NEW DELHI: An army officer who was a prominent part of the first-ever Indian Army women officers’ contingent that showcased ‘naari shakti’ at Rajpath this year at the Republic Day parade has alleged sexual harassment by her senior.
The complainant said that while the army sat on her complaint for nearly two months, the accused was posted to a much larger commanding unit. Disappointed by the way her complaint was handled by the authorities, the father of the officer has written an emotional appeal to Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar to look into the matter. “If this is the way the Indian Army treats its daughters, I am not sure if any parent will ever send their daughters to the Army,” he wrote.
The 26-year-old Captain of Signal Corps, posted at the Alwar military station in Rajasthan, filed a sexual harassment complaint against the Commanding Officer of her unit. On the basis of her complaint, the committee on sexual harassment of women at work place found prima facie evidence against the Commanding Officer, who is a senior Colonel, and recommended further disciplinary action against him.
Commissioned into the Indian Army in March 2013, the officer was posted in Alwar in February this year, after her participation in the prestigious Republic Day Parade. It was on Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s directive that ‘woman power’ or ‘naari shakti’ was made the predominant theme for this year’s Republic Day parade, where US President Barrack Obama was the chief guest.
But soon after joining her first posting, the officer’s ordeal began. On her arrival to the new unit, the first question her Commanding Officer asked her was whether she had a boyfriend. And this was just the beginning. The officer alleged that the senior officer not only touched her private parts but also made various sexual remarks about her. For instance, “When a lady officer salutes, people look at her breasts and when they pass by people look at their butts”. Such remarks made to her have been mentioned in her detailed complaint to the Brigade Commander of the unit.
Quoting another instance, she wrote, “He called me in his office and told my panty is visible on every dress whether uniform, formals or PT dress. He kept asking me to change the pattern of panty I wear. I got embarrassed.”
After being sexually harassed for nearly six months, the officer finally decided to raise her voice and sent a detailed complaint to Brigade Commander of 3 Signal Group, Southwestern Command headquarters in Pune on August 13.
In her handwritten complaint to the headquarters, she has narrated nearly 10 instances of sexual harassment. Sadly, the army authorities waited for almost two months before they reacted to her complaint. Unable to find any solution to her complaint, lady officer on 26 September wrote the Army Chief General Dalbir Singh. “I am approaching you bypassing all channels for redressal of my grievances because an earlier attempt to do the same through proper channel has failed to provide me justice on complaint,” she wrote . Subsequently, on October 1, a committee presided by a Major-rank female officer was formed to look into her complaints. “Committee has heard the complaint and has opined that necessary action as per provision of the Sexual Harassment of Women at Work Place (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal Act 2013) be initiated against the Colonel. It is requested that necessary steps be initiated for deposition of Colonel before the Committee,” Major Vandana Shukla, Presiding Officer of the Committee, wrote to the Alwar Military Station headquarters on October 2.
“I am the proud father of an Army Officer who marched down the Rajpath this year to showcase ‘woman power’. I am absolutely disappointed today and the reason is that my daughter was sexually harassed by her Commanding Officer and she complained to the higher-ups. In the name of taking action, the higher officials gave him (the erring colonel) a plum posting. Now my little child is trying her best to not let her head drop or shoulders droop,” the father wrote in the letter sent last week.
Stating that his daughter’s complaint has finally come to the internal committee, he said, “But the reason I am writing to you is not about the sexual harassment alone but the way it was handled by the senior officials who had the rank of Brigadier and Major General.” As per the law, the authorities are suppose to set up a committee within 48 hours of a sexual harassment complaint being filed. The army took nearly two months to form such a committee.
This incident and the letter of the officer’s father comes at a time when the government is considering giving combat roles to female officers in the armed forces. Only last week, the Indian Air Force chief has made an announcement that the force will soon have women fighter pilots. But it seems women in the armed forces are yet to get their basic rights.