When assuming command of an Army unit that had just had the worst of it in NEFA in 1962, a young Commanding Officer, who subsequently rose to become a three-star general, assured his demoralised men he would not be blindly following “damn-fool orders from New Delhi”. Things have certainly changed on the ground since then, and the focus of this commentary is not the Army but the Central Armed Police Forces (CAPF), but there appears little change in the quality of orders from New Delhi.

The top brass of the Border Security Force, Indo-Tibet Border Police, Sashastra Seema Bal, Central Reserve Police Force and Central Industrial Security Force are reportedly upset over a home ministry directive to raise the strength of their women constabulary to 15 per cent in the forces guarding the frontier, while those entrusted with internal security duties like the CISF and CRPF should target the politically-correct magical-sounding figure of 33 per cent ~ which has yet to be attained in the legislatures and civil services.

Apparently, one inspiration for the move was the Army’s plan to raise a women’s unit in its Corps of Military Police to deal with women protesters in the Kashmir Valley. The CAPF leaders see this as a bid by North Block’s bureaucrats to play to a political gallery now that gender-parity has become a political buzz-word. Their gripe is that the politicians and babus are impractical, unrealistic.

The BSF has 5,200 women in its ranks, the SSB (which polices the Indo-Nepal frontier) and the ITBP close to 2,000 each. The ITBP, which seems the most concerned over the diktat from North Block, has pointed out that about 65 per cent of its posts are sited in high altitude/difficult locations with no direct road-access, so fixing any quotas for deployment would create logistical complications such as separate accommodation.

Recruitment is not the problem, effective operational deployment is ~ ITBP posts are at altitudes over 20,000 feet ~ reaching them is a Mini-mountaineering expedition. The BSF is deployed in desert, jungle, marsh and riverine terrain, limiting the deployment of women to soft areas would provoke issues of discrimination. The CISF (8,000 women) has fewer difficulties, most of its tasks are not combat-oriented.

The CRPF has 7,600 women, for themt he deployment is “mixed”: but the organistion laments that while it is mandated to assist the state police, the latter often leaves it carrying the baby.

The core issue is not recruitment/deployment of women in the CAPF but know-all bureaucrats perusing files and fixing deployment levels when such matters are best dealt with by professionals on the ground. Remember how George Fernandes dispatched some babus to Siachen when they quizzed the short service-life of the Army’s snow-scooters? A stint at an ITBP border outpost might bring some of the administrative experts on Raisina Hill down to earth.