Dear General Rawat, Homosexuality Does Not Make One a Poorer Soldier

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Dear General Rawat, Homosexuality Does Not Make One a Poorer Soldier

Illustration: Akshita Monga

Tomorrow might be the release date for the film Uri, but Bollywood doesn’t compare to reality when it comes to providing drama. General Bipin Rawat, chief of the Indian Army, stirred up a hornet’s nest today with comments about homosexuality made at a press conference. Spoiler alert: He’s not a fan, and his views have landed him in hot water with online commenters. But before you sharpen your knives and head to Twitter to spit fire in 280 characters, please remember, like many news stories that break online in our age of outrage, this one too has been overblown.

On homosexuality, Rawat stated, “Hum logon ke yahan nahi chalega… We will still be dealing with them under various sections of the Army Act.” An act which, by the way, still considers homosexuality a crime. In fact, only a few weeks ago, a bill was introduced in the Winter Session of the Parliament to allow LGBT people the right to serve in the armed forces. It took Section 377 a couple of decades to be repealed – it will be a while before the Army Act catches up. So General Rawat is not technically wrong when he says that homosexuality will be dealt with under the Army Act.

However, his statements also show the damage leading questions from the media can do, as he didn’t speak of his own volition, but was asked to comment on the Supreme Court’s repealing of Section 377. Expecting a woke response on gender and sexuality issues from a 60-year-old army man is like looking for an auto-rickshaw outside Andheri station – you should be prepared for disappointment before you even begin. His views are archaic, but it’s not exactly surprising to hear General Rawat expressing them. After all, this is the same commander who, two years ago, argued against deploying servicewomen in combat scenarios because they would require separate arrangements to change and relieve themselves.

The outdated notion that heteronormative masculinity equals toughness and strength is behind this line of thinking, though it’s evident that that’s not true.

Still, his comments on homosexuality have had the predictable effect of igniting internet outrage, and in chasing the wrong headline, the keyboard warriors attacking Rawat have failed to pick up on some of the mitigating clauses he tacked on to his speech. “We are certainly not above the Supreme Court,” he said, also adding, “I can’t say what will happen two years down the road.”

From these statements, we can infer that while the Army Chief is not staunchly opposed to the idea of social progress, he doesn’t feel the onus of championing it in his current position. He’s happy to cling to the notion that being gay somehow reduces your ability to love and fight for your country. The outdated notion that heteronormative masculinity equals toughness and strength is behind this line of thinking, though it’s evident that that’s not true. Bipin Rawat should know better. Wasn’t Alexander the Great, an undefeated general and one of history’s greatest military minds, also known to be attracted to both sexes? Clearly, homosexuality does not make one a poorer soldier – can’t believe we have to spell this out.

As problematic as Rawat’s statements were, their predictable nature made them more palatable. What slipped through the cracks was his justification that the army is “neither modernised, nor westernised”. But that cannot be true. The pace at which military technology, strategies, and equipment are rendered obsolete and upgraded to newer versions means it is modernisation, not mardaangi that wins armed conflicts. In an age of drone warfare and super-soldiers, resisting modernisation only to cling to outdated, colonial mindsets is like starting off a countdown to extinction. Why should modernisation be restricted only to our arsenal?

The Indian Army needs to be modern for the health of the nation. And if that means becoming accepting of non-traditional lifestyles, then that’s a price worth paying.

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