Sexual Harassment in Indian Army

By Sajjad Shaukat

Although the confidence of the Indian soldiers over their leadership has already been shattering due to their involvement in malpractices such as land mafia groups, bribery and financial embezzlements, yet sexual harassment, raping women and involvement in sex scandals have given a greater blow to the Indian Army.

In this connection, recently, in a major humiliation for the Army, Lieutenant General A K Nanda, the Engineer-in-Chief, has been forced to resign by 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 Times of India 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.

About a year ago, Nanda had taken over as the Engineer-in-Chief and had earlier served as the Director General of the Border Roads Organisation. Nanda’s technical secretary, who had expressed his displeasure and unwillingness to work under Nanda, had been posted to Bhopal.

According to the Indian sources, while feeling guilty, Lt. Gen. Nanda has already put in his papers. He is the senior-most Army officer to face such action over sexual misconduct charges.

Some credible reports suggest that Indian army chief has also tasked intelligence agency to identify all black sheep of the force. But in this respect, there are numbers of officers and soldiers present in the force has remarked that new chief too believes in favouritism and nepotism. Reports also reveal that officers have grouped themselves into Defence Intelligence Agency (DIA) and Research Analysis Wing (RAW) owing to the prevailing panic among the serving officers. There are some officers who opine that Lt Gen. A.k. Nanda has been trapped and punished because of his difference with the present chief, and having connection with RAW. Thus the tug of war between two agencies has also created tension, demoralizing effects in all ranks of Indian Army.

Lt. Col. R.S. Johar Retd Jalandhar said that he was really shocked to read this news regarding Lt.Gen. Nanda since he knew this officer for more than 35 years.

However, this new event shows that in the Indian Army, cases of sexual harassment of the women are on increase. There are number of pending cases in which the army officers particularly lady officers asked inquires against their bosses or comrades in connection with sexual harassment. According to the media, more than 40 cases of sexual harassment have been reported during the last seven years. Indian armed forces are male dominated forces and never wanted to see flourishing of females in these forces. Therefore, from the very beginning, women have been discouraged to join the armed forces. On September 18, 2009, in a case of female recruitment, while addressing the Delhi High Court, Solicitor General of India Gopal Subramanium has submitted before Justice Sanjay Kishan Kaul that the granting of permanent commission to women officers on short service commission in the Indian Army is not possible.

It is a surprise to listen that 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 Kashmir, found involved in the profession of prostitution. Another case of sexual harassment is that in July 2008, Captain Poonam Kaur of the Army Supply Corps (ASC) alleged her three colleague officers for mental and sexual harassment. She also disclosed that she had been confined illegally when she resisted their advances. On her complaint, the army authorities constituted a court of inquiry whereby all three officers denied the allegations. In that regard, the culprits were not punished.

Indian Ministry of Defence reported that it filed 17 rape cases against army personnel whereas media reported 20 cases of rapes in 2003-2004 and this figure increased to 80 till December, 2008.

On 7 August 2007, BBC indicated: “in July, 2007, the Indian army’s Capt Megha Razdan was found shot dead at her home in Jammu, in Indian-administered Kashmir. The officer had apparently taken her own life, leaving behind a suicide note. But her father, Arun Kumar Razdan, alleges foul play. He says 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,” BBC further reported that in 2006 another woman officer, Lt Sushmita Chakravorty, shot herself dead. Her parents accused the army of harassment. BBC also pointed out that 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.

Although there are systems in place in the 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 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 IANS 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 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.

K.P.S. Satheesh, Chairman of NGO, The Guardian Foundation remarked, “In the absence of legislation to provide for guarantee against sexual harassment and abuse, particularly, the Supreme Court has laid down guidelines and norms for due observance at all workplaces or other institutions in India, until legislation is enacted for the purpose.”

There are reports that till today, only two or three rape cases have been concluded so far in a guilty verdict, while in the remaining cases, the investigations are still in process or have been terminated because of tremendous pressure on the presidents of the court of inquiries, investigating officers or the eye witnesses.

Nevertheless amidst other causes of sexual harassment of the women such as frustration, long hours of duties etc. use of undue wine is said to be major reason behind sexual assaults on the female genders. In this context, young lot of Indian married officers hesitate in attending family functions with their wives, while in most of such functions, seniors officers found losing their senses due to excessive drink. In the recent past, a senior Indian Army officer assaulted the wife of a junior subordinate officer, and the name of the officer has not been mentioned to conceal the identity.

Nonetheless, sexual harassment continues against the women in the Indian Army.

Sajjad Shaukat writes on international affairs and is author of the book: US vs Islamic Militants, Invisible Balance of Power: Dangerous Shift in International Relations. Email: sajjad_logic@yahoo.com

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