The freedom of Army daughters


A curiously significant proportion of women who do well in their working in areas as diverse as business, media, sports and the glamour industry come from an army background. There is something about cantonment living that seems to confer a distinct advantage to young girls as they step out into the larger world and try and carve out a place for themselves. 
The reasons are quite obvious. 
There is a high degree of emphasis on education and activities beyond studies that allow children to grow up in a rounded way, but if that were all,  an army background would perhaps be nothing more than a decent finishing school. Of course the more Westernised ethic of the military did make for a more liberal upbringing, but perhaps there is more at work here than just that. 
Perhaps the most powerful aspect of an army lifestyle lies not so much in what it offers as it does in what it doesn’t. Army life detaches the family unit both spatially and culturally from the larger social arena. 
The cantonment is another world—with its own distinct physicality and its own code of behaviour. 
Postings in each station are of small durations; no roots are allowed to be grown. Often, cantonments are located in remote places where one is far from the comforting and often overpowering bosom of ones larger family. At a time when the home town posting was highly coveted and connived for, the army made sure that the uniformity of the cantonment was the only home you knew. 
Army children thus grew up in a cocooned world that bore allegiance not to larger society but to itself. They enjoyed a freedom that few Indians experience—the freedom from the past. Army life is rooted in the now—there are few opportunities to get tied down to a place or indeed to a set of people. 
Transience made sure that one never belonged anywhere; everything became an experience that shaped one without being defining. 
The effect on girls was perhaps disproportionate given the otherwise narrow and fixed space they get allotted in the world outside. Girls grew up free from the invisible network of tongues and eyes that keep them in check otherwise. They grew up not knowing too well what being a girl in India usually meant. 
The freedom to live in the present and to be who you are is perhaps the reason why Army daughters display the easy confidence of those who do not see the world as a place full of invisible constraints but one of frequent opportunity. It is not that they grew up in an alien culture, for their parents, however westernised their lifestyle, came from the same traditional  social fabric but only that the relationship that they enjoyed with society was made up of dotted lines. The outside world was a hazy blur which was real but not consequential. 
Army wives did not have it so easy. These were women brought up conventionally who found themselves thrown in a world with very different rules. They needed to straddle two very different cultural universes without having any preparation to do so. 
At a time when most women got married into families, these were the few who got married out of one. Behind the sometimes awkward short-hair-dyed-jet-black-speaking-in-English every-fifth-word army wife lies someone who has perhaps made a dramatic transition in her way of life and learnt to be an individual one step at a time almost entirely by herself. No wonder the word formidable comes frequently to mind when thinking about army wives. 
The phenomenon of Army daughters shows that freeing the energies of women in India perhaps requires above all an absence of the overweening community that surrounds us. We can see a similar effect, for all children who had the benefit of growing up in self-contained colonies outside their native places. 
Similarly, hostels provide avenues for the young to discover their own independent selves and figure out what they want in life. 
On the other side of the success of army daughters lies the tragedy of millions of others who do not have the advantage of an alternative cocoon. For our social system does not let go of its daughters so easily—it requires a military cantonment to get a license to do so.

Via a dear friend!

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