Army Chief Bipin Rawat Says Maternity Leave, Sexual Harassment are Reasons to Keep Women Out of the Frontline


Dec 17, 2018


Photo courtesy of PTI

In an interview with News18 this weekend, Indian Army chief General Bipin Rawat, makes clear that the Indian Armed Forces see women as a hindrance rather than an asset to the country. His series of sexist remarks serve as an outdated argument for why women cannot be allowed to serve on the frontlines, but are more suited to non-combat roles like military diplomacy, translation work, or education and law departments.

According to Gen. Rawat, women officers on the frontline would pose several problems — they might accuse a jawan of sexual harassment [ the logic of ‘if a woman exists in a space, then of course she’s tempting fate’]; the jawans from rural areas are not used to mingling with women and therefore won’t accept or respect them; and because the army wouldn’t be able to give commanding officers their six month maternity leave. It’s at this point that, arguably, Gen. Rawat put his entire foot in his mouth, stating, “Do I put a restriction on her to say that in that command tenure you will not be given maternity leave? If I say that, there will be ruckus created.”

That definitely backfired, because a ruckus is indeed being created, and rightly so.


Gen. Rawat’s attitude towards women is representative of the armed forces’ attitude. Sexual harassment and assault is prevalent in armies around the world, especially since the power structures in place protect predators from being held accountable and dissuade victims from coming forward. In India many of those cases go unreported. But sexual harassment is not the fault of women, and neither does it only affect them — men are also survivors of assault by other cadets.

If the general feels that jawans coming from rural areas aren’t used to mingling with women, then the army could work towards a gender sensitivity training program (which men from urban cities will no doubt benefit from as well). Placing women in roles that don’t involve combat doesn’t necessarily protect them either, as Gen. Rawat implied in the interview. In reality, the frontline is going to be blurred, with women who might be working as artillery engineers or medical corps effectively being in the combat zone along with the infantry. So the argument of denying capable women combat roles seems arbitrary.

Finally, it’s almost the end of 2018 and if we aren’t at least attempting to change the way we think about the division of parental duties and challenging the idea of a woman’s sole duty of motherhood then there is nothing to look forward to in the New Year. Because placing the onus on women to raise children and then denying them tenured positions because you’d be legally bound to give them maternity leave is not just infuriating, it’s illegal. Damn straight there’ll be a ruckus.

If warfare is changing, then so should India’s approach.The number of women in the Indian army is startlingly low. A report released this March by Raksha Rajya Mantri Dr. Subhash Bhamre quotes 1,561 women officers, compared to 41,074 male officers; 96.2% of the Indian army is male. Gen. Rawat and the army need to re-assess their mindsets about women and their capabilities. If a person is willing and capable of serving their country, surely their gender shouldn’t be the only thing keeping them from doing so.


Written By Nadia Nooreyezdan

Nadia Nooreyezdan is The Swaddle’s culture editor. Since graduating from Columbia Journalism School, she spends her time thinking about aliens, cyborgs, and social justice sci-fi. She’s also working on a memoir about her family’s journey from Iran to India.


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