Home arrow Archives arrow Defence Notes arrow Defence Notes 2008 arrow Sexual Harassment Cases:ghastly INTRUSION IN ARMED FORCES, by Dr. P. K. Vasudeva,23 December 2008
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Sexual Harassment Cases:ghastly INTRUSION IN ARMED FORCES, by Dr. P. K. Vasudeva,23 December 2008 Print E-mail
Defence Notes

New Delhi, 23 December 2008

Sexual Harassment Cases


By Dr. P. K. Vasudeva

It is a matter of grave concern that sexual harassment cases are on the rise in the Armed forces. Since January 2004 over 15 such cases have been reported.  A Gender Relations survey, conducted by the Defence Manpower Data Center (DMDC), has shown that 34 per cent of active duty women and six per cent of active duty men indicated experiencing sexual harassment, whereas another 6.8 per cent of women and 1.8 per cent of men indicated experiencing unwanted sexual contact.

The survey was based on a sample of 23,595 respondents. On the other hand, active duty members gave positive marks for the improvement in the Department of Defence’s sexual misconduct training and climate. About 90 per cent indicated that they had received training in topics related to sexual harassment and sexual assault in the past year and that it was effective. A whopping 80 per cent reported that the Department’s sexual harassment and assault policies and procedures were well publicized. In fact, they appeared more positive in their assessment of the atmosphere in the military rather than of the nation viz growing sexual harassment and assault.

Faced with a string of complaints on sexual harassment in the Armed forces, the Government recently said that a redressal mechanism had been put in place to address the problem. At the same time, the Defence Ministry has instructed Commanders at all levels to be "more sensitive" in assigning tasks to women officers. An assurance was given by none other than Defence Minister A K Antony to Parliament this session.

Provision of an "honourable working environment, being sensitive to constraints faced by lady officers in performing certain specified tasks and to keep in mind displayed aptitudes when assigning other core duties" are the other instructions given out to Commanders on women officers, the Minister elaborated.

Additionally, “women officers are also free to approach their Commanding officers or supervisors at any time to discuss their personal and official problems to seek immediate assistance." Besides, women officers were provided separate living accommodation in officers’ mess as part of the new measures being taken to address specific grievances.


In a recent case of sexual harassment Major-General A K Lal became the first senior officer to be dismissed from the Army for molesting a woman colleague, Captain Nha Rawat. In a shameful incident, Major General AK Lal, commander of 3rd Infantry Division is to be stripped off his stars and dignity as he would stand dismissed. Lal was stationed at Leh and a woman officer accused him of "misconduct" and "misbehaviour". The misconduct included rape and molestation. He took undue advantage of the woman officer after he offered to teach her yoga and meditation in his bedroom. Worse, he even influenced two witnesses in the case.  

The punishment was relatively swift compared to civil criminal courts of the country. It took barely a year for Lal to be stripped of his rank and dismissed. The Army’s treatment of Lal was almost identical to the one four years ago, when a colonel was court-martialed for physically and mentally harassing a woman officer in Guwahati. Does this show that a new pattern is emerging and that the Army is finally taking sexual harassment seriously?

Yes, partly. Till now, sexual harassment complaints in the Armed Forces had rarely been dealt with so decisively and fast. Senior officers say Lal’s punishment is definitely going to be a deterrent. But they maintain that the Army has always censured and corrected misbehaviour of any sort, howsoever senior the officer may have been. However, by that logic, the Army needn’t have taken a severe view of sexual harassment complaints because it punishes all sorts of bad behaviour, anywhere and by anyone—be it a captain, colonel or general.

But, is that really the case? Sometimes, in the worst kind of injustice, the complainant may find herself in the dock rather than the officer she is accusing of sexual impropriety. For example, just a few months ago Captain Poonam Kaur, a young officer posted in Kalka at a supply and transport unit, accused three of her commanding officers of sexual harassment.
A court of inquiry (COI) was ordered. However, Kaur’s lawyer, Colonel RK Agarwal, later claimed that the COI didn’t really investigate her complaint, instead examined her commanding officers’ counter-allegations. Earlier this month, the COI held Kaur guilty on 20 counts, including disobedience.

In 2005, the Air Force had its own ‘Kaur moment’. Flying officer Anjali Gupta slapped harassment charges against her senior officers, but as a COI concluded that she couldn’t prove any of them, Gupta was court-martialed for insubordination.

Even though women have been serving in the Army Medical Corps, they were first inducted into the Army in 1992 on short service commissions and in regiments such as engineering, ordnance, intelligence, signals, air traffic control, logistics and education. The same year, the Navy took its first batch of 22 women officers in. They were taken in as education, logistics and law cadres. Meanwhile, 13 women cadets too joined the Air Force Academy.

Thus, from these small beginnings, women’s participation in the Armed Forces grew to 2,150 with 1,100 women officers in the Army, 750 in the Air Force and 300 in the Navy. The above is despite a clear-cut perception that many male officers would rather not have a woman as a colleague. In the words of former Vice-Chief of Army staff, Lt Gen S Pattabhiraman, “Ideally, we would like to have gentlemen and not lady officers at the unit level. Feedback from lower formations suggests that comfort levels with lady officers are low. We can do without them.”

The General was speaking after receiving news that a woman officer had committed suicide. The remark drew vociferous protest from women activists and he was forced to apologize. And yet, the General’s words are often seen to represent the mindset of much of the Army top brass.

Retired Brigadier Priti Gangadharan says women’s participation in the Armed Forces is “a process of evolution. Initially, there are problems. There is resistance to change but things will settle down soon.”

Many senior officers believe that women officers do not really face very many serious problems in the Army. Retired Lt Gen V G Patankar, who is now a fellow of the Observer Research Foundation (ORF), says today’s women are “much more confident than before. They do not buckle under pressure so easily. The ones who do are probably disillusioned with what they see on the ground.”

Yet another retired General Aditya Singh cannot understand the hue and cry over a few complaints of sexual harassment. He says, “I have met a large number of officers during my service and I never once came across any who had such problems.”

However, domestic pressures could affect a lady officer’s professional life, as was seen in the  tragic story of Lieutenant Sushmita Chakroborty, who committed suicide in 2006 and  Captain Megha Razdan, who was found dead at home in Jammu last year. Sushmita’s parents, however, maintained that it was the pressure at work which forced her to take the step. Whatever the reality, women are here to stay in the Armed Forces and will increasingly seek equal treatment in every way. Sexual harassment or no sexual harassment.. ---INFA

(Copyright, India News and Feature Alliance)


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