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Army strips lady mascot of rank

New Delhi, June 23: Lieutenant Colonel Priyamvada Mardikar, the mascot of women in the Indian Army, has been asked by army headquarters to relinquish her rank.

The officer was pipped (ceremonially conferred the rank) on International Women’s Day (March 8) last year. She is the only lady officer outside the medical corps to have achieved the distinction.

In the hierarchical structure of the army, it is humiliating for an officer to be stripped of his/her rank.

The treatment meted out to Mardikar ' and put down to unresolved bureaucratic processes in army headquarters ' can come to symbolise the level of professional frustration women in the army bear ' a complaint voiced by the father of the late Lieutenant Susmita Chakraborthy, who shot herself last week.

Mardikar was a heroine for the army till recently. She was supposed to emblematise the women cadre in the Indian Army because she was the first to achieve the rank of lieutenant colonel since the army began commissioning lady officers in 1993.

A source in army headquarters said today that Mardikar was “erroneously” given the rank after completing 13 years of service though the defence establishment is yet to decide if the terms and conditions on promotions for (gentlemen) officers on permanent commission are applicable also to lady officers on short-service commission.

Despite representations Mardikar made to the chief of army staff, army headquarters has conveyed to her that her rank as “lieutenant colonel” is now “null and void”.

The “error” was detected in January this year, months after the pipping of the lady. Mardikar is currently posted with a unit of the Corps of Electrical and Mechanical Engineers (EME) in Mumbai.

Army headquarters has received petitions from the officer but service rules forbid her from going public with her case.

Mardikar was earlier posted at Silchar as a major with the Assam Rifles. An electronics engineer with a masters from Nagpur University, she completed her training at the Officers’ Training Academy, Chennai, in September 1993, after which she was commissioned into the EME.

She has a year and eight months of service in the army left. The unmarried Mardikar is the only officer from her batch to continue to serve in the army, the others having either not been selected for extended service or having opted out.

Mardikar wrote to the chief of army staff in February. She was told that because her case has not yet been resolved she cannot wear the rank.

In August this year, another lady officer, Major Varuna Madan, also with the Corps of EME, would be due for promotion as lieutenant colonel. But precedence goes against that happening till service headquarters either revises policy or makes current rules applicable to women on short-service commission.

All lady officers, however, continue to draw the pay and allowance of the substantive rank of captain. Further promotions are on an “acting” basis under current rules. Promotions of army officers up to the rank of lieutenant colonel are on a timescale, as recommended by a committee headed by former defence secretary Ajay Vikram Singh.

The committee’s recommendations were implemented by the government in December 2004 as a result of which all majors who had completed 13 years of service were conferred the rank of lieutenant colonel.

In October 2005, a gazette notification also said all officers completing the requisite number of years in service were to be given the rank.

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