The Indian military is not unfamiliar with cases of sexual harassment, although often it’s the women who have had to pay a price for complaining against harassment.
The first case of dismissal from service in a sexual harassment case was that of Squadron Leader Anjali Gupta of the Indian Air Force (IAF). Gupta, who was posted in Bangalore, had charged her senior Air Vice Marshal Anil Chopra of making sexual remarks at her. She was sacked from service in 2005 for indiscipline. Chopra went on to become Air Marshal before retiring. Gupta committed suicide in Bhopal in 2011.
In 2008, Captain Poonam Kaur of the Army’s 5682 ASC battalion posted in Kalka was awarded dismissal from service after she was tried for 21 charges under a General Court Martial (GCM) in the Patiala-based 5 Armoured Regiment. Kaur was accused by the army of having illicit relations with a driver of the battalion. She alleged her senior male officers of sexual, mental and physical harassment. Lt Sushmita Chakravarty committed suicide in June 2006 in the Army’s Udhampur-based Northern Command. It was believed that Chakravorty was under depression over her charter of duties, which included arranging and attending late night parties.
But there have been some cases where the men too have been punished. In 2007, Captain Neha Rawat of the Signals Regiment, posted in Leh, alleged misconduct against the general officer commanding (GOC) of the Karu-based 3rd Infantry Division, Major General A.K. Lal. The general was tried in a general court martial (GCM) and dismissed from service in 2008. Rawat was the first woman officer to lodge a written complaint against an officer of major-general rank.
In 2010, Major Megha Gupta, of the Electrical and Mechanical Engineers, 39 Mountain Division, J&K, accused Colonel Anurodh Mishra of molesting her. The five-member GCM, assembled in the 87 Air Defence Brigade to hear charges. Mishra was found guilty of the charges, and barred from further promotions.
An Ordnance lady officer posted in the Northeast, who didn’t wish to be identified, said that sexual harassment was rampant in the services, as women officers were a minority and could become officers after six months in the Army, which irked many male officers. “We are scrutinized for everything we do. We maintain decorum as far dressing goes, but personally also, when we go out we are expected to be dressed formally, which is not possible. And if we are not dressed formally, we often receive vulgar anonymous messages on cell-phones etc.”
The Army has around 7,000 lady officers; IAF around 2000; Navy around 1500. They have been shouldering responsibilities in the non-combat arms. Women were inducted in the armed forces in 1993. Since then, they say, they have faced gender-discrimination professionally and in some cases even sexual harassment. On the other hand, wives of male officers have been complaining against them, accusing them of stealing the affection of their husbands.
The situation is such that all Commanding Officers have received directives to keep the doors of their offices opened when a woman officer walks in to have a word with them.