I spent quality time in the armed forces and took my premature release as a Group Captain. When I left the Air Force women were very much part of the cadre and I had the opportunity to fly with a few of the girls. I recollect that in one of the operations to carry out a recce of the Kashmir mountains,  I had filed the flight plan for a take off at 6 am in the morning. I had selected a young girl as a co-pilot and we were to do contour flying to try and detect any movement of infiltrators from occupied Pakistan held Kashmir. Just 15 minutes before take off the young girl pilot informed me that she had a severe headache and would not be able to fly. I immediately selected another pilot from the ORP( Operational Readiness Platform) and took off. I realized that women have their infirmities due to the biological cycle and also an issue of strength and endurance and just to use them for combat duties is not the best idea for any force.

A bit of knowledge was with me as the Flight Commander that this particular girl who was just 22, was into an affair with a senior officer almost 27 years her senior. I treated this as part of life and  never gave it another thought. But a thought did occur to me  that the girls in the forces perhaps were the modern day camp followers. 

" Camp Followers" is a very old term and has existed since the time the Roman Legions marched to battle in Europe and Asia. These were women who accompanied the army to give sexual comfort to the soldiers and officers. They were almost a permanent fixture in an army on the march. This continued throughout history and during the American Civil war ( 1861-65), camp followers were very much part of the scenario. In India the British Indian army followed this practice and  camp Followers, meaning younger women went with the army on the march. When the Duke of Wellesley marched against Tippu Sultan from Madras, a huge retinue of camp followers i.e young women went along with the British Indian army. Camp followers never fought any war or went to battle, but they were an important part of the army on the march.

As far as soldiering is concerned, there is no record of women soldiers in history. There may be an odd exception or two, but remember one swallow doesn't make the summer. The only tale of women as soldiers is in mythology when women ruled the lost continent of Atlantis. This land is supposed to have sunk in the Atlantic Ocean.

Women rode horses and wielded swords, but they were not warriors. They had also issues of strength, stamina, and the biological cycle and historically were unfit to be soldiers. They were part of the army and went along as comfort women or camp followers.

In the 20th and 21st century, the concept of camp followers was considered an affront to women's rights and this practice was discontinued. Women now joined the armed forces for Auxiliary duties like radio operators, signal women, nurses, and cryptographers. Towards the end of the 20th century, women were also inducted  for combat roles. The USAF and the army took the lead in this and tens of girls were commissioned into the various corps and squadrons. But this has led to a piquant situation and rape and molestation is on the rise. One can recollect the incident at one of the Naval bases in the USA when almost 50-60 women officers were stripped naked and molested by the men they were commanding.

Another facet of this induction of women is the liaisons between the senior officers and younger women soldiers and airmen and the navy and army have had to take disciplinary action in quite a few cases. In India, women are inducted in all branches and now they are also inducted into the fighter stream. But there are so many unsavory incidents that have happened. One girl a flight Lieutenant named Anjali Gupta committed suicide as she was in a relationship with a Group Captain 30 years her senior  who had a son older than her.  Such relationships are common and I must not state it, but many of the younger girls have become pregnant.  Some of these cases have been reported in the press as well.

I remember one of the PSO's well known to me, an Air Marshal had stated that women cannot make good airmen or soldiers. He was silenced by the government intent on "empowering women". I have no comments to make on this, but the stark fact is that women are needed in the armed forces as they have a calming effect and also a physiological outlet for men. But there is no way the fact that the modern breed of women in the armed forces is in real terms little better off then the comfort women of yore can be ignored.

The armed forces have a peculiar environment and that includes strict discipline. In the armed forces, the Commanding officer or a senior officer must be obeyed and this blind obedience does lead to older officers taking advantage, but the girls themselves also get enmeshed in love and fantasy. I wouldn't  mind a little flirtation or a short liaison as it will do good for both the woman and the man, but operational efficiency must not be hampered. There was the case of a woman Major of the USAir Force who flew B-52 bombers and she started sleeping with a corporal and she had to be disciplined for her act of indiscretion.

The world is changing, but old concepts don't die and the concept of the camp follower is alive and kicking. 

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Comments (1)

  1. Lopamudra

I think it is unfair to label lady officers as camp followers .It is demeaning for those brave young girls who join the Army with the aim of doing something for the Nation and being at par with men. A few cases mentioned in the article do not...

I think it is unfair to label lady officers as camp followers .It is demeaning for those brave young girls who join the Army with the aim of doing something for the Nation and being at par with men. A few cases mentioned in the article do not define all lady officers. I on the contrary have seen many ladies sacrificing marriage so that their families are not neglected when posted in field areas. Medical corps have seen amazing officers doing a great job since ages. The only thing I agree to is that they may not be always suited to be posted in field areas and therefore only those who consider themselves to be at par with men should join the forces.

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