Home > culture, indian, patriarchy, sexual harrasment, terrorism/war, workplace discrimination > Shattering Glass ceilings? First woman ever to…

Shattering Glass ceilings? First woman ever to…

…be court martialed by the Indian Army?

Army court-martials its first woman officer
For the first time in the Indian Army’s history, a military court on Saturday ordered the court martial of a woman officer for disobeying orders, levelling false allegations against her superiors and communicating service matters to the media.

Captain Poonam Kaur had accused three officers, including her commanding officer and second-in-command, of sexually harassing her last year. She was then serving with an ASC (Army Service Corps Battalion) at Kalka near Chandigarh.


A court of inquiry conducted before the court martial had slapped 21 charges on Captain Kaur — whose father is a retired army havaldar —of which 11 were dropped, as there was no evidence to substantiate them.

The charges levelled against her included wrongfully getting married accommodation allotted and having an improper relationship with her driver.

I’m not defending either Captain Kaur or the Indian Army – I don’t have enough information, and I’m not interested in fighting that battle. A charge of physical abuse, sexual harassment and/or rape is a career stopper (not very often, of course: Phaneesh Murty, K P S Gill, Sanjay Khan, Virendra Kumar Dohare) – but a false charge is not just unfair, it also reduces the credibility of many, many true charges and causes plenty of harm to everyone involved. And I’m of the school of thought that true gender or racial or communal equality is not just equal opportunity to success, but also equal leeway to be bad, to fail, to irritate, to upset those around them. We’ll know women are equal to men not just when the # of women CEOs are equal to the # of male CEOs, but when the average woman is as much at ease to go against the grain as the average man is, when the punishment is commensurate with the crime and not with the gender.

It’s just unfortunate that the first woman to have broken this glass ceiling, to be court martialed and sacked from the Indian army was done so regarding a complaint of sexual harassment by her Commanding Officer. It’s very, very hard as it is for women anywhere in the world to speak up about sexual harassment (when the perpetrators are friends or acquaintances, the rapes go unreported 61 percent of the time – this is in the US), even harder for Indian women, and those in and around Punjab have to deal with the additional Punju male ‘pride & ego’ (a survey done in the state of Punjab a few years ago found that for every rape reported, a humongous SIXTY-EIGHT go unreported), and for anyone in a job, especially in the army to speak up against their own boss, even in a trivial case, is so difficult as to be impossible (example in case: yours truly!). When the victims get the courage and resources and huge support system required to fight such cases and go public, invariably there are plenty other issues – e.g. media silencing, a media trial on the woman’s character, and sometimes, incredibly stupid, out-of-touch judges (“a judge summoned a nurse who was raped, her one eye gouged out, in Shanti Mukund Hospital in the heart of Delhi by a hospital employee. The judge wanted the woman to answer a strange request by the rapist: would she marry him, as now, presumably, nobody else would“).

The second issue here is the problem inherent in all military, jingoistic groups. Armies around the world demand absolute control over their employees. Military personnel and processes are used to expected to give absolute, unquestioning obedience. This is understandable at some level, because they do want their soldiers to die for a cause, and you can’t have last-minute thoughts and backtracking and discussions and challenges in a battlefield. However, this sets up everyone inside for abuse and isolation of the worst kind (e.g. Lavena Johnson, tons of other cover ups of rapes and murders, and why soldiers rape) . Add to that the whole culture of ‘looking out for each other’, and ‘having your brother officer’s back’, which somehow translates to defending the brother that did the raping & the harassment rather than protecting the sister that was raped and/or harassed (if you have the stomach for it, read this story about Houston firewomen targeted in a hate campaign – major trigger warnings). And top it all with the weird defensive argument that if you complain about something the army or your President is doing, you’re somehow unpatriotic and don’t care for your country (see: Dixie Chicks). That last one is seriously f***ed up, because by making sure the army is functioning as it should, you’re actually strengthening it.

Given such a context, it’s really really sad that Captain Poonam Kaur’s case has been resolved so badly. It only further stops other women from speaking out when in bad, dire need, and closes out the options of half of the world’s population from living and working productively.

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