Tuesday, 17 May, 2022
HomeIndiaGovernanceArmy chief rules out gay sex, adultery in Indian Army

Army chief rules out gay sex, adultery in Indian Army

Text Size:

General Bipin Rawat asserts that offenders will continue to be punished under relevant sections of Army Act. Military law experts divided over issue.

New Delhi: Indian Army Chief General Bipin Rawat Thursday ruled out decriminalising homosexuality and adultery in the army and said it would continue to punish offenders under relevant sections of the legislation governing the military.

Both homosexuality and adultery were decriminalised by the Supreme Court in September 2018.

Addressing the press on the eve of Army Day, Rawat said the Army Act is not above the law of the land but added that the Indian Army is not “westernised and modernised” and is “conservative” in this regard.

On the Supreme Court’s decision on striking down homosexuality, he said one needs to see its acceptance in society over a period of 20 years before thinking of acceptance in the Army.

“The Army is conservative. We will not let this perpetrate in the Army,” he said. “We will still be dealing with them under various sections of the Army Act.”

“We are certainly not above the country’s law,” he said, adding the caveat that when one joins the Indian Army, they will have to forego some of the rights and privileges authorised to a civilian by the Constitution.

“There are some issues where we are different,” he said.

Laws governing the three arms of the Indian military bar homosexuality — although not explicitly — and rule it a punishable offence.

Section 45 of the Army Act, 1950, talks about the “unbecoming conduct” of officers without detailing it. Section 46 (a) says any person guilty of any disgraceful conduct of a “cruel, indecent or unnatural kind” will, on conviction by court-martial, face up to seven years in jail.

Sections 45 and 46(a) of the Air Force Act, 1950, state the same.

The Navy Act, 1957, says personnel guilty of any “indecent act” can be jailed for up to two years. One provision spells out a jail term of up to two years for officers guilty of any “scandalous or fraudulent conduct or of any conduct unbecoming the character of an officer”.


Also read: Why Supreme Court’s verdict decriminalising homosexuality has Indian Army worried


Tough line on adultery too

The Army chief also adopted a tough line on adultery. He said that officers posted at the borders for frontline duties tend to leave their families back home who are then looked after by designated officers.

Any softening of the adultery provisions, Rawat indicated, will create a trust deficit between the officers and would leave the one on the frontline worried about his family while on duty.

“Let me tell you one thing, the Army is a family. The local stations depute someone to look after these families,” he said, adding that the officer or jawan sitting at the border cannot be worried about whether “his family is being cared for or what his happening to them”.

He said the officer or jawan at the border has to be reasonably assured that his family is being cared for and that they will face no problem. “Anything that is being said or talked about cannot be allowed to happen in the army. We have to make sure that the family is cared for as your own,” he said emphasising his point.

In Indian military parlance, adultery is defined as “stealing the affection of a brother officer’s wife”.

Offences of this nature are punishable with a court martial and five years’ rigorous imprisonment under Section 69 of the Army Act (read with Section 497 of the IPC, as it stood before the Supreme Court ruling).

Military law experts divided over chief’s comments

While there is an apparent gap between the Supreme Court verdicts and the chief’s comments on homosexuality and adultery, military law experts appear divided over the issue.

“Section 377 stands ‘read down’ and cannot be invoked for consenting adults, both in the military and in any civil setup,” said Major Navdeep Singh, Advocate, Punjab and Haryana High Court. “However, any kind of homosexual or heterosexual behaviour that falls under the category of ‘conduct unbecoming’ or is ‘indecent or cruel’ in any manner or being in ‘violation of good order and discipline’ (if it impacts military life), can still be punished. Perhaps that’s what the Army Chief meant.”

Colonel N.K. Kohli, who had served as a senior Judge Advocate General (JAG) in the Indian Army, explained that in the case of homosexuality, it is not really the sexual orientation of a soldier that is the problem.

“The bigger issue is about taking advantage of position and coercing a fellow soldier, which is detrimental to both the morale and discipline of the force,” he told ThePrint.

He said that in the Army, people of different sexual orientations could cohabit in bunkers, but it is the act of coercion of any sort that invites punishment.

“Similarly, in case of adultery, service conditions are such that officers are sent on night duties and posted in faraway border areas leaving their families behind. Again the angle of trust comes into the picture,” he said.

But if sexual orientation is the smaller problem, will the Indian military ever open up to LGBTQ soldiers?

“I cannot say that a particular verdict may not immediately be accepted in a society overnight. It takes time,” Colonel Kohli said. “It may take longer in the military because of the compulsions it has being a regimental structure.”

Another army lawyer R.K. Tripathi said that he doesn’t think there is any gap between the apex court’s verdicts and Rawat’s comments on both topics.

“The Armed forces are not just a department, it is a way of life,” he said.  “We (army) have not been able to become free minded, where liberal sexual interactions between a man and woman such as those in civil society are possible.”

Supporting the chief’s views on the issues, he said the armed forces have a different society. “A strict control and command should govern the forces,” he said.

  • The copy has been updated with the views of military law experts. 

Subscribe to our channels on YouTube & Telegram

Why news media is in crisis & How you can fix it

India needs free, fair, non-hyphenated and questioning journalism even more as it faces multiple crises.

But the news media is in a crisis of its own. There have been brutal layoffs and pay-cuts. The best of journalism is shrinking, yielding to crude prime-time spectacle.

ThePrint has the finest young reporters, columnists and editors working for it. Sustaining journalism of this quality needs smart and thinking people like you to pay for it. Whether you live in India or overseas, you can do it here.

Support Our Journalism

1 COMMENT

  1. Gen Rawat is absolutely correct. As a disciplined force operating under extreme conditions and continually facing danger it can not be considered on the same footing as civilians. The US Army has a ‘Don’t Ask. Don’t Tell’ policy that should be followed here as well.

Comments are closed.

Most Popular

×