Wing Commander Pooja Thakur, who led the Guard of Honour during US President Barack Obama's visit last year, on Thursday moved the Armed Forces Tribunal in New Delhi after being denied a permanent commission by the Indian Air Force.
Her lawyer has claimed that the IAF has a "dual policy" of permanent commission when it comes to men and women, a charge strongly denied by sources in the armed force that is the first to ever allow female officers in combat role.
The tribunal has admitted the matter and has sought the IAF's response, Thakur's lawyer Sudhanshu Pandey said. Later in the day, he clarified that the case should not be seen from the prism of any gender bias.
Rejecting allegations of any bias, IAF sources maintained that the policy is equal for men and women and there are no separate manuals
Giving details, IAF sources said that permanent commission is not something which is doled out. They underlined that an officer, man or woman, has to first willingly seek for permanent commission and then has to meet the laid down criteria.
They said Thakur, 37, was commissioned into the administration branch on June 16, 2001 and that time an officer of the Short Service Commission could serve for five years and then opt for another six years, as per rules framed on November 25, 1991.
The scheme was given an extension of another four years in 2003, raising the total service period to 15 years. "One year prior to the end of the second tenure, one has to give in writing whether he/she wants to retire, wants permanent commission or just wants another extension," the sources said.
They said there were 12 women officers in Thakur's batch and 10 of them opted for permanent commission. "All the 10 other officers were granted permanent commission. Wing Commander Pooja explicitly sought just an extension of four years. Another officer opted to retire," the sources said.
Interestingly, in July 2015, for undisclosed reasons, Thakur put in an application for premature separation from the force which she said would be effective from January 2016, sources said.
However, in December last year she changed her mind and said she wants to continue till her retirement in June 2016, a request which was accepted by the IAF.
Thakur, who is currently undergoing pre-release course at MDI Gurgaon which is funded largely by the IAF, put in an application about 10 days prior to her retirement seeking permanent commission, which the IAF rejected as there are no scope for such last mind change of mind.
Thakur rose to fame as she led an Inter-Service Guard of Honour last year when President Obama visited India in January.
Obama had later said the sight of "incredible" Indian women in the armed forces was one of his "favourite things" in India.
Thakur had then said, "It feels good that we have been able to achieve our aim of giving him a befitting Guard of Honour. I am glad that he has appreciated."
The defence forces, in a first, had chosen women officers to lead their marching contingents during the Republic Day parade last year.
Thakur, who joined the IAF in 2000, belongs to the administrative branch and is currently posted at 'Disha', the publicity cell under the directorate of personnel officers at the Air Force Headquarters.
As part of her duty, she was involved with the initiation and development of the IAF mobile game "Guardians of the Sky" which was visualised as a new and innovative step to reach the mobile-friendly tech-savvy students.