Yesterday, a woman officer of the Indian Air Force levelled serious allegations against her seniors in the service, alleging that one, they did not take her complaint of rape by a fellow officer seriously and intimidated her to withdraw it and two, she was subjected to the “two-finger” test by doctors, which has been banned by the Supreme Court.
This is especially shocking in the light of what happened next. Just a few hours ago, news has come in that the Additional Mahila Court in Coimbatore (where the incident took place) has directed the Coimbatore Police to hand over the case to the IAF for court martial.
This incident takes me back over 20 years, when, after the SSB Interview, I was appointed to undergo a medical examination at an Air Force facility in New Delhi. While there, one evening, I saw a group of officers, with drinks in hand, standing and passing comments on candidates. One of them winked at me, at which the other officers broke out into raucous laughter. When I confronted the person concerned, he looked at me closely and wanted to know, “Is your medical over?”
I then approached a woman officer and told her what had transpired. She, surprisingly, did not take me seriously, more so since I was, at that point, only a ‘candidate’. However, even after clearing the medical test and landing at the Air Force Academy, Dundigal, near Hyderabad as a Flight Cadet, I realised that things were not much different.
Over there, while on my way to attend classes as a ‘junior’, I wished a senior male cadet “Good Morning, Sir!” and in response, was rewarded with the reply, “Fuck You…!” This left me nonplussed, to say the least. What exactly had I done to merit such a response, from someone we ought to look up to (as a senior)? There were no answers.
But this much was clear — it was part of a pattern. One day, I joined a class a few minutes late and when asked, told the instructor that I was in the washroom. In reply (in front of the whole class), he said, “Whatever you have to wash, do it quickly next time.” This left some of my male coursemates sniggering; the female Flight Cadets were all flushed with embarrassment and secretly resolved never to go to the washroom during that particular instructor’s class.
Incidents, major and minor, continued to happen. For instance, one day while waiting outside an officer’s cabin, another came over and leaned in a little too much and then asked my name, which was already written on the name tab we had to wear. I was literally pushed against the wall by this officer’s behaviour.
Complaints of mildly-sadistic ‘ragda’ (ragging) against both male and female seniors would at first, not be heeded at all and then, if someone persisted with it, they would be advised to think of their ‘reputation’ and ‘future’.
This is so similar to what the female officer mentioned above has faced. At first, her complaint of rape was not taken seriously and then, she was ‘warned’ about the ‘damage’ it would do to her and her family’s ‘reputation’.
As if the burden of the guilt arising from such a heinous act somehow has to be borne by the victim, while the accused could go about his life like before.
This is, as stated earlier, a part of a pattern in military establishments in our country. Where every infraction, of a sexual, sexist and misogynist nature is first attempted to be relegated to the background of indifference. When it does not ‘go away’, the victim is ‘apprised’ of the damage potential it has for their ‘good name’ and finally, pressured to take it back, because it might tarnish the concerned establishment’s reputation in the eyes of our ‘enemies’.
Why does no one talk about what damage it causes to the victim, mental, physical and psychological? What about the damage to the reputation of such venerable institutions when such crimes are first, allowed to happen, then left unacknowledged and finally, sought to be buried somewhere deep in the wilderness of oblivion? How about giving priority to the suffering and trauma faced by the victim, usually at the hands of someone in a position of authority over them? Does that contusion have no bearing on the victim’s overall well-being?
Is preserving the ‘reputation’ of an institution more important than ensuring that such violations do not occur in the first place, and if they do, then the punishment awarded is so exemplary that it serves as a deterrent to others contemplating such acts?
Taking cover behind the veil of secrecy and national security only to callously brush all such damaging incidents under the carpet will do more harm than good to the nation’s defence establishments.
An example should be set in such cases, so that any similar future acts become a thing of the past and more importantly, a rarity.