A serving woman army officer Lieutenant Colonel Annu Dogra has moved the Supreme Court against the Ministry of Defence and her Superior Officer Brigadier Sandeep Kumar for being deprived of her fundamental right to tend to her infant child.
In a 20-page petition, Lt Col Dogra states that she is being moved from her present place of posting for duties to different locations “which do not even provide the basic facility of a creche.”
The mother of a two-year-old, Lt Col Dogra is currently posted at the Jodhpur Base of the Indian Army along with her husband who is also a serving Army Officer. She is a part of the Judge Advocate Generals Department of the Indian Army performing the duties of Officer In-charge Legal Cell (Armed Forces Tribunal). Her husband is posted as the Deputy Judge Advocate General at the same headquarters.
In November, 2018, Lt Col Dogra was assigned to perform her duty as a Judge Advocate at the Regimental Centre at Kamptee, Nagpur in an on-going court-martial. She subsequently went on to visit Kamptee from December 5 to December 18 during which her husband had to take leave from work to take care of their young child. On her return, she was asked to report back to Kamptee once again.
In her petition, Dogra alleges that being deployed for a court-martial is accompanied with an “uncertainty of conclusions”, by which she means that it can’t be predicted whether the court-martial will last “two days, a week or six months”. In essence, a court-martial works similar to a case pending in a court – which requires a detailed hearing on both sides and deep consideration of facts at hand and the issues in law – something that can require her to stay away from her child for an indefinite period of time.
Dogra goes on to allege that most of these postings do not provide the basic facility of a creche for women officers who are compelled to travel with young infants in the performance of their duties as serving army officers. She relies on the National Policy for Children issued by the Ministry of Women and Child Development in 2013. The Policy, says Dogra, safeguards the interest and fundamental rights of the children along with their mothers irrespective of the fact that they may be a member of the Indian Armed Forces.
After she had received the second order, Lt Col Dogra made a verbal request to her superior officer to reconsider the same considering that she would have had to take her two-year-old child with her to Kamptee, about 1600 kms away from Jodhpur, without any direct connectivity by air. She made repeated such requests before her Superior Officers asking them to reconsider the order. She was forced to knock on the doors of the top court when all of her requests were rejected. She goes on to allege that there has been an “abuse of power” by her Superior Officers due to which they have been “highly inconsiderate” with her requests.
Dogra’s petition before the Supreme Court, though challenges a specific order but also raises the pertinent issue of working mothers, especially in the Indian Army. With lack of basic facilities, which directly violates the central government policy, women officers in the Indian Army are rendered incapable of performing their duties to the best of their capabilities and often even forced to choose between professional and personal obligations. Dogra asks the Supreme Court to issue directions to the Ministry of Defence asking them to implement the National Policy for Children and provide necessary security and protection for children of women officers, like her.