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Wednesday, December 25, 2013

‘Global Seminar on Military Justice Reform’ held at Yale University : Full Report

The report on the ‘Global Seminar on Military Justice Reform’ held in the US at the Yale University in Oct 2013, has been made available.

The seminar was attended by judges, jurists, academia and lawyers dealing with military law from around the world of which I was one of the invitees.

The full report can be accessed by clicking here and would be of special significance to those dealing with related subjects.

The report is succinctly drafted and is 19 pages only and hence should not impinge much on the time of the readers.

The last pages of the report comprise the ‘reading room’ of the seminar with clickable links of resources that can be directly accessed online.


Saturday, December 21, 2013


The below reproduced article on women officers, authored by Maj Gen Raj Mehta, was published in Geopolitics.


Raj Mehta

In a dramatic policy shift on 24 January 2013, outgoing US Defence Secretary Leon Panetta lifted the 1994 military ban on women serving in combat. This landmark initiative will allow uniformed women to be closer to front-line combat roles from mid 2013 onwards - unless there is strong opposition in the US Congress. India, which faces crippling shortages of over 13,000 officers in its armed forces, can learn lessons from this American initiative. It can make a virtue out of necessity by enrolling more women officers to make up its deficiencies. Raj Mehta examines the complex dynamics involved.


The recent American announcement allowing uniformed women to enter the hitherto ‘male only’ preserve - the combat zone - has aroused strong emotions worldwide. The male-dominated military world is not excited and a flood of articles have questioned the validity of the policy change. Understandably, women’s rights activists and equal-opportunity enthusiasts the world over are delighted because another male bastion has fallen by the way side. A dispassionate analysis however reveals that the forward movement to “officially” allow uniformed women to enter combat is in actuality a small, breakaway step from the otherwise glacial evolution of allowing American women to enter hardcore combat. It has, however, stopped short of officially allowing women to serve in combat. The fine-print of the policy change allows women to be permanently assigned to a combat battalion as radio operators, medical officers/orderlies, tank mechanics and other critical jobs; assignments barred by the now-rescinded 1994 combat exclusion policy which prohibited women from being assigned to ground combat units.

A Reality Check - Are Women Closer to Combat Now?

That combat exclusion, was, in real terms, never strictly applied by the US armed forces and was informally “bypassed” - and therein lies a tale. America has a uniformed strength of 1.4 million personnel of which a significant 14 percent are women both in enlisted and officer ranks. It has deployed over 2, 80,000 women in Iraq and Afghanistan since 1990; suffering 144 women killed in service and over 865 wounded. Under severe manpower availability pressures, the US military got around the exclusion rules by "attaching" women for some jobs to battalions. This meant they were working in combat situations without getting any official credit for the same. Army women veterans wryly say that the new policy has merely legitimized existing arrangements. "We're already doing this stuff," says a former Marine captain, now the Executive Director of the Service Women's Action Network.  She added: “We’re not talking about opening up the Infantry to every woman, but the women who do want to try these jobs should be allowed.” A US Quinnipiac Poll held in February 2012 found that 75% Americans believed women should be allowed on the front-line.

The consuming desire to allow women in combat roles in-so-far as women activists, uniformed women and the female gender in general, is widespread. The men, world-wide are, however, nowhere near as enthusiastic or as supportive of the landmark US policy change, and for a number of “reasons” which they cite as hard evidence. Let us examine their validity.


Opinions justifying exclusion of women from combat have coalesced around deep-rooted concerns explained in the succeeding text.

Physical Concerns

Female soldiers are in general, smaller and lighter than male peers, have almost half their upper body strength and 25-30% less aerobic capacity; making their endurance ability far lesser than men. The female skeletal system is less dense and more prone to breakages; in particular to stress fractures. There are concerns too, that women pilots do not cope with g-forces as well as male pilots do. Naval opinion undermines women as submariners because of their need for more space; separate toilets; problems of “hot bunking” (sharing bunks with male peers on shift basis; the word “hot” meaning that the bunk retains the warmth of the last occupant). Estimates pitch the additional cost of catering as a costly $300,000 per women submariner.

Psychological and Physiological Concerns

The perceived negative impact of a combat unit's esprit de corps if a woman peer is wounded or taken prisoner/molested is cited as a key reason for women to be excluded from front-line combat. The Israeli Defence Forces report soldiers going berserk and exhibiting “uncontrollable, protective, instinctual aggression” on such occasions. There is also the fear of women ruining male bonding by bringing in romance and its stressful/competitive fall-outs. Increased pregnancy risks; attendant social disruption and women using their bodily functions and pregnancy to escape combat situations are serious add-on issues.  The issue of a woman’s instinctive underpinnings to nurture and preserve life rather than take it makes men feel women will always be squeamish about killing and bloodshed; an unavoidable fallout of combat.


Uniformed Women are wired to do well

Opinions about women’s ability to cope with combat are not just driven by rhetoric but, equally, by research. A 2008 study by Jennifer Silva of female students enrolled in the US Reserve Officers' Training Corps program found that female cadets saw military training as an "opportunity to be strong, assertive and skillful" and "as an escape from the negative aspects of traditional femininity". The study reported that female cadets "were hyper-vigilant about their status as women performing tasks traditionally seen as men's work”. It is already well known, of course, that women as a gender are far more conscientious than men; are more honest and have far better communication skills; reinforcing IQ with Emotional Intelligence (EI); an asset that women use routinely and men sparingly, and whose possession  could be a valuable life skill.

Women don’t always have to involve in Close Combat

While the Army assertion about women performing physical tasks with noticeably lesser competence than men is indisputably correct, it seems obtuse and archaic to demand that both sexes should be tested by the same yardsticks and female physiology remain the overriding factor in determining women’s combat worth. In an Indian tank regiment of around 650, for instance, only about 200 soldiers actually enter combat as tank crews; with another approximately 200 involved in supporting tasks where the risk of close combat is lesser though still real. That leaves about 250 soldiers who, though in the combat zone, will rarely be involved with warfighting. The implication is clear; women pitched into a combat zone do not have to be “like the boys”. They can still earn professional respect in the roles that US policy has now specified, sparing males for high endurance jobs.

Air Force and Naval Issues

So far as the Air Force is concerned, there is indisputable medical evidence that male pilots are less able to handle g-forces than female counterparts since women are less likely to suffer black-outs due to shorter blood vessel routes in the neck. This does not make men lesser relevant but it certainly makes women pilots more relevant. No wonder then, that western air forces and even the Pakistani Air Force now allow women to fly fighter aircraft. Even conservative India has, as of January 2013, allowed women pilots to fly combat helicopters. The Naval issue has also been needlessly hyped up as some countries realised, after the Norwegian Navy first successfully inducted women commencing in 1985. Women now hold senior positions in both submarines/ surface ships in some Navies.

Can Women Warriors Cope with Combat?

The question of women being brutalized if captured is, of course, real. That said, the brave attitude of Major Rhonda Cornum, now a Brigadier General is worth noting. She was taken prisoner by the Iraqi’s during the Gulf War in 1991. Asked not to mention that she had been molested,  Cornum subsequently disclosed the attack, but said "A lot of people make a big deal about getting molested," adding: "But, in the hierarchy of things that were going wrong, that was pretty low on my list". In 2007, author Kirsten Holmstedt released Band of Sisters: American Women at War in Iraq. The book presents twelve stories of American women on the frontline including America's first female pilot to be shot down and survive, and a 21-year-old turret gunner. The bottom line? Most women can and do cope with combat, though wisdom may lie in their avoidance.

The history of warfighting also supports the contention that women can become skillful in combat. In World War 2, the Red Army of Russia had about 4,00,000 women serving as tank crew, infantry, snipers, military police, medics and nurses. Roza Shanina, a Soviet sniper during World War 2, was credited with 54 confirmed ‘kills’.  Between 1942 and 1945, 12% of Russian fighter pilots were female. Britain’s Special Operations Cell trained 418 female agents as spies of which 119 were shot, including Noor Inayat Khan; an Indian and a direct descendent of Tipu Sultan.

The Indian Situation – No Combat for Women

Indian readers are aware that warrior women have been an important part of India’s religiosity, folklore and history. Durga, a warrior goddess, Kālī, Chamunda ("the killer of demon Chanda and Munda") are widely worshipped. Vishpala is the 8000 BCE Rig-Veda warrior queen who suffered amputation in battle; then fought with iron prosthesis. Razia Sultana, Rani Rudramma Devi, Chand Bibi, Abbakka Rani, Tarabai, Bibi Daler Kaur, Mai Bhago, Begum Sumru, Kittur Chennamma and Rani Lakshmibai are warrior women who proved their worth in battle. This past does not reflect our grim reality in terms of the current positioning of uniformed women in our military society.

Defence Minister AK Anthony has, in a written Lok Sabha response indicated that, in September 2012, the Army was short of 10,100 officers; the Navy 1,996 and the IAF 962; totaling 13,058 officers. Women officers comprise a mere 3.3 percent of Army officer strength; 3.9 percent in the Navy but a healthy 10 percent in the Air Force. Women officer strength, 21years after their recruitment first began in 1992, is 1,214 in the Army, 302 in the Navy and 1,079 in the IAF. These numbers exclude lady medical and nursing officers. The Army recruits women officers in the Signals, Engineers, Army Aviation, Army Air Defence, Electronics and Mechanical Engineers, Army Service Corps, Army Ordnance Corps, Intelligence Corps, Army Education Corps and Law branches. The Navy recruits them into the Law, Logistics, Observer, Air Traffic Controller, Naval Constructor and Education branches. In the IAF, though, women officers are recruited in all branches and streams, except the fighter stream of the flying branch.

Rejecting the combat-role-for-women demand, the Government has cited the HQ Integrated Defence Staff (IDS) report of 2006 and the Tri-Services Committee report of 2011. Women are currently recruited as SSC officers for five years extendable to 14 years of service. Permanent commission is however available in the Law and Education branches of the Services and a few additional technical branches in the Navy and IAF.  

Indian Women Officers Deserve Better
The author has seen women officers in uniform perform with displayed capability in the war zone in J&K for over a decade. He found them spirited, conscientious, gutsy, principled, honest and reliable; capable of sustained hard work at par with male peers. That they could not be tested under fire is no slur on their capability or potential simply because the current rules forbid entry into combat. That said, our crippling officer shortages have often compelled us to “unofficially” use them in the war zone in certain roles. The author did not come across any woman officer who backed out by quoting rules or regulations.  They have carried out assigned military tasks as well as men have; assisted in rural development, schooling, women care; running orphanages, schools, child care projects in “black areas” where they were vulnerable to combat situations - with as much courage as their male peers. Tested in weapon firing; during Engineer bridging camps; night parades and exercises, they have displayed adequate soldierly capability. In May 2012, seven women officers climbed Mount Everest; all being honoured by the President of India for their world class performance.
While actual combat in the Indian case is a long way off; certainly farther than it is in USA, our women officers need to be encouraged by being granted permanent commission. We also need to focus on creating gender sensitization amongst the rank and file of the armed forces and in its General Officer ranks that greater induction of women will help reduce the crippling officer shortages to manageable proportions. For the near time, posting women to combat support units with the same career guarantees that their male counterparts get is a jugad solution that the Ministry of Defence must flesh out soonest in supreme national interest.  

Friday, December 13, 2013

Non-Compliance of orders passed by the Armed Forces Tribunal by the Govt and allied issues: Public Interest Litigation

Reports on the Public Interest Litigation on the subject of non-compliance of AFT decisions and other issues related to the functioning of the AFT:

Thank You for your continuing support for the independence of our judicial institutions. 

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Is this a joke? Or is this the actual worth of a fauji?

Seriously, what is wrong with the Defence Ministry? What according to them is the worth of a fauji in this country?

As most readers would know, earlier there used to be a system of colour-reserve scheme of service wherein a person used to serve for a few years in colours (continuous physical service) and then reserves when he was free to follow any vocation but could be mobilised in times of an emergency.

According to the applicable rules, such personnel became entitled to ‘Reservist Pension’ after 15 years of combined colour and reserve service, irrespective of the length of colour service rendered.

Prior to the year 1968, although reservists were entitled to reservist pension on completion of minimum 15 years of combined colour and reserve service, an option was given to them by the govt to either opt for reservist pension which amounted to a few rupees per month OR for a one-time lumpsum gratuity amounting to a few hundred rupees. Despite being entitled for life-long pension under the rules, many of these reservists were encouraged to opt for lumpsum gratuity after which a certificate was taken from them that they shall forfeit the right to reservist pension.

Since such reservists realised much later in the day that they had in fact been cheated of their life-long pension in accordance with the rules since they had completed the minimum qualifying service for reservist pension, they took up a case with the Govt to undo the wrong. The Army HQ also supported the move strongly, and ultimately, in the year 2000, the Govt agreed to grant such reservists a monthly ex-gratia allowance at the rate of Rs 600 per month for such reservists who had completed their pensionable service but had only been released the one-time lumpsum gratuity but not reservist pension. In fact, before this was done, the Govt had already sanctioned an amount of Rs 605/- per month for the families of such reservists who had opted for the one-time amount and had subsequently passed away.

Since the amount of Rs 600 was initiated during the currency of the 5th Central Pay Commission when the minimum pension under the Govt was Rs 1275, many organisations again took up the case after the 6th Central Pay Commission to raise the amount to a logical figure with effect from 01 January 2006 and at least to the rate at which the minimum pension is grated to any govt employee.

Lo and behold, the Defence Ministry has agreed to the representations.

But what should shock your conscience is this:

The Defence Ministry, in the name of the President of India, has now increased the amount of the monthly ex-gratia and monthly family ex-gratia to the following rates with effect from 04 June 2013:

Monthly ex-gratia to reservists : Rs 750/- per month (Raised from Rs 600/- admissible earlier)

Monthly ex-gratia to families of deceased reservists: Rs 645/- per month (Raised from Rs 605/- admissible earlier)

In this time and age, do you think an old reservist who had been tacitly cheated of his pension in the 1950s and 1960s, could survive with a basic amount of Rs 750/- per month?

This is the value of a fauji in this country.

And by the way, the minimum amount of even compulsory retirement pension on the civil side is Rs 3500/- per month plus dearness relief.

Even proper Reservist Pension for reservists who did not opt for the one-time ‘lumpsum gratuity’ stands at Rs 3500/- per month plus dearness relief.

What else can one say except….Jai Hind!