Thursday, November 7, 2013


Ramblings of a Retired Mind

The Armed Forces started recruiting women as officers in the 1990s.

It seemed that this more an act of tokenism than a genuine desire to integrate women into the mainstream of the defence services.

Women were recruited as Short Service Commission (SSC) Officers for periods of 5 or 7 years.

Also, women were recruited into soft” jobs in relatively safe and comfortable environs.

Owing to these factors, the women who joined the armed forces did not seem to be very serious about a full-fledged military career.

Some treated it as a stop-gap arrangement to pass time till they found a suitable “fauji” husband and settled down as a homemaker (“fauji” memsahib). 

In fact, due to the paucity of women in the aggressively male world of military cantonments, women officers were in high demand and it was easy for a woman officer to find a suitable match among the large number of male officers wooing her.

Relationships and marriages between male and female service officers are not considered as fraternization in the Indian Armed Forces - in fact, the “fraternization friendly” HR Policies encourage such relationships and marriages.

This has resulted in a large number of in-service romantic relationships which culminate in marriages between male and female uniformed armed forces officers, often belonging to the same service.

After marriage to a fellow service officer, some women quit to become homemakers.

However, owing to the “fraternization friendly” HR Policies of the services (of posting husband-wife together) many continue serving in uniform till as long as they could since it was quite advantageous to be a “military couple.

It is high time this “gender tokenism” is stopped and women are truly integrated into the mainstream of the defence services on par with their male counterparts.

If we really want to integrate women into the mainstream of the armed forces, five things are required:

1. Recruitment, Training and Service Conditions of women and men must be on par - women must be recruited in the same manner as men, undergo the same training at National Defence Academy (NDA), Indian Military Academy (IMA), Naval Academy or Air Force Academy.

2. Women must be given Permanent Commission (PC) and their career profile should be the same as their male counterparts.

3. Women must be given the opportunity to join all arms and services and branches, just like their male counterparts. 

4. There should be true gender-equality and women should not be given any “gender privileges” and female officers must serve in the same appointments as their male counterparts - in combat field postings, on warships, and as fighter pilots etc. (Recruitment to the Indian Armed Forces is voluntary and any woman who is not willing to undergo the hardships of a military career need not join the defence services).

5. Male Service Officers must change their “patriarchal mindset”.

Did I say “patriarchal mindset”? 

Yes, this last point about the need to shed the patronizing attitude towards women is a must if we are to have truly mixed-gender armed forces.

Here is an anecdote I came across a few months ago which exemplifies the prevailing mindset of the army towards its women officers in the army.

Are Women Army Officers Soldiers?

Or are they Eye Candy?

Read this story and decide for yourself:


Musings of a Veteran

I had written this story a few months ago and am posting it again as an illustrative example of the prevailing mindset towards women in the army:

1. Please read this story only if you have a sense of humour. This is a spoof, a yarn, just for a laugh, no offence meant to anyone, so please take it with a pinch of salt.
2. This story is a work of fiction. The characters do not exist and are purely imaginary. Any resemblance to persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.
No part of this Blog may be reproduced or utilized in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical including photocopying or by any information storage and retrieval system, without permission in writing from the Blog Author Vikram Karve who holds the copyright.
Copyright © Vikram Karve (all rights reserved)


Is it proper for an Army Officer to be crowned a Beauty Queen?

Should Army Officers take part in Beauty Pageants?

These are the thoughts perambulating in my brain ever since I saw a poster inviting Lady Army Officers to take part in the May Queen Beauty Contest being held at the local institute.

Let me tell you that I am not against beauty contests. 

In fact, when I was in the navy, I used to eagerly look forward to the Navy Queen Contest held annually during the Navy Ball. 

This beauty pageant was a most prestigious event, next only the Miss India Contest.

The Navy Queen Contest was a launching pad for aspirants who wanted to enter the dazzling world of glamour, fashion and showbiz. 

This celebrated Beauty Pageant was open to all.

But I do not recall a Naval Officer participating in the Navy Queen Contest.

Of Course, earlier there were no women in the navy, but even after the advent of women officers, I do not remember any naval officer participating in the Navy Queen Beauty Pageant.

That is why I was surprised that army officers were being encouraged to participate in a beauty contest.

You may argue that whatever an officer does in off-duty hours is her personal affair and it is none of the army’s business to interfere in an officer’s personal life.

This may be true in civilian life but it is not so in the army.

In civilian workplaces there may be no personal relationship between a boss and his subordinates outside the office.

In the army, an officer is on duty at all times 24/7.

The army is not a mere “9 to 6 five-day-week” job like in the civilian world.

The army is not a job. 

The army is a way of life.

In the army the unique command relationship between officers and soldiers is omnipresent and omniscient.

In an army unit, an officer is being observed round-the-clock by the men under her command. 

(It is the same in the navy, on a ship).

The officer must be “seen” to be proper at all times since any indiscretions will be immediately noticed by the troops.

In such a situation, an army officer does not have a personal life.

The army has traditionally been a male bastion. 

Even today, after the induction of women officers, all the soldiers are men. 

The fact that the majority of soldiers are drawn from predominantly rural stock creates a unique situation for the female officer.

That is why an officer has to be very careful of her conduct and decorum at all times lest she send a wrong message which can be misinterpreted by her troops, resulting in loss of respect and degradation of moral authority.   

Owing to the conservative culture in the army, especially the orthodox mindset the soldiers, extreme care needs to be exercised by a lady army officer in order to ensure that her body language is not open to misinterpretation.

Deliberate, or even unintentional, flaunting of your physical assets which can be perceived as trying to attract the attention of the opposite gender may lead to undesirable consequences.

In the army, perceptions do matter, and it is very important for a female officer to maintain a proper “soldierly” image in front of her troops.

Soldiers must not visualize their women officers as “eye candy”.

Probably, this is the reason why women officers are advised to de-glamorize themselves, especially in the presence of their troops.

When women were inducted in the navy in the 1990’s, I recall that some guidelines were issued to newly joined lady officers that in case they wished to use cosmetics they must avoid looking “flashy” and their facial make-up must be worn conservatively and without being conspicuous.  

Titivation like the use of false eyelashes, heavy eyeliner, brightly coloured eye shadow, coloured nail polish and excessive facial make-up was to be avoided and, if at all they wanted to use lipstick, then only transparent lipstick was to be used.

In matters of dress also, sobriety was advised. 

Lady officers were advised to take care that their dress was not provocative. 

Specifically, dresses revealing the navel and cleavage were not to be worn. 

Flimsy transparent clothes were not to be worn, especially in social functions. 

Extreme care was to be exercised by lady officers to ensure that their body language is not open to misinterpretation. 

Deliberately flaunting your physical beauty and dressing in a way designed to attract undue attention of the opposite gender was to be avoided.

A beauty pageant, or beauty contest, is a competition that mainly focuses on the physical beauty of its contestants.

Winners of beauty contests are often called beauty queens.

A Beauty Contest is a “pageant” – a spectacle, a show, a beauty parade. 

Army Officers are trained to display their soldierly deportment in military parades as a part of their profession.

Then, is it right for Army Officers to flaunt their glamour and make a spectacle of themselves in “beauty parades”?

Is it proper for Female Officers to parade on the stage flaunting their bodies in skimpy clothes showing off their enticing sensuality and physical assets in a beauty contest in front of an audience which may include the soldiers under their command?

Tell me, if you are an woman army officer, which of the two things below will enhance your reputation and stature among your troops:

1. Impressing your troops by displaying military bearing on the parade ground?


2. Titillating the men under your command by titivating and flaunting your ravishing sex appeal on the stage?

As mentioned earlier, soldiers are mainly recruited from the rural areas where traditional old-fashioned social mores may still be patriarchal and feudal in nature.

Owing to their background, soldiers are likely to have a conservative and orthodox mindset.

These simple soldiers may get flummoxed by the culture shock of seeing their “madam sahib” as a tantalizing beauty sashaying on the stage making an exhibition of her attractiveness in front of everyone like a glamorous showgirl.

An army unit is an intimate closed society, like a ship.

That is why you cannot hide anything and nothing remains secret in an army unit 

(It is the same in the navy, where, in the same way, nothing remains hidden on a ship)

In the army, officers are in close contact with their troops.

Soldiers are present everywhere.

Even in non-working hours, soldiers are omnipresent everywhere performing various sundry duties in officers messes and institutes and employed as batmen or orderlies (sahayaks) in an officer’s personal living quarters.

Thus, a number of soldiers are bound to be present during the beauty pageant and they will be most eagerly watching the fascinating spectacle of gorgeous women parading on the stage.

The “hot” news that their “glamorous” officer paraded herself in a beauty pageant will immediately buzz throughout the unit (with salt, pepper and spices added) and electrify the grapevine.

This may have undesirable consequences, especially for the discipline of the unit, as the next morning, the troops may greet the officer with unseen sniggers, derisive sneers and snide jeers behind her back.

The soldiers will start looking at the “beauty queen” officer as an object and the officer will surely lose respect in the eyes of her troops.

An officer must not let herself be degraded to the status of an object.

An officer must always maintain high moral ground as perceived by her troops.

Moral ascendancy begets willing obedience and is the key ingredient in the recipe for effective command of men.

Once you lose moral authority you cannot exercise genuine command over your troops.

That is why at all times you must conduct yourself in a befitting manner and engage in appropriate activities so that you inspire confidence in your troops of your capabilities and leadership abilities.

In India there is no compulsory conscription and you join the army out of your own free choice.

But you must remember that the army is not like any other job.

The army is a unique way of life which entails certain restrictions and demands its own high standard of conduct and stringent obligations.

In the civilian world, for example, if you say “woman entrepreneur” the emphasis is on “woman”.

But in the army if you say “woman officer” the emphasis is on “officer”.

In the army the gender of the individual does not make a difference.

If you are an aspirant for a career in the dazzling and glamorous world of showbiz and fashion, then a beauty pageant is certainly a good stepping stone to catapult you into a career as a fashion model, movie star or media celebrity.

In contrast, if you are a young woman who wants to join the army, you must realize that the army is a profession of arms. 

The army officer has a war-fighting job which entails leading soldiers in combat. 

Yes, the army is a profession of arms and not a profession in the glamour world. 

That is why once you join the army you must be prepared for restrictions, regimentation and compliance with a strict code of conduct and officer-like behaviour.

If you are woman army officer who is thinking of participating in a beauty pageant you must introspect as to whether winning a beauty contest will enhance your image as an army officer in the minds of the soldiers under your command.

If you are a lady officer, you must ask yourself: 

Does taking part in beauty pageants enhance your “Officer like Qualities” or OLQ in the eyes your troops?  

There used to be a maxim: “an officer and a gentleman”.

Now, with the advent of women officers the equivalent axiom is: “an officer and a lady”.

If you are a woman army officer thinking of taking part in a beauty pageant, you must ask yourself this question:-

What would you like to be:

“an officer and a lady” ?


“an officer and a beauty queen” ?

The army is a war-fighting organisation. It is not an agency to provide employment opportunities to women. 

The primary aim of the army is to fight, not to provide gender welfare.

An officer has to lead her troops in combat.

Will soldiers like to be led into battle by a gorgeous “glamour doll”?

Or will soldiers like their commander to be a tough no-nonsense professional woman officer?

Is it not high time women officers demand that they be treated as soldiers and not as eye candy?

In order to integrate women into the mainstream of the armed forces, is there not an urgent need to change the “patriarchal mindset” prevailing in the services?

Do you agree? You tell me. 

Do comment and let us know your views.

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

All stories in this blog are a work of fiction. The characters do not exist and are purely imaginary. Any resemblance to persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.
No part of this Blog may be reproduced or utilized in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical including photocopying or by any information storage and retrieval system, without permission in writing from the Blog Author Vikram Karve who holds the copyright.
Copyright © Vikram Karve (all rights reserved)

© 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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