The Indian Air Force has been accused of acting too harshly over the dismissal of fighter pilot after an “illicit” affair led to the suicide of a senior female officer.
This landmark observation has been made by a military court while giving relief to a fighter pilot who was removed from service after the affair was revealed.
While scrapping the decision to dismiss the officer for, “stealing the affection of a brother officer’s wife”, the Armed Forces Tribunal has also advised the Indian Air Force against giving harsh punishments out to male officers for having affairs with their colleagues’ spouses.
The court also hit out at the strict military offence of having an affair with fellow officer’s spouse, saying it “smacks of patriarchy and punctilious mindset” that holds only men responsible for such affairs.
The court said the fact that the offence did not hold women responsible “who may be as educated, as mature, even older and senior than the male is reflective of a pre-disposed and biased mindset that also assumes that the wife of a brother officer is the property or chattel of the male and not an independent person in her own right who has the freedom to choose to live her life on her own terms.”
IAF officers refused to comment on the issue.
The Indian Air Force commissioned its first female fighter pilots this year, paving the way for more women to be given combat roles as one of the world’s biggest armed forces takes steps towards greater gender parity.
The military began recruiting women to non-medical positions in 1992.
“The application of Flt Lt Ishan Sharan is allowed in part,” the tribunal said in its verdict.
“He is to be considered as released from service from the date of his dismissal that is 28 June 2013 with whatever financial benefits, if any, that he may be entitled to”.
Sharan, an ace Su-30MKI pilot posted at Jodhpur, was dismissed from service in June 2013 after a female Squadron Leader committed suicide.
It was revealed, after an Air Force inquiry, that the officer had engaged in an “adulterous relationship” with the woman.
The young pilot and the husband of the deceased were posted in the same Su-30MKI fighter squadron in Jodhpur, while she was posted in another nearby radar unit.
As per the allegations, the Flight Lieutenant (equivalent to a Captain in the Army) had an affair with the female officer since their posting in Bareilly, and it had continued even in Jodhpur after their relocation.
The problems in the affair started when the female officer’s husband read their Facebook chat history suggesting an intimate relationship between the two, and also when he threatened to divorce his wife.
The young male officer, meanwhile, went on to marry another woman, which allegedly pushed the female officer into depression.
The probe under a Group Captain (Colonel) rank officer found Sharan guilty of “Behaving in a manner unbecoming of an officer by luring the Squadron Leader who was wife of another officer of the same rank into a relationship hereby stealing her love and affection.”
Despite the IAF inquiry accepting that increased interaction between male and female officers increases the “likelihood of developing attraction”, it recommended strong action against the officer, while asking for a education campaign among all its personnel against falling into such relationships.
The Air Force also put the onus of the affair on the male officer alone, saying “it may be possible that the relationship was mutual and complimentary, implying that the lady is also an active and willing partner.
“In such cases, the onus is upon the air warrior (sic) to withdraw and desist from having such relationship.”
As per the allegations, he had entered into an “inappropriate, illicit and amorous relationship” with the female officer.
Appealing against his dismissal from service, Sharan accepted before the Air Force chief that his involvement with the female officer was “a mere error of judgment and not any wrongful intention on my part.”
The officer who had joined the IAF in 2007 was the topper of his batch as he was awarded the prestigious “Sword of Honour” by the Chief of Air Staff for his stellar performance in training.
“The only mistake of mine is that I should have ended my interaction with her abruptly.
“But I chose to stand by her in her times of distress which at that time I felt was the right thing to do,” he told the Air Force.
Taking a lenient view of the case, Kolkata Tribunal’s Lt Gen Gautam Moorthy said in his verdict that “while not condoning extra marital relationships, we must, at the same time, reflect upon the changing mores of our society.”