Meet the Brave Naval officer who won the gender equality battle in the court.

prasanna edayilliam

This story is about a woman who fought for what she couldn't get so that the ones to come would benefit. She wore the white uniform with golden stripes and served in the Indian Armed Forces for more than a decade. Post her service, she was retired but with no benefits. This is the case with not just her but with every woman who joins the Armed Forces as the SSC officer. Let people say that we have advanced in terms of bridging gender disparities, but the reality still hits us harder. Pay differences, discrimination in opportunities, and allowances - all these are clearly seen in workplaces though the amount of time, work, and effort put by males and females is the same. This needs to be changed in every field. That's what Prasanna Edayilliam, along with 16 other women from the Armed Forces has fought for - gender equality in Armed Forces.

Determined To Join The Forces: 

Prasanna Edayilliam hails from a small village called Udma in the Kasaragod district of Kerala. She was born in an orthodox and conservative family where women were not even given the freedom to take their own decisions and live their choices. Speaking to men is strictly a NO. However, young Prasanna always wanted to join NCC. She was inspired and encouraged by her father, who worked in FACT Ltd, a chemical manufacturing company. He himself was actively involved in NCC during his college days. Prasanna, who was motivated constantly by her father was a member of NCC in school and college. She also enthusiastically participated in Independence day and Republic day parades. She became a member of the naval wing of NCC and had undergone training in the Kochi Naval base. This training introduced her to life in the Armed Forces. She wanted to join the Indian Armed Forces and with the help of her NCC officer Thomas Varghese and unit commanding officer, she prepared for the Services Selection Board, SSB. 

A Difficult Road To Tread: 

It was not an easy journey for Prasanna but the determination to join the Armed Forces made it possible for her. She used to travel to Bhopal to give her examination all alone. In those days, travelling was not as easy and comfortable as it is today. She would find the accomodation and would take care of all the other things alone. Sharing an incident that happened once, she said, "When I travelled from Mangalore to Goa via bus, I was the only lady on the bus while most of the men were drunk. Around 1 am in the night, we had to get down the bus and cross the bridge with our luggage", she recollected the moment when she was terrified but remained bold. Her first posting was given in INS Rajali that had more than 1000 officers and she was the only lady. "We were always addressed as ‘Good morning Lady and Gentlemen’. These kinds of situations made me tough and I was confident to deal with such situations that came my way.”, she recollected in an interview. In the year 1994, Prasanna joined the Navy as an SSC Officer in the Air Traffic Control branch.

Prasanna joined the Navy as an SSC Officer in the Air Traffic Control branch in 1994

She served for 14 years and was retired in the year 2008 when she was 36 years old. At the time of retirement, she was serving as a commander. This is where the problem started. Though she and many women like her served for more than a decade in the Armed Forces with passion and commitment, they weren't allowed to continue the service but are asked to retire. They are forced to look for alternate career choices outside the Forces. Moreover, women don't get pension or medical facilities like men do, post-retirement. Thus, like men, who can join as SSC offices and later apply for PMC commision, women don't have the same job security and financial stability. Prasanna, along with a group of other women officers decided to fight this in the court of law. "Male officers could join after their 12th grade or graduation as PMT or SSC officers. Also, they could join as SSC officers and later apply for PMT commission. But as female officers, we had no such options. Although we had to undergo the same selection, training, and posting process, there was discrimination when it came to granting women permanent commission. The PC based on vacancy, merit, and recommendation from the Chief of Naval Staff must be given to women officers as well. It was high time that things changed and we decided to take it to the court and fight for justice,” said the retired Navy officer. Sharing a small anecdote, she said, "When I sailed onboard a Singapore ship which was commanded and operated by lady officers, it made me think on where my country stands. If a small country like Singapore can give opportunities to women and tap the potential, then why is India lagging behind?" She said that they wanted the policy to be changed by the Union of India regarding the grant of Permanent Commission. 

The Winning Note: 

Prasanna Edayilliam's fight was given an answer with triumph for the women in the Armed Forces. On 17th March, 2020, the Supreme Court declared its judgement that asked to upheld the right of women naval officers to be considered for Permanent Commission (PC) on par with their male counterparts. The court had said that women officers in the Short Service Commission (SSC), serving in the field of education, law, and logistics cadres of the Navy, should be granted Permanent Commission. Eureka! The efforts bore fruit and this would benefit all the women who look forward to join the Armed Forces in the days to come. Though this judgement might not get retired officers like Prasanna back to service, many young women who are now stepping their feet into the services shall reap the benefits. "I am glad that our hard work bore fruit for the future generation as the doors are now open for women to take up armed forces as their career. Given a chance, in my next birth, I would wish to become an officer in the Indian Navy,” she expressed in an interview.

The Winning Note - Prasanna Edayilliam

Words Of Wisdom: 

Prasanna Edayilliam, the mother of a 13-year-old girl is currently associated with a few defence projects and also organises motivational lectures for youth and encourages them to join the Armed Forces. 

"Multitasking ability of women is helping them to scale heights. Women have endurance by way of mental application where as men have endurance in terms of physical application Women are good strategy planners and are good at resource allocation with sustained efforts. Women need to come out of the cage and they will definitely fly high and achieve bigger goals.”, she says. 

Thanks to brave women like Prasanna Edayilliam who are paving way to many young aspirants and instilling hope and courage in them.

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