Air force fires prickly Anjali - Cloud remains over court martial

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  • Published 8.12.05
Anjali: Offender or victim?

New Delhi, Dec. 8: The first woman in the armed forces to be court martialled has been found guilty.

An Indian Air Force court martial has recommended that Flying Officer Anjali Gupta be cashiered from service. Gupta and her family contend that she is being framed because she brought charges of sexual harassment against superior officers and because she blew the whistle on corrupt deals.

In armed forces’ parlance, “cashiering” is a more severe punishment than “dismissal”. A cashiered officer is denied the privileges of rank and post-service benefits. The five-member jury’s proposal in the court martial headed by Group Captain Ganesh in Bangalore has to be confirmed by Air Chief Marshal S.P. Tyagi.

The court martial of Gupta does not lift the veil of suspicion over her case: is she being put in the dock because she did not succumb to unjustified demands from seniors?

Gupta termed the trial “unfair” and indicated that she would file an appeal in a civil court. “I feel great that they (general court martial) have given us a very good case about appealing in the higher court and to be appreciated by the civil judges outside,” she said in Bangalore.

The court martial has found Gupta guilty of five of seven charges brought against her. She was charged on five counts of financial embezzlement (amounting to Rs 1,080), insubordination, indiscipline, irregularity and conduct unbecoming of an officer.

Gupta and her family had earlier contended that she was being framed. She was harassed by three officers in the Aircraft Systems and Testing Establishment (ASTE), Bangalore, where she was posted, her brother-in-law, Jitender Garg, had said when the court martial began in April this year.

She was also being victimised because she blew the whistle on corrupt deals in the appointment of cooks, waiters and a school principal in the Air Force School, Gupta’s Delhi-based family has said. Gupta had met the air chief in April and briefed him.

Following that, a court of inquiry headed by Air Marshal Padmavati Bandyopadhyay, the senior-most woman officer in the armed forces, was set up. The court of inquiry is probing the charges brought by Gupta and also the allegations against her.

Daughter of a schoolteacher mother and a bank officer father, 29-year-old Gupta is the second of three sisters. She joined the air force after completing an MPhil in psychology. In an early hearing, she had said: “My reputation, life and death are at stake.”

Asked to respond to the charges, she had said: “Justice in this command with this court cannot prevail.”

But sources in air headquarters in Delhi allege that Gupta has not displayed a sincerity to her cause. They said they were surprised that she had not attended hearings of the court of inquiry.

A short services commission officer whose tenure is scheduled to end in January 2006, Gupta was posted to the ASTE in November last year. She was kept under “closed” arrest since February because air force authorities said she had threatened to commit suicide.

Women’s organisations like the CPM-affiliated All India Democratic Women’s Association have alleged that she was denied access to lawyers on flimsy grounds. Its leader Brinda Karat had petitioned the air chief marshal.

But the air force took the plea that the case against Gupta is transparent because the court martial was open to the public. But Gupta was denied access while air force officers were talking to the media on the case against her off-camera.