By Makhdoom Babar ( Editor-in-Chief)
(with input from Christina Palmer, Anjali Sharma, Ajay Mehta, Kapil Verma, Pramjeet Kaur & Ashok Trivedi)
Indian’s Defense Minister Manohar Parrikar, addressing a seminar in Indian city of Jaipur on Sunday, admitted that the importance of Indian army was diminishing in the country. He further admitted that that soldiers and officers of Indian army were facing multiple problems as the respect for the army personnel was evaporating from the Indian society. The Indian Defense Minister, after saying so, added that this was happening because Indian army has not fought a war for the past four to five decades. Giving this outrageous and funny reason Minister Parrikar, who, during his tenure as Chief Minister of Goa, let Goa become the Rape Capital of India, very conveniently ignored the actual facts that were the real reasons for diminishing respect of the Indian army, just the way he comfortably ignored the menace of rapes under his command in Goa.
The Daily Mail’s investigations however bring the real reasons for the fast evaporating respect for the army in the Indian society and would like to share it with Indian Defense Minister if he really interested in tracking down the reals causes for the diminishing of Indian army’s importance.
These investigations indicate that one of the top reasons of the growing disrespect for the Indian army in the society is the inhuman operations of the army under the umbrella of Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) that the educated youth of India is not ready to accept and consider it as a license to kill innocent civilians.
According to The Daily Mail’s investigations, the other top reason is deteriorating ethical and moral values in the Indian army and the youth in particular and society in general is getting repelled from the Army due to this emerging menace while the gender bias and violence against female officers and soldiers is also amongst the top reasons for society’s growing hatred for Indian Army. The investigations indicate that whenever any female officer of India lodged any complaint of sex abuse by Seniors or fellow officers, she actually invited acute trouble for herself as never in the history of Indian armed forces, any such complaint by any female officer was entertained on merit and in fact in almost every such case, every complainant female officer was instead punished and removed from the service with Squadron Leader Anjali Gupta of the IAF and Captain Poonam Kaur of the Indian Army being the top examples in this direction.
“I would say that such cases (of sex crimes) are not uncommon (in the armed forces). But the number of cases is not that alarming,” opines former Indian Army’s Judge Advocate General (JAG) Major General Neelendra Kumar.
Agreeing with Kumar that such cases were not uncommon, another Judge Advocate General Branch officer Colonel (retired) S K Aggarwal says he was aware of at least three cases of sex crimes against Army officers that are at present being tried by courts martial in the country.
The Daily Mail’s investigations indicate that at the time when General Shankar Roy Choudhury was India’s Army Chief, at least seven senior officers in the rank of Brigadier and above were sacked or their sacking orders confirmed for the offence of “stealing the affection of a brother officer’s wife” or adultery or extra-marital affair in the civil society’s terminology.
One of them was Brigadier M S Oberoi, who approached the Karnataka High Court, aggrieved by the Indian Army’s decision to compulsorily retire him after a probe held him guilty of having an affair with a Lieutenant Colonel’s wife. Though the high court accepted Oberoi’s petition challenging his compulsory retirement , the decision was overturned by the Supreme Court and the punishment meted out to him was upheld.
Indian Army officers say, at present, they have a case on hand in which an Army infantry Unit’s commanding officer, posted in (Occupied) Jammu and Kashmir, has been accused of having an affair with the wife of his 2nd-in-Command. There was also another case in Tawang, Arunachal Pradesh, where an officer got involved with another serving officer’s wife and has now ditched his own wife, who is an army doctor. The estranged couple has a child.
The Daily Mail’s probe reveals that in another case in the 13 Sikh Light Infantry Unit, a Colonel was charged with sexually harassing another officer’s wife. The accused officer is now attached to a Unit in Ferozepur for the last two-and-a-half years, but no progress has been made in that case. According to officers, who did not wish to be named as they are not authorized to speak to the media, there were a number of Lieutenant General-rank officers and their equivalents in the Navy and the Air Force, who have had extra-marital affairs with their fellow officer’s wives. “Yet, all of these incidents took place over a period of a couple of decades. The instances are definitely few and far between. Such cases are rare,” says a serving Major General, of the Indian Army who did not wish to be identified.
The Daily Mail’s findings indicate that in March 2011, in a rare instance when Indian Defense Minister got to reply to questions from Members of Parliament on sexual offences in the Indian Armed Forces, he noted that between 2008 and 2010, seven officers were punished after probes into eight cases of sexual harassment of women officers. “All Commands have been directed by the Army Headquarters that cases of sexual harassment will be viewed very seriously. “All Indian Naval personnel are sensitized regularly on this issue at various levels and various sensitization capsules and workshops on the subject have been introduced in the Indian Air Force,” adds Kumar. He further informs that the Army issued comprehensive instructions on the definition of physical harassment and the procedure for taking action against defaulters.
Our investigations reveal that in August 2010, a military court struck off six years of military service of a serving Colonel who molested a woman officer during their posting in (Occupied) Jammu and Kashmir in 2008. The General Court Martial, which had assembled in Udhampur, the seat of the Indian Army’s Northern Command, directed that Colonel Anurodh Mishra would forfeit six years of his service when considering him for further promotion. That meant the Colonel will suffer the ignominy of being junior in rank and service to all officers who joined later than him in the six years preceding his commission in the Army. The five-member Court Martial, headed by Brigadier Arvind Datta, reprimanded him after hearing arguments from the complainant, Major Megha Gupta, and the defendant, an officer with the Electronics and Mechanical Engineering (EME) Corps. According to the charges read out against Col. Mishra, he had called the woman officer to his residence on the pretext of official briefings and misbehaved with her, when the two were posted with the 39 Mountain Division in IOK. Earlier, a Court of Inquiry had held that Mishra was prima facie guilty of molesting the woman officer. However, he approached the Armed Forces Tribunal contending that a false case was made out against him due to personal enmity at the instance of his senior Lieutenant Colonel. The tribunal, however, refused to interfere in the Court Martial proceedings.
The Daily Mail’s investigations indicate that real life story of an Indian Army Major goes like a spicy and juicy script of some love thriller Indian movie.
According to the Daily Mail’s probe, a Major from Indian Army’s AMC, who was posted at a military hospital in Dinjan cantonment in Assam’s Tinsukia district in 2007, played out his part to perfection, only his efforts went for a toss at the end of the year-long drama. The officer, to fulfill his lust for a brother officer’s wife, planned and executed his own fake suicide. He left his car on the banks of Brahmaputra River and a suicide note in it, to make it appear as if he had jumped into the water to end his unhappy life. However, his body was never found despite the Indian Army getting divers to fish out the mortal remains. It also never surfaced. Around the same time, the wife of a Colonel with an Artillery Unit posted in the same area too went missing from her home in the Cantonment. Incidentally, the Major’s wife, who too is a doctor in the Indian Army’s Medical Corps with the rank of Captain, was on a UN mission and was posted abroad at the time he got involved with the Artillery Unit Colonel’s wife.
The Military Intelligence (MI) Unit’s antenna went up as two persons, a man and a woman, went missing from the same Army establishment almost at
the same time. They began picking up the thread to put the pieces of the puzzle in place. The probe by the MI led to the finding that the Major had
The Daily Mail’s investigations indicate that the services of the Indian Armed Forces, with the third largest contingent in United Nations however, got blemished after reports of sexual misconduct emerged from Congo, where the Indian Army has been deployed since 2005 and is now the largest troop-contributing force. In December 2008, complaints emerged that Indian peacekeepers were sexually exploiting local Congolese women and reports in this regard were received by the United Nation’s Office of Internal Oversight Services (OIOS). After a four-year probe by both the OIOS and the Indian Army headquarters in New Delhi, it turned out that at least one of the complaints could be true, thereby bringing disrepute to Indian peacekeepers. A Court of Inquiry concluded by the Indian Army in Meerut, Uttar Pradesh, found enough ground for disciplinary action against a soldier from an Indian Army regiment, whose DNA matched with that of a child born to a Congolese woman. Three other army personnel, including a major, were charged with control and command failure. They were punished with administrative action. When complaints emerged in 2008, an entire battalion of the Indian Army’s Sikh regiment came under the OIOS scanner, following the startling revelations about sexual misconduct by men from that Unit by four Congolese women. The complaints gained credence after children with distinct Indian features were born to these women. One of them had claimed that she used to meet up with the Indian Army man at a Goma hotel in North Kivu. She also claimed that she was from a poor family and the Indian Army man would give her gifts and money.
The Daily Mail’s probe reveals that in yet another UN-related case in 2008 again involving troops from the Congo mission, three Indian Army officers were arrested by the South African police in Pretoria after women residents of Plettenberg Bay complained that the Indian Army Officers raped them. The officers were on a holiday in South Africa from their duties at the UN mission in the Democratic Republic of Congo headquarters in Kinshasa when the crime took place. The officers were picked up by the police from a bed-and-breakfast facility in Mossel Bay in March 2008.
The Daily Mail’s investigation indicate that another core issue for diminishing respect of the Indian army in the society is the worst working environment and rather ruthless duties that is causing suicides and killing of fellow soldiers A recent article over at the BBC News website says that the Indian army is losing more soldiers to suicide than to enemy action. The statistics for this year alone are a bit weird.
It seems the key issue is leave, or rather the lack of it. Most experts attribute the growing stress to low morale, bad service conditions, lack of adequate home leave, unattractive pay and a communication gap with superiors. To quote from the article: “Soldiers get angry when they are denied leave and their senior officers themselves take time off. It triggers a reaction, they are well armed and they take their own lives.”
This one is certainly for the “Weird” category here. Just take a look at the following key statistics:-Since 2004, 303 soldiers have been killed in militant attacks. Since 2004, 422 soldiers have taken their lives, killed colleagues or died after colleagues ran amok of the 408 soldiers, 333 killed themselves.
Renu Agal of BBC Hindi service New Delhi describes this phenomenon in these words, “Nobody quite knows why Lt Col Jha pulled the trigger on himself – he had been serving in the military for the past 14 years. According to his mother, Lalita Jha, “there was no tension, no problems. I just can’t understand why he did it”.
He is far from the only soldier to take his own life last year – Capt Sunit Kohli, Maj Sobha Rani, Lt Sushmita Chatterjee… the list goes on. In fact, the Indian army is losing more soldiers in these incidents than in action against the enemy.
What is happening to the Indian army? The million-strong force is clearly under tremendous stress. Though it has not fought a full-blown war in decades, the force is bogged down in fighting domestic insurgencies, guarding restive borders and sometimes quelling civilian rioting.
Most experts attribute the growing stress to low morale, bad service conditions, lack of adequate home leave, unattractive pay and a communication gap with superiors. Retired Maj Gen Afsar Karim, who has fought three wars, says that the stress may be high among soldiers because of lack of leave.
“The army is involved in a [difficult] long running internal security environment. There is lack of rest and they get very little leave. Lack of leave increases his stress,” he says. “Soldiers get angry when they are denied leave and their officers themselves take time off. It triggers a reaction, they are well armed and they take their own lives.’’
Then there is the question of what many say is low pay – starting salaries in many jobs in middle-class India are double that of a new soldier, and for many of them the army no longer holds out the promise of a good life.
Retired Maj Gen Karim suspects that with the increase in numbers of soldiers, cohesiveness is being eroded. “In our times, we used to know the names of our soldiers, where they came from. We used to meet their families, but now the army has expanded manifold and this cohesiveness is gone,” he says, on what precisely is causing these soldier deaths.
Lalita Jha, mother of Pankaj Jha, hopes that she will find out more about her son’s suicide. “I am sure the army will look into the matter and find out what happened,” she says.
The Daily Mail’s findings indicate that in June 2006, a female officer of the Indian Army committed suicide by shooting herself in Udhampur, headquarter of the army’s Northern Command, in Jammu and Kashmir as she was “dissatisfied and unhappy with her job”.
According to the investigations of The Daily Mail, the 25-year-old officer Lt. Sushmita Chakravorty of 5071 ASC Battalion went to a guesthouse near her official quarters on the evening of June 15, 2006 and asked the sentry there for his rifle “as she wanted to get her photo with that”.
The unsuspecting sentry handed his weapon and in moments Lt. Chakravorty shot herself with it. She was shifted to the army hospital where she was declared brought dead. This was the first incident of its kind in occupied Jammu and Kashmir of a female army officer committing suicide.
The officer’s mother Sadhana Chakravorty told media persons in Udhampur that Lt. Chakravorty had “unwillingly joined the army about 10 months ago”. The family hailed from Bhopal in Madhya Pradesh and she was a first grader in M. Sc chemistry from Bhopal. Her father P B Chakravorty is working with Bharat Heavy Electricals Limited (BHEL).
Lt. Chakravorty had returned from two months leave on May 30,2006. “I came with her as she was feeling very low,” her mother said. Sadhana told reporters that her daughter had developed a very short temper and had become more so as she was “disillusioned with her present job”. She wanted to quit the army but could not do so as “she had to pay the bond money to the army”.
“We had told her that the money could be arranged by selling off the house in Bhopal,” Sadhana said. But Lt. Chakravorty did not agree to it “because she was concerned about her younger brother too.
The Daily Mail’s investigations indicate that apart from the above mentioned issues, the issue of corruption that includes the Sukhna Land Scam, the Adarsh Housing Scam, the CSD Scam and the Kargil Scam are also the strong elements for reducing public respect of Indian army.
If the Indian Defense Minister could address these issues, one believes he will not have to raise the option of restoring the public respect for Indian army by fighting a war only.
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