It was distressing to read news of a Lady Officer of Army having been awarded punishment of dismissal by Court Martial. It was also stated that this is the first time a Lady Officer of Army has been awarded this punishment while earlier an IAF Lady Officer too had been similarly dismissed. What is more painful is that in both these cases offences apart from disobedience of lawful command etc included making false allegation of harassment against their superior officers. Being an ex-Defence Officer this set me thinking what could be the malady. Even in earlier times there was a tendency that any officer or for that matter even other ranks when facing any disciplinary action used to make allegations of discrimination against their superiors. Now with induction of women in the Armed Forces such allegations have taken shape of sexual harassment also apart from discrimination. During my service career I had been advocating for induction of women into Armed Forces which materialized some time in early 1990s. I had taken premature retirement in 1991 and though I kept in touch with my friends in service I would not be able to say with conviction the kind of atmosphere which was there after women joined Services. We during the rigorous pre-commissioning training are also shaped to be gentlemen. But there are always some black sheep in every group. There is no denial that wherever we have men and women as co- workers there are chances of sexual advances or harassment not only in India but even in advanced countries.
Armed Forces had been MALES ONLY citadel till recently with exception of Lady Officers being inducted in the Medical branch. After opening up doors to women to join Armed Forces as officers in branches other than combat there was distinct possibility of curiosity and condescending attitude more than resentment by male colleagues. Here I would also like to state without casting aspersion on anyone that women by virtue of their nature do like attention of men to a certain degree. Lady Officers form a small %age in a largely male dominated Forces. Thus it is natural that they do get some amount of extra attention. Now what could be the remedy for such situation. It has to be two fold - for men and for women. And it is applicable not only to Armed Forces but all spheres where we have men and women as co-workers.
There is a need for code of conduct for men as well as women. Taking up men first, they need to be sensitized to accept women as co-workers only without gender consideration. It is easier said than done as most of the men would be with background of male dominated society, be it education or home. A large %age of our population lives in semi urban and rural areas where inter-mixing of both genders is very limited if not totally non existent. Thus curiosity towards women when working in close proximity will always be there. In my opinion we need to have supervised exposure of men from early childhood itself towards girls. It could be by having co-educational schools and colleges. There could be events during school / college days where both genders carry out tasks together eg declamation contests / debates, dramas, sports, Scouts / NCC camps and other competitive activities. Of course segregation for living whenever in a camp or away from home will be required and that is where school / college administration needs to be efficient. Proper counseling by trained / experienced persons on frequent basis is a must. Parents too will need to be more of friendly guides than stern parents. They should encourage children to discuss their curiosities and doubts freely. This would ensure that at later stage women colleagues are not looked at as something strange as well as women too will feel confident to work shoulder to shoulder with men. It will not ensure total eradication of sexual harassment chances but it will reduce these to a large extent, Western countries are an example. I do not in any way suggest that we ape West but we need to adopt good points mixed with our own value system where parents and teachers play the most important role of shaping future generation who would have sense of equality. Till we can train future generation of workers in this manner we need to have regular counseling sessions for both working men and women.
Now for working women, there is a need for them also to realize that they are equal to men as far as working conditions are concerned. They should not expect or encourage undue favours. They should shoulder their responsibilities with utmost diligence. They also need to be aware not to generate undue interest by their behavior or conduct. Everyone - men or women, have basic right to live the way they like to as long as they do not cause harm or hurt to anyone. At the same time there are some basic norms which need to be addressed in the right spirit. It is not my intention to lay down any dress code but they should themselves see that they dress as occasion demands. In a meeting or party a woman wearing too much of clothing or too little will draw glances. Make up and jewelry should not be too loud. A woman giving presentation while wearing very large dangling earrings will distract attention from her subject with frequent movement of the same. My idea is not to put blame on anyone but just to say that moderation in all spheres needs to be exercised by both men and women. And it is upto a woman to keep unwanted male attention at bay by being frank to tell such person firmly. If he still persists then matter could be reported to higher authorities.
We surely need to treat both men and women as equals in any work sphere.