put on the pips
the Armed Forces are in urgent need of restructuring — facing a shortage of good
officers, and with a corresponding mountain of grievances piling up — one more
arrow in the flank of this great institution is that of ‘senior wives’ throwing
their weight about.
To tell the truth, the term ‘senior wife’ is an
oxymoron. There is no such animal yet the mythical monster that lurks, outwardly
clad in chiffon and pearls, is a deadly one, wreaking havoc in its wake.
Let us look at the larger picture. For all the bad press it receives on
and off, the Indian army continues to be a sterling organization, peopled
largely by upright individuals who combine the qualities of being officers and
gentlemen effortlessly. By and large, the contingent of army wives, charming,
gracious, efficient, do their bit to make the picture a splendid one. It is when
some of these wives ‘pull rank’ that the picture is distorted.
not, women bosses have traditionally been considered creatures from hell.
However, in today’s work culture, there are ways and means to get around such
occupational hazards and if it all gets too much, one can just up and quit.
That is the case on Civilian Street. Within the insular walls of an army
settlement, the options are pretty much non-existent. The irony is, we are not
talking about women bosses here, we are talking about the wives of male bosses.
Somewhere along the line, the Indian Army seems to have taken the common
courtesy and deference owed the wives of the top brass and turned it into a
rigid, mandatory norm. Thus, the respect that was hitherto commanded is now
demanded imperiously and relinquished sullenly.
Invariable, it is the
‘junior wife’ who is on the receiving end. All too often, when a bride enters
the portals of her husband’s unit, once the dining-in parties and general
euphoria settles, she is advised by well-wishers on ‘How to Tackle the First
Lady’, aka the Commanding Officer’s wife. This basically hinges on one pivot: do
as The Lady wants you to do. Or else.
A ‘junior wife’ may clash with the
‘senior lady’ for any of the following reasons: she could be better-looking than
the older woman (let’s not ignore the trivial aspects, here!), more talented, a
tad deficient when it comes to applying the good old butter, why, she could be
more self-confident. Or maybe she laughs a bit too loud, doesn’t kowtow well
enough or is a bit too popular.
‘‘So, what’s new,’’ my Civvy Street
counterpart may ask. ‘‘We get that kind of aggression and attitude from our
female bosses, too.’’ Yes, but the raison d’etre of such behaviour out in the
corporate offices is clear: fear of competition. In the Army, it must be
stressed, the Numero Uno ranking of a ‘senior wife’ is secure, simply because
she has come by it through her husband’s merit, and she is not vulnerable to
being unseated by a younger woman in the same battalion/brigade/division.
Upstaged maybe, definitely not unseated.
The crux of the matter is the
fear that younger wives who fall in the bad books of senior ladies could cost
their husbands dear, vis-à-vis the climb up the promotions ladder. There are
cases of officers called to their CO’s office and pulled up, not for errors of
official commission or omission but for the behaviour of their wives. There are
cases of official circulars being sent out, ordering all wives to stand up when
the Commanding Officer's wife enters a room. A hundred little humiliations
become par for this particular course.
While one prefers to believe
these are but idle threats, the fact that some women can actually make them is
galling. As it is, the young army wife has to cope with long periods of
separation, with being a long-haul single mother, with juggling a career and
responsibilities to the battalion. It does not help when she has to face blatant
misuse of power by women who don the epaulettes that rightfully belong to their
The Indian army prides itself on functioning in the family
mode and every family is expected to have its problems. The sooner such problems
can be sorted out, the better for the new, improved