http://beta.epw.in/newsItem/comment/189495/ A parliamentary committee makes some important recommendations on women in the paramilitary forces. Women may have gained entry into the army and paramilitary forces but the impression they are given in no uncertain terms by a majority of their male colleagues and superiors is that they are only â€œtoleratedâ€ there. While expediency and the need for political correctness ensure their presence in the forces, a deeply ingrained sociocultural prejudice about their capacity for the job remains in these institutions. Women are inducted into the central paramilitary forces (CPMF) with much fanfare, but it is overwhelmingly into the lower ranks. The report of the Parliamentary Committee on Empowerment of Women (2010-11) on â€œWomen in Paramilitary Forcesâ€ becomes significant in this context. The report observes that there is an urgent need to provide due representation to women in the paramilitary forces, that women are not given employment on compassionate grounds in these forces â€œon one or the other pretextâ€ and that the Supreme Courtâ€™s guidelines on a special cell to prevent sexual harassment are not being scrupulously followed. It has â€œstronglyâ€ recommended that gender sensitisation programmes be made a mandatory part of the basic training syllabus. The debate over the fitness of women to join defence and paramilitary forces has been a bitter one. These areas have been and continue to be seen as male domains where a womanâ€™s presence upsets the well-ordered patriarchal apple cart. Besides, by wanting to be in the war/combat arena which is naturally male, she is not adhering to her traditional feminine role. In a survey-interview of women in the paramilitary forces, published in Manushi (2003), Santosh Singh detailed the contempt with which they are treated (especially by their male seniors) and the resentment that their presence fosters among their male colleagues. The parliamentary committee has expressed its â€œsurpriseâ€ that instead of an effective mechanism to punish those guilty of sexual harassment as recommended by the apex court, wives of officers judge the complaints of the women members of the paramilitary forces. This, it says, is particularly true of the Border Security Force (bsf) and recommends that this practice cease immediately, noting that wives of officers can hardly be impartial in such cases. It has also said that inquiries into such complaints must be completed within six months, including the action to be taken, if any, against the erring officers. Beginning with the mid-1980s, state governments as well as the centre found that they needed women to handle female participants in demonstrations and agitations. Thus it was that the first Mahila Battalion was raised in the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) in 1986 followed by another in 1995. The governmentâ€™s stated policy is to â€œgraduallyâ€ move towards 10% representation of women in the CPMF by identifying more jobs that they can be assigned in the â€œgiven circumstancesâ€. This refers to the fact that the border-guarding forces are deployed in difficult terrains, mostly in isolated outposts that have skeletal basic amenities. This is also the reason most cited for the negligible percentage of women in the CPMF. The committee found that it is just 0.55% in the BSF, 1.40% in the Indo-Tibetan Border Police (ITBP), 2.04% in the *Sashastra Seema Bal (SSB) and 0.80% in the Assam Rifles. Only in the Central Industrial Security Force (CISF) is it 4.7% since this force practises â€œstatic deploymentâ€ to guard industrial units and installations. It is also only in the CRPF and the CISF that women are recruited to the posts of assistant commandants and sub-inspectors. The Union Public Service Commissionâ€™s (upsc) notification that women officers will not be inducted into the SSB, ITBP and BSF came barely a year after a â€œhistoricâ€ event was praised by both Union Home Minister P Chidambaram and BSF Director General M L Kumawat. In July 2009 the first batch of 178 women constables was inducted into the BSF to guard the international borders. Chidambaram called upon them to appreciate the â€œimportant roleâ€ they had to play. The official argument for the low percentage of women in the CPmF and for assigning them only â€œsoftâ€ duties is that rough terrains and combat roles are an inconvenience to the women themselves. The more likely reason is that their deployment in those fields would require a deep-rooted change in the mindsets and attitudes of their male colleagues, juniors and seniors. This is a change that can come about only if the government gives importance to gender sensitisation programmes. So far, going by the notification issued by the upsc, the government itself is in need of such a programme.