The sari-clad Supreme Commander of India’s armed forces, whether she is striding on board INS Vikrant or leading the Republic Day celebrations or encouraging students at university convocation ceremonies, is a powerful and inspirational image. The Times of India’s Samir Jain in an interaction with President Draupadi Murmu suggested that women bodyguards for the head of state would send out a powerful message on women’s capabilities, both in substance and in terms of optics.
The public is used to seeing the president amidst great pageantry but this is also emphatically male-dominated – whether it is Delhi police providing the security or the President’s Bodyguard that performs the many ceremonial functions. The latter, in continuation of a colonial legacy, draws its soldiers only from the Jats, Rajputs and Jat Sikhs of the Indian army. Another colonial era requirement is that each of these soldiers has to be six feet tall. Such criteria that basically exclude women sit very oddly with a time when they are deployed on the nation’s warships, flying fighter jets, and commanding operational units in forward areas.
The days of presidential protective details being reserved for Clint Eastwood lookalikes are already long gone in many countries. The US Secret Service actually has a female director right now, and she is not even the first one. As the president noted in welcoming Jain’s suggestion, women are equal in any field. The President’s Bodyguard is especially eye-catching because it is a mounted unit, but that only men can join it sends the message that only their physical attributes are up to the job. Seeing our woman president stride surrounded by women bodyguards, will be a picture that will help correct a thousand such prejudices.
This piece appeared as an editorial opinion in the print edition of The Times of India.
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