Indian Army exposes its gender biased face

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– Confronts granting permanent commission to women in combat roles
– Says Indian soldiers don’t want to be commanded by women officers
– Life remains miserable for female officers in Indian army
– Captain Poonam case, Captain Megha case and Lt. Sushmita cases are just a few to depict plight of women in Indian army
From Christina Palmer and Neetu Chadha
 The Indian army, that claims to be the main custodian of the women empowerment and often bids to take credit of making Indian women to walk shoulder to shoulder with the males in Armed Forces and thus it created much ado about launching first female battalion a couple of years back(though it later appeared to be a battalion, actually comprising handpicked sex workers), has now exposed its real gender biased face to the global community as it has stressed that women cannot be granted permanent commission in the force because the bulk of the army’s Junior Commissioned Officers(JCOs) and other ranks hail from rural India who are not yet ready to accept a woman as their leader in combat situations, reveal the investigations of The Daily Mail.
”The interface between the leader and the led must be without any reserve or preconceived notions especially in battle conditions where jawans repose full faith in decisions/orders of the leader who is their role model and are prepared to make the supreme sacrifice in the line of duty,” the Army Headquarters said in an affidavit dated September 12 before the Supreme Court.
 ”The combat role of woman officers must be excluded not only for the present but as a matter of policy for all times,” the affidavit said. Ruling out any change in its policy of not granting permanent commission to women at present or in the future, the JCO, who filed the affidavit on behalf of the Indian army, went a step further to stress that the experience with Short Service Commission(SSC) woman officers so far has not been encouraging.
 The affidavit said the response of woman officers when detailed on various courses which are crucial for career progression “is far from encouraging”. ”In most cases, woman officers have declined to go on courses of instructions due to various reasons ranging from family commitment to personal problems,” it added.
 The army said the prolonged absence of woman officers from a unit due to inherent family-related issues was also highly detrimental “to the overall efficiency of the unit” as a cohesive fighting force. The army also seemed to be unhappy with woman officers requesting for choice/spouse postings.
 ”There is an ever growing demand for spouse/choice postings which is adversely impacting the management of officers to the detriment of male officers,” the affidavit pointed out. The affidavit pointed out that the armed forces are maintained as an instrument of national policy and has to be organized and equipped for combat and war-fighting.
 ”War has no runners-up, hence the need for an efficient war machine that will ensure victory,” it said. Restrictions on manpower in the army necessitated multitasking, it said, adding that “every individual counts and has to measure up to combat challenges as and when time comes”. The basic role of the army is to fight the enemy and guard the territorial integrity of the nation, the affidavit said.
 Woman officers cannot be employed in combat in the foreseeable future because of the attendant hazard and trauma including the possibility of being made a prisoner of war, it added. At present, women are inducted as SSC officers in various combat support wings but the government and the army has been unwilling to grant permanent commission.
 ”In theory, women in the army may sound good but in practical terms the arrangement has not worked well in the Indian Army and as a concept also our society is not prepared to accept women in combat role and this is the reason for women being taken only in combat support role, said Major General (r)
GD Bakhshi when contacted, The army has told the court that the combat role of woman officers must be excluded ‘not only for the present but as a matter of policy for all times’.
The Daily Mail’s investigations indicate that the life for the women, posted in Indian Armed Forces has never been very easy. They have never been provided with health working conditions and have always been subjected to a highly discouraging attitude by senior male officers while cases of sexual harassment and other abuses against female officers by their senior male officers have become a routine in Indian army in particular.
The Daily Mail’s investigations indicate that in one such case, a 25-year-old officer Lt. Sushmita Chakravorty of 5071 ASC Battalion of the Indian Army went to a guesthouse near her official quarters on the evening of June 15, 2006 and asked the sentry there for his rifle “as she wanted to get her photo with that”. The unsuspecting sentry handed his weapon and in moments Lt. Chakravorty shot herself with it. She was shifted to the army hospital where she was declared brought dead. This was the first incident of its kind in occupied Jammu and Kashmir of a female army officer committing suicide.
The officer’s mother Sadhana Chakravorty told media persons in Udhampur that Lt. Chakravorty had “unwillingly joined the army about 10 months ago”. The family hailed from Bhopal in Madhya Pradesh and she was a first grader in M. Sc chemistry from Bhopal. Her father P B Chakravorty is working with Bharat Heavy ElectricalsLimited (BHEL).
Lt. Chakravorty had returned from two months leave on May 30, 2006. “I came with her as she was feeling very low,” her mother said. Sadhana told reporters that her daughter had developed a very short temper and had become more so as she was “disillusioned with her present job”. She wanted to quit the army but could not do so as “she had to pay the bond money to the army”.
“We had told her that the money could be arranged by selling off the house in Bhopal,” Sadhana said. But Lt. Chakravorty did not agree to it “because she was concerned about her younger brother too who had just passed Class 12.” The Daily Mail’s findings further reveal that in another case of plight of women in Indian army, Indian army sacked one of its female officers, Captain Poonam Kaur of the Army Service Corps (ASC) for leveling allegations of sexual harassment against her seniors.
Capt Kaur had charged her seniors of physical and mental harassment ever since she was posted in Kalka in October 2007. She was, however, acquitted of the charge of “an unbecoming conduct and character” with regard to having physical relations with her driver, Sepoy Sunil Kumar. Capt Kaur had alleged that her Commanding Officer Col R K Sharma and Lt Col Ajay Chawla and Maj Suraj Bhan had physically and mentally harassed her after she spurned their advances.
 She also charged them of keeping her in illegal confinement in her quarters in the Kalka military station. ”They used to call me to the office without any reason and force me to stay during late night parties,” she had alleged While Capt Kaur could not be reached, her counsel Col (retd) S K Aggarwal told this scribe “This seems like a shut-up call by the Army to one and all to not level any such allegations in future. The Army has tried to convey a message that woman officers should not level such allegations against seniors.”
The Daily Mail’s investigations reveal that in another case of similar nature, in July, 2007, Indian army’s Capt Megha Razdan was found shot dead at her home in Jammu, in Indian-occupied Kashmir. The officer had apparently taken her own life, leaving behind a suicide note. But her father, Arun Kumar Razdan, alleged foul play. He said his daughter was murdered by someone in the army. she was very happy and had spent just over two years in the army. She wanted to serve the country,” he said.
According to BBC, five cases of sexual harassment were filed by women officers against their male counterparts between 2002 and 2006. And India’s 1.1 million-strong army has only 1,000 women officers.
The Daily Mail’s investigations further reveal that in a major humiliation for the Indian army, during 2010 , Lieutenant General A K Nanda, the then Engineer-in-Chief of the Indian army was forced to resign by the then Indian Army Chief Gen. V K Singh after a complaint that he molested the wife of his technical secretary and committed sexual misconduct during a visit to Israel. The Indian media also verified this news and reported that the complaint was filed by the wife of Nanda’s technical secretary to Army Chief’s wife and the President of the Army Wives Welfare Association Bharti Singh, who promptly put it up before Gen. Singh.
The Daily Mail’s investigations indicate that to add to the miseries of female officers of the Indian army on the hands of the senior male officers, the Indian government itself is promoting prostitution in the lady troops deployed in border areas. In this context, on April 10 2007, CNN revealed that 28 years old Smriti and 26 years old Suhag were Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) constables on duty in strife-torn disputed Kashmir, found involved in the profession of prostitution.
The Daily Mail’s investigations indicate that though there are systems in place in the Indian army to deal with complaints of sexual harassment by seniors and other complaints, yet same are not working appropriately due to a number of lacunas.
Human rights activists are of the opinion that the Indian Army goes by the Army Act while probing allegations of sexual abuse. But in the process it may be blatantly overlooking guidelines issued by the Supreme Court on sexual harassment at workplace.
The Indian Army Act 1950, which was formulated for men when women had not been inducted into the forces, does not have specific provisions dealing with cases of sexual abuse. The allegations are generally shelved with “unbecoming conduct” on the part of officers.
A senior Indian Army official told this scribe, requesting anonymity, “We do not go by the Supreme Court’s guidelines. The army officers first come under the Army Act and we take serious note of sexual allegations.”
Former Judge Advocate General (JAG) of Indian Army Maj. Gen. Neelendra Kumar said: “The army has a standing policy that every case of serious nature invariably goes to the military court. The Supreme Court guidelines are not applicable as we have the Army Act.” The apex court had issued guidelines for conducting inquiries into cases of sexual harassment in August 1997 judgment and these are meant to be applied in the absence of any specific legislation.