She became India’s first female army officer to win a gallantry award for saving at least 19 lives during a 2010 terrorist attack on the Indian embassy in Kabul. But lieutenant colonel Mitali Madhumita’s two-year-long court battle against the government was tougher than her brave act.
And it surely has ended in a sweet victory for her.
A Supreme Court bench led by Chief Justice of India TS Thakur on Wednesday dismissed the ministry of defence’s (MoD) appeal challenging the Armed Forces Tribunal’s (AFT) order to absorb Madhumita permanently in the services.
As per the MoD, the officer had declined permanent commission when the offer was made to her in September 2010. So, she could not have changed her mind and requested to enrol her permanently because it was against the rules.
The CJI’s bench disagreed with the Centre. It examined the laurels Madhumita won while she served in Afghanistan and noted that an officer like her must continue to be part of the organisation.
“She will be an asset to the organisation. Her citation certifies her exemplary courage,” the bench remarked.
The court noted the chain of army command had acknowledged Madhumita as an outstanding officer and recommended her absorption. It also went into the reasons for the officer’s refusal at the first instance and noted that she did so for personal reasons.
Hindustan Times was the first to report how the government in 2015 dragged Madhumita – a Sena Medal awardee – to the SC to deny her permanent commission. It challenged the AFT order in the same year when it showcased women’s empowerment in the armed forces at the Republic Day parade.
More than 3,250 women serve in the Indian armed forces, with the army accounting for 1,436. The military has so far granted permanent commission to 340 female officers, which allows them to serve their full term until at least the age of 54.
The Sena Medal is an important recognition in the army. Five Special Forces commandos, who took part in a June 9, 2015, cross-border raid against insurgents in Myanmar were chosen for the honour this Independence Day.
Madhumita joined the army under the short service commission (SSC) that allows an officer to serve for 5-15 years. However, she declined permanent commission (PC) offered to her in September 2010 for personal reasons.
She changed her mind after returning to India from Afghanistan and requested the army to enrol her permanently. But, despite glowing recommendations from her senior officers, the MoD refused to even consider the 2000-batch officer’s request.
Madhumita appealed against the ministry’s decision before the AFT in March 2014. The tribunal directed the MoD to, at least, give her a chance in February this year.
In its plea before the SC, the government argued her application to absorb her permanently came very late, much after the selection board for her batch was convened.
According to the ministry, Madhumita “slept” over the issue for three years.