.
A women officer has to deal with ratings who come from largely rural backgrounds and may not be very comfortable under direct control of women.These tread on certain entrenched antipathies.The woman officer largely comes from urban environment.
Marriage and family are very Indian/Oriental specific, and therefore pose their own culture specific issues.Living separately for long periods is not part of the Indian psyche.It is difficult to post a husband and wife duo in same stations without creating serious down stream effects in postings.
However I think increasing the number of women officers to near 30% or more on even permanent commission is very much an option we should implement soon, and allow the cultural dimensions to evolve by itself over a period of time.
It will cut our shortages in younger officer ranks effectively.

Vikram Waman Karve said...

Hi Vijay Leo,
Thanks for your insightful comments.
You are right - other navies are way ahead in assimilating women in their ranks.
In India, we have to go a long way as gar as gender bias and cultural and issues are concerned.
On the flip side, some women take unfair advantage of their gender as well.
I agree with you that the solution is to start permanent commission for women and treat them on par with men in all matters (like the civil services) and, hopefully, over time things will evolve.
Thanks, once again for your comments.

Vikram Waman Karve said...

Hi Vijay Leo,
Thanks for your insightful comments and views.
You are right - other navies are way ahead in assimilating women in their ranks.
In India, we have to go a long way as far as gender bias and cultural and issues are concerned.
On the flip side, some women take unfair advantage of their gender as well.
I agree with you that the solution is to start permanent commission for women and treat them on par with men in all matters (like the civil services) and, hopefully, over time things will evolve.
Thanks, once again, for your comments.

PS - Just inducting women to fill up shortages in officers is an ad-hoc remedy.

Sushil said...

Dear Sir, you saw few female officers who took advantage of their gender in getting postings? i saw hundreds of males in equal proportions who licked their way up and stayed in prized positions for years together. so lets not blame one particular gender. Rotten apples are everywhere. Women in Navy are working in education, Logistics and few are working in technical billets in dockyards too. If they are not going to sea then you need to blame higher ups who make the policies. putting women at sea was tried twice but both time it resulted in a fiasco (thats what a senior officer had told us..i cant comment on authenticity of this statement). your story of Ms A and B seems to be a concocted one. I am sure you must have tried to deal with DOP on these matters. they just dont care at all unless your CO or some senior officer intervenes on their behalf. so again male officers are to be equally blamed. i have seen umpteen Navy couples and a few inter-services couples too . Believe me, Army was much accommodating in taking care of their female officers. I dont agree on your views at all. Sushil

Vikram Waman Karve said...

Hi Sushil,
Thank you for your views. I agree with you that "rotten apples" are everywhere and taking undue advantage is not gender specific. Let me tell you that I had the good fortune of observing Lady Naval Constructor Officers in a Dockyard and they were professionally outstanding. That is why I feel that there must be absolutely no difference in service conditions, standards and career prospects between Men and Women Officers and Women Officers must go to sea. Well, I am not aware that they tried to send women officers to sea twice and this ended in a fiasco. Perhaps you can elaborate for the benefit of all. As far as the story of "A" is concerned, it is not concocted. Also, to buttress my point regarding the marriage dilemma lady service officers face in the Indian Cultural Scenario, I shall soon narrate a story of a army lady officer who lived in my colony on Pune who had to quit the army after marriage and is now happily settled abroad with her husband. You may be surprised, but even today many civilian boys (especially those in the IT sector who are in high demand) are reluctant to marry a girl from the services and ask them to quit before marriage. If this can happen in a cosmopolitan city like Pune one wonders what is the cultural scenario in other places.
Thanks for your comments

nikki nova said...

My girlfriend is trying to get in navy...will it be possible for us to maintain our it possible for a civilian to marry a girl from navy???

Vikram Waman Karve said...

Hi Nikki,
Of course a civilian can marry a girl from the navy