People are bound by culture in terms of temporal as well as a spatial understanding of the environment they live in, and, they feel a sense of belonging towards it. Most of their everyday practices and beliefs are deeply rooted in culture, and there is a shared sense of understanding towards the issues that concern that particular community or society. One such culture is the military culture (specifically within the airforce), the discourse around which is limited to the experiences of serving personnel of the institution and that too in a very obscure manner.
Not many people talk about the experiences of partners of serving officers and how their identity in the military culture and space shape their sense of self. Till date, the experiences of a military wife are heavily influenced by the ideas of Victorian era morality and the military culture, which is archaic and colonial. There are different rituals and practices in a military culture of which women automatically become part of, once they are married to officers in the armed forces.
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There is nothing voluntary or choice-based in the totalitarian institutions, not even for a ‘lady’ (as the wife is called) who is not an employee of the organisation. The practice of this incorporation of a lady into the airforce military culture begins from a ceremony called “WELCOME” where the wife is subjected to extreme mental and emotional distress as part of the prank which is played by the wives and officers of her husband’s squadron. In the military culture and spaces it is often said that this practice is crucial to making the lady feel a sense of belonging so that she also has a story to share-the story of her welcome.
The idea of playing a prank to welcome a person in the institution can be fun if the prank is light and heart-warming experience for the individual. However, the kind of harassment and bullying that happens in a military culture is not the kind of prank one could be happy about or have a laugh over, and the least is we raise a concern about it. We don’t know what people go through in their profoundly emotional and intimate lives and the mental health concerns that these kinds of experiences can give rise to. The prank goes on for three-four hours and goes on until the officer’s wife breaks down completely. The idea is that the lady should cry out loud in her helplessness and distress, and only then the prank ends. Some infamous pranks are: An officer’s wife being told that her partner has been having an affair; some being told that their husbands were already married, that they were their respective partners’ second wives, and hence, their marriages were ‘null and void’ (if not a Muslim).
Different people have different histories, and based on that, they have various vulnerabilities and fears, which the military culture preys on. Most military wives have a fear of death, and that is exacerbated by the media representation of military life, news and everyday conversations that takes place in their setting. The newly married person can be even more apprehensive of this way of life as she is new to the organisation. There have been cases where the pranks have been around this deep-rooted fear of them-the death of their partner in a plane crash.
Imagine, when for three hours you are made to believe that your partner is no more, women are crying around you saying things like “Abhi to shadi hui thi”, “Will likh di thi kya usne” and “Remember the case of Mr X, no one could be saved in that crash”. Imagine the distress of the person if the person was already struggling with mental health issues, one of their fears being that of losing their partner to a plane crash as part of the profession of the officer. The fear of being in the military and the fear of the death of a partner is very common among the wives.
Totalitarian institutions such as the military culture are not family-friendly and there is a general sense of marital discord due to the challenging and demanding nature of the job. In the initial days of marriage, the wife mostly struggles with issues of adjustment in terms of the general military culture and environment as well as the shift timings of her partner. Adding to this, the person is subjected to this kind of trauma, I really can’t help but ask: Who will take accountability if the person does not recover from the distress situation? I know someone who, after this prank was not able to differentiate between the real and the perceived and was not able to believe that her partner is alive even after meeting him, living with him for weeks and is taking therapy to recover from the trauma. She says that she can only see her partner’s flesh and not a real person.
Three hours of institutional trauma-infliction, with 15-20 people involved in that drama, taking pleasure in someone’s pain, all as part of the airforce military culture, can do horrible things to a person during and after the episode. Worse, when this person that I know, was anxiously waiting for the body of her partner to be ‘recovered from the crash site’, some women were discussing real-life crashes and were crying (read acting). I don’t know if this is even ethical; to use someone’s death and the suffering of families in the real world as content to play pranks. The cruelty of the military culture can’t even be comprehended because there are layers of insensitivity to this.
Some women have been kidnapped by ‘terrorists’ as part of the prank and have been threatened for hours, tortured and harassed. If I was kidnapped, the first thought in my mind would have been around the bodily integrity and the threat of being raped. Let that sink in! This military culture, in my opinion is institutional ragging and should be stopped.
Meanwhile, the welcome event does not stop here. Once the person breaks down, sometimes even faint, then she is told that all of this was a prank. Imagine yourself in a distress state for 3-4 hours? Would it just vanish in a minute? It takes hours for a person to recover and reconcile with the reality, but guess what, she is not given that time. She is told to go back to her home with her partner, dress up like a newlywed with ‘sindoor’, bangles and wear a sari. Then she has to visit the station commander’s home along with the squadron members and has to treat the station commander’s wife as her mother-in-law. Now it is up to the commander’s wife what she wants this new person to do.
Minimum expectations in the military culture from the new wife are that she covers her head, touches the feet of the commander’s wife, serves tea to all the members of the squadron and makes a dessert. Imagine engaging in such patriarchal practices (another trauma for many) after going through a traumatic experience of the prank as part of the military culture. Because for many sexism can be fun, so they will gaslight the person and make her feel that all of this was done for her happiness and will tell her how much effort goes into this welcoming ceremony in the military culture, all so that they could create a ‘beautiful story’.
Post the mother-in-law ritual in the airforce military culture, there is a party where highly sexist games are played (to the extent of asking the couple to enact their sex life through a bottle and thread game), the husband is asked to tell ‘non-veg’ jokes out loud and the wife is expected to just smile and behave like a lady in that sexist environment.
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The entire day seems like a darker version of reality to live in. Starting from distress, trauma to having to smile on casual sexism and horrible jokes, the military culture of ‘welcoming’ a new wife can be a lot to take for a person. Unfortunately, there have also been cases when the death pranks have turned out to be true sometime later in life.
Now if one was to think about the supposed intention behind the military culture of welcoming a new wife, it is quite ironical, considering its dictionary meaning is “greeting someone politely” or to “gladly receive” someone.
Featured Image Source: Chandamama
Update: The author wants to state that she does not mean any specific armed force but asserts that the culture exists till date in the Indian Airforce and is writing from her personal experience.
The article has been updated to specify air force military as the one being referred to here.
Do you really like to generalize a personal opinion..
It is not the same with every squadron and is maligning one and all
You cannot generalise. U have just randomly written military culture, so are u saying this is the culture in tri services ?? If this is happening in air force, you should be specific. If the officer concerned puts his foot down and stand strongly with his spouse, such a treatment cannot be meted out to any one. Still this is very distressing, I empathize with the affected women for enduring such trauma. The people who inflicted such trauma need psychological counseling too. But this is not a “culture”, and this cannot be generalised.
Nonsense. I have served for 30 plus years in the respected organization called the indian army. This is pure imagination of person not aware of the culture of the Indian Army. Sorry state of affairs when u see such meaningless articles to spread things which are untrue. Have respect for your forces as we serve with dignity and honour and the lady wives looks after our children,homes and their careers with dignity and honour. Army Ladies are corner stone and pillars on which a army man leans on. We respect ladies in our organization this all is nonsense.
How can you guys even publish this article ? Have you guys lost your mind ? You cannot malign the defence forces. Did you speak to the officer wives and ask their account of welcome. Without any sources you are posting an article and this is going to land you people in legal trouble. You shameless gits, have you no respect for the forces ? Is this a new level of stooping down ?
You do know that if you yourself couldn’t handle it, then it doesn’t mean any other lady cannot. And if she can’t, she is simply not fit to support her husband in his toughest situations. Imagine if something like a being found alive after declared dead during wartime would happen in real life, and then she would act like this, saying things like “i only see.my husband’s flesh” and bullshit like that. Imagine an officer without the support of his wife when he needed her the most. I am an Air Force brat, my father is a reputed Group Captain in the IAF. The final prank that you talked about, the “kidnapping”, that was practiced on my mother after she and my father were in a love marriage during service. They were kidnapped by my dad’s coursemates disguised as bandits on an empty highway during a late night car drive. She was put in the falsified situation that my father was being tortured for bank details severly, and she could hear his voice screaming for the next three hours. Just take a moment to imagine that. Now, twenty years later, whenever she tells this story to me and my lil’ brother, she always says it with a straight face, and, people like you would not believe, a proud face. Yes, you heard that right. Not fear, or trauma, but pride. And that is how I know that even if my father is in the darkest of situations, he will always have my mother by his side. And the best part about that prank was, my father himself was involved and contributed for most of the plan. That’s how important this culture is. I’m not saying being traumatized is a bad thing, that will obviously happen. As soon as the whole kidnapping thing was released as a prank to my mom, the first thing that she did was slap my father. She was traumatized for the next couple of hours. But then, she came out. That’s what I am saying. Understanding the meaning of this prank, and most of all, understanding that however tough it might be, you HAVE to be by your partner’s side, no matter what.
Half knowledge is a dangerous thing. Who so ever has written this piece, possesses only the knowledge of that something like this happens. He or she does not probably know that the concepts of chivalry, the finer aspects of treating a lady with respect and the difference between an officer of the armed forces and a ruffian roaming about the city’s streets…All these are integral to the way of life of an individual who takes up military as a profession. Even after such ‘Welcomes’ there are ample examples where officers have grown into the families of the very ladies they ‘welcomed’. Those bonds are sometimes even stronger than own families. I would request the author to please think about the consequences such as maligning the image of the organisation which is providing you the freedom to express your poorly informed opinion with such ease. If nothing else, please try to maintain the respect that these people deserve.
This is a wrong conclusion portrayed towards air force. This was more than 2 decades ago and now things have changed and are different and all this does not happen today to that extreme. Please know the full and right information before mentioning the half ones. Half knowledge is dangerous than no knowledge.
Dear Anonymous Author,
Your reason to stay unidentified itself makes your article worthless and puts a jibe directly at the feminism movement for which you are fighting.
Your views are outdated and present only one side of the story and hopefully not your own. Seeing that you haven’t made even a single reply to any of the earlier comments invalidates your theory and it is wrong on your part to demean and demonise a beautiful organisation where all the Ladies irrespective of caste, creed and culture are respected above all. Even the Chief of Air Staff gets up to wish a lady who maybe a Wife to the junior most person in the assembly. Please seek some treatment for your mental health because you are seeking help on a wrong forum. Maybe you were meted out some ill treatment and that’s a big maybe but still this is no way to vent out your frustration here.
I strongly condemn this blog for publishing such unverified articles which neither have any proof or standing and are simply views of an individual who may or may not have experienced it first hand.
There’s no need to silence any voice. Every opinion matters. If everyone is debating so much about respecting women, why not start with respecting this individual account/experience?
It doesn’t seem anywhere that the author has any intention to malign the image of Airforce or military officers then what makes people so offended ? It’s an individual experience which deserve to be listened.
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