Lt Col Mitali once saved dozens of lives from Taliban attack, won gallantry award, now being ‘harassed’ by army bosses and central govt

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Rifat Jawaid

This can only happen in India. A lady officer, who despite becoming the only female in the history of Indian army to win a gallantry award, has been subjected to constant harassment for last 17 months. Her fault? She committed a ‘sin’ by exercising her rights to be considered for the permanent commission within the existing provisions of Indian army, which extends this facility to all its officers on short service commission.

The dispute was heard by the army’s own Armed Forces Tribunal, which ruled in favour of the officer, but this decision was not acceptable to the bosses of our armed forces and the central government, both of whom have now moved Supreme Court to challenge the AFT’s ruling.

This is the story of a young woman officer of the Indian army. She’s Mithali Madhumita and she is currently serving in the education corps of Indian army as Lt Colonel.

But that’s only a fraction of her identity. Not many would know that Mitali is the only woman army officer to have won a gallantry award for her heroics during the suicide attack by Taliban at an Indian guest house in Kabul in February 2010.

She risked her life and managed to save at least 19 civilians and many of her colleagues. Indian army rightly recognised her bravery and honoured this real braveheart of India with the prestigious Sena Medal.

But, the excitement and pride of winning laurels were shortlived. The officer, who was once just a bullet away from death and had not cared about her own safety to save dozens of lives, is now being subjected to untold agony and constant misery.

Lt Col Mitali has been working without pay for the last 17 months. Both the Indian army and the central government have dragged her to the Supreme Court, where she is a respondent in a case, whose details would make you angry and question the misplaced priorities of Indian army and central government.

While in Afghanistan, Lt Colonel Mitali was given the option to consider permanent commission. For various reasons, she declined to take that offer. But after her return to India a year later, she changed her mind and showed her willingness to opt for permanent commission.

It’s worth stating here that the offer to accept permanent commission from the army had come to Lt Col Mitali in September 2010, when there was no provision to offer officers on Short Service Commission the option of permanent commission. It wasn’t until October 2010, when the government of India wrote to the then army chief informing about its decision to include this provision in the army.

Aggrieved by this unfavourable response from her bosses, she moved the Armed Forces Tribunal, which, in March 2014, ruled in her favour directing the army to consider Lt Col Mitali for permanent commission.

The army, decided to challenge the AFT’s decision in Supreme Court, where the matter is currently being heard. Meanwhile, the central government last month, informed the Supreme Court about its decision to relieve her from the service altogether.

How ironic that the officer, who was once rewarded for her courage, valour and honourable service to the nation, today finds her honour and dignity in tatters.

This whole episode has raised many questions about the conduct of Indian army towards how it treats its own brave officers and the Narendra Modi’s government’s hypocrisy over its so-called commitment towards uplifting the status of women in India.

A government, which is never tired of shouting about its so-called concerns for women’s empowerment in the country has now informed Supreme Court that it was, in effect, in favour of denying this brave woman officer her rights, otherwise enjoyed by her colleagues.

By challenging the top military court’s decision, the army bosses have utterly exposed themselves too. They’ve made it abundantly clear that the real intention behind the continuous harassment of their own brave officer may just have stemmed from a hidden personal vendetta. Otherwise, why would you challenge your own military court’s decision and waste taxpayers’ money by pursing the matter in the Supreme Court?

One of the things that our armed forces veterans said, while demanding the immediate implementation of One Rank One Pension, was that the civilian government didn’t respect the sacrifices made by the men in uniform. Lt Col Mithali’s episode poses another question; Does the army respect the sacrifices of its own brave officers?

PM Modi’s much-touted Beti Bachao and SelfieWithDaughter campaigns have become meaningless after how his government made deposition in the Supreme Court in Lt Col Mitali’s case.

And not to forget the adverse impact on the morale of both serving female officers and those who aspire to wear the uniform in future. What message are we sending to those future aspirants? Does it augur well for a force, which is already  suffering from a serious shortage of officers?

These are the questions both the army and the central government must answers. Their actions are illegal, inhuman and smack of moral bankruptcy and utter hypocrisy. I hope the sanity prevails and both the central government and the concerned bosses of the Indian army redeem themselves by ensuring what has always been this lady officer’s legitimate right. It will go a long way in restoring her dignity and pride.

Rifat Jawaid is the editor-in-chief of jantakareporter.com

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