Bipin Rawat, the 27th Chief of Army Staff of the Indian Army, recently made headlines for his comments on women in combat roles and on “LGBT activities” in the army. In an interview with News18, Rawat cited reasons such as jawans not accepting a woman as their commander, peeping while women change their clothes, and women creating a ‘ruckus’ if they weren’t granted maternity leave as reasons for why women were not inducted into combat roles.
He further commented on how the country is not ready to see women returning in body bags, and mothers risking their lives and in the process, potentially leaving their children under the guardianship of grandparents or relatives. In a separate instance, he claims that the Army has separate acts which do not allow for “LGBT activities”, and that adultery still remains an offence in the Indian Army.
While it is justifiable that these comments triggered outrage across the nation, they also call for an urgent introspection of the military as an institution. The idea of a defence force comprised of human beings, specifically men, manning the borders of nation states comes from a historical tradition of territorial wars being fought in order to assert a national identity over a specific piece of land. States are formed and maintained on the basis of the security of the territories they occupy, and militarisation is therefore a necessary part of states asserting their brute strength to others. The gendered and hypermasculinist connotations of this cannot be ignored; militarisation is synonymous with ‘national security’ in the name of which states can supercede the rights and well being of its citizens.
The institutional setup as we know it today, when contextualised in history, reveals a deeply gendered and patriarchal structural setting within which sovereign states exist.
It comes as no surprise, therefore, that the judiciary’s historic verdict regarding gay sex and adultery has no implications for the army, which follows its own code of conduct. It is also not surprising that the Army Chief is not accommodating towards women in combat roles. Given that the very premise on which the existence of a militarised army rests is highly masculinist and in turn territorial, and also that human security and welfare is subsumed under territorial integrity, women are structurally excluded from this institution and have always been so.
State sovereignty allows for the legitimate use of violence by state machinery, and the army embodies this to an extent which negates the question of individual or fundamental rights. The institutional setup as we know it today, when contextualised in history, reveals a deeply gendered and patriarchal structural setting within which sovereign states exist.
The army has, therefore, naturally acted with impunity. Not only is there no space for women in the army, but also in the vicinity of it. The phenomenon of sexual violence by members of the army against women in the territories they assert themselves in, is widely known. It is also ignored and allowed to happen, because rights, specifically the right to life and dignity for the individual gets subsumed under national security, giving the army a free reign to act with impunity.
Rawat is therefore right when he says that jawans would not accept a woman as their commander. The army continuously reproduces gender roles even as the same is deconstructed outside of it. Jawans are therefore given impetus to continue to make the army a hostile space for non-masculine or non-masculinised entities to enter.
National security is intertwined with militarisation, which in turn is indistinguishable from hypermasculinity.
Naturally, gay sex is also a fundamental contradiction to the very fabric of a militarised institution. As the arm of the state which maintains ‘national security,’ it must also uphold compulsory heterosexuality and traditional gender norms so as to preserve the pervasive brand of masculinity on which it is based, and which allows it to exist. Anything which challenges such a conception of masculinity which must necessarily be straight and cis, is a threat to national security because national security is intertwined with militarisation, which in turn is indistinguishable from hypermasculinity.
In short, Bipin Rawat is right. Neither women nor the army will be ready for women in combat roles because it fundamentally disrupts the gendered narrative producing states and security. “LGBT activities” or adultery – in other words transgressional sexualities – are not allowed because it fundamentally disrupts the heterosexual narrative producing the masculinity required for militarised national security.
Perhaps it is time for deconstructing the toxic gendered and heterosexual structural bases which make militarisation and violence required in the first place, and reconfigure how states think about the question of security which does not involve territory but that of individual well being. Women and gay sex may not be accommodated in the army, so maybe it is time the army is left behind in the past. The use of human bodies as institutional machinery and collateral in statemaking – and keeping – would perhaps then not be normalised.
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