“I have not thrown away my uniform, I have not gained weight. I am fit to join back,” says Prasanna Edayilliam.
The 43-year-old hopes the Navy is listening.
On September 4, acting on a petition filed by Edayilliam and 16 others, the Delhi High Court said women officers serving in the Navy should be offered permanent commissions once they complete their short service stints. Retired seven years ago, Edayilliam prays she is able to rejoin at the earliest.
Edayilliam had joined the Navy as a short service commission officer in the Air Traffic Control (ATC) branch in 1994. “I always loved the Navy,” she says. “I either wanted to be a Navy officer or to marry one. I was in Cochin pursuing post-graduation in Physics when the Navy offer came my way.”
After 14 years of service, Edayilliam, by then a commander, retired in 2008. The same year, the government decided to grant permanent commission to women officers in some branches of the three defence services. In 2010, the Delhi High Court directed the Army and Air Force to extend permanent commission to women officers in select branches. However, the Navy held out, only offering permanent commission to women who joined after 2008 and that too only in the Education, Law and Naval Architecture branches.
“We were nowhere lacking compared to male officers. And, just like in the other branches, ours too had vacancies. But we were not allowed to continue to serve and were retired,” Edayilliam says. At the time she left the force, the Navy’s ATC branch had six women officers and one male one.
Edayilliam has been struggling to settle into the post-Navy life since. “In the Navy, I was a gazetted officer, outside a big zero. In the aviation sector, there were no openings. The ATC course that I did in the Navy was not valid in the operations department of any commercial airline. To add to that, I had family responsibilities. My father-in-law was on dialysis,” she says.
She did a correspondence MBA course and joined a real-estate firm last year and worked on a defence project. She later got a job with a Singapore-based company, which she quit in June.
While the Navy is within its rights to appeal against the high court verdict, the 17 petitioners, including Edayilliam, are hopeful they will receive joining instructions soon — “within six weeks”, the court said. “The Navy is supposed to conduct training sessions and update us on the ‘transformation’ the service has undergone during our retirement period. As routine, the Navy may appeal against the order, but we are hopeful we will still get joining instructions.”
Edayilliam apprehends having to return to the private sector. “It is a nightmare. I would forward my CV to companies for jobs. They would revert back to me positively, but on realising I am a woman, ask, ‘Does the Navy have women officers?’. No one knew that the Navy employed 400-odd women.”