Take senapati, which, by virtue of past examples, refers to a man who is a military commander. It would make semantic sense to call a woman when she becomes a commander – like Vaishali Hiwase did in June 2021 when she became the first woman commanding officer in charge of the BRO Road Construction Company that is part of the India-China Border Roads – ‘senapatni’.
But while ‘pati’ gets a wide berth to mean leader, and not just ‘husband’ in the narrow sense, ‘patni’ gets stuck in the confines of wife.’Chairperson’ is the negotiated gender-neutral acceptable term these days for both chairmen and chairwomen in companies.
The term ‘actress’ has steadily given way to ‘actor’ – female actors designated as, well, female actors, even though the still insists on calling them ‘actresses’. With ‘senapati’ and other variants of this designation demarking leadership or overlordship/overladyship, perhaps a gender-neutral term can also be chosen for the safety of gender-hyper gentlefolks. How about senapramukh? It may take a while to trip off one’s tongue, but then it’s better to be safe than safeni.