If I didn’t follow their tradition, I’d be thrown out
Posted On Sunday, April 21, 2013 at 01:24:17 AM
Three complaints in three cities make you wonder about their authenticity, especially since the 25-year-old complainant has accused Marine Commando officials (an elite unit of the Navy) of wife-swapping. “You can’t file the same FIR in two different police stations,” says the wife of Lt Ravi Kiran Kabdaula, refusing to be identified by her name.
“Call me Mrs Ravi Kiran if you want,” she told this writer, speaking over the phone from New Delhi. Kiran, the daughter of an IAS officer and the niece of a senior IPS official posted in New Delhi, says her complaint against her 26-year-old husband and his colleagues posted at INS Venduruthy, the base station of the Southern Naval Command — she has accused them of beating, molesting, and illegally detaining her and forcibly cutting her hair — was lodged in Delhi on March 1.
“Since my husband and his colleagues are posted in Kochi, and the incident also occurred there, the case was transferred to the local Harbour Police.” The incident Kiran refers to happened in mid-January. A week before that, she alleges that she had discovered her husband in bed with a senior officer’s wife. She also alleges that she was given an injection at the unit chief’s office that left her unconscious. She left the base for New Delhi on the first flight the following day, but left her preparation books behind.
Kiran, a 2008 BTech graduate from IIT (Powai), plans to take her Civil Services examinations next month. When she returned a week later to collect her books, she says she was holed up in a room by her husband and his colleagues, who tied her up, beat and molested her. One officer, she adds, even forcibly cut her hair. “I used to have long hair. Now it is like a man’s,” she rues.
When asked why, she replies, “Because I was pressuring my husband and his parents to legalise our marriage.” Kiran married Kabdaula, who hails from Uttarakhand, in a Kochi temple in November 2010, in the presence of his parents. Her parents had passed away earlier that year in a car accident in Bhubaneswar. “My parents knew about Kabdaula — I had been in touch with him since 2008 — and liked him. My brother didn’t approve and argued that Kabdaula wasn’t educated enough.”
Kiran withdrew her complaint and the duo registered the marriage in the following month. However, according to Kiran, the rest of Kabdaula’s family didn’t know of their wedding till December. Was it a stormy courtship? Kiran says no. Kabdaula had contacted her through a common friend on social networking platform, Orkut. He would visit Mumbai to meet her, says Kiran, who was studying at IIT at the time. “He was a good-looking guy and I felt flattered. His parents would also call and talk to me at length. So I felt he was serious about us.”
Kiran moved to the United States in 2008 to study Economics and stayed on as an equity research analyst at Morgan Stanley, New York, but returned to India — once in 2010, to marry Kabdaula, and then for good, in 2011 — to be close to him. While dating, Kabdaula didn’t tell her much about Navy life, she says. “He wasn’t a full-fledged officer till the end of 2011.
Perhaps he didn’t know it himself. Perhaps he knew and he didn’t tell me.” The first time she realised that all was not well was in May 2012, when she was living in Vishakapatnam, while Kabdaula was posted in INS Kalinga. While out for a walk with her dog, she saw an officer getting cosy with another’s wife. Later, she spoke to her husband who, she says, told her to accept it as part of the Navy life. “He didn’t suggest at that time that he was involved”.
Describing the “Navy life”, she says there are regular parties at the base and a junior officer often makes a round of everyone’s houses, outlining a dress code. Sometimes it would be ‘wear short above-the-knee dresses’, and sometimes it would be ‘sleeveless’. Yet, Kiran admits that she only attended two parties — in May 2012 and March 2013. Then, in January this year, she returned home to find her door locked.
“My husband never locks the door, so I entered the house from the rear and found him with a senior officer’s wife. I cried and abused them, but once again he said this was common in the Navy and that I’d have to do it too. The woman said that if I didn’t follow their tradition, I’d be thrown out.” Kiran alleges that when she threatened to call in the cops, they started beating her. Asked how she made an allegation of wifeswapping based on this incident, she replies, “I could make out what’s happening. Young officers (spend time) with married officer’s wives when the seniors aren’t around.”
Kabdaula filed for a divorce on March 28, claiming mental and physical torture. “He must have done that under the order of his seniors. I am 5’1” and have never weighed more than 45 kg. How can I cause him any harm?” It is his physical abuse, she alleges, that has left her with a damaged left ear drum and a broken tooth. “Who is he to divorce me?” she asks challengingly.
Kiran doesn’t see any chance of reconciliation. “I want to see all the accused arrested. My husband has got an anticipatory bail but what is stopping the Harbour Police from arresting the others?” The Navy denied the allegations and issued a statement which said, “In cases of marital discord, there is bound to be bitter acrimony and mutual accusations and counter-accusations. Such issues need to be dealt with sensitivity and as per laws of the land.”
A spokesperson said that the officers were being unfairly dragged into the matter and that they had only tried to resolve problems between the couple. The spokesperson also alluded to a prior instance, where the Navy Wives Welfare Association intervened and sent the couple to a marriage counsellor.
However, Kiran emphatically denies that. “I have never been to a counsellor or a marriage counsellor. To get an appointment from the Navy Wives Welfare Association (NWWA), one has to write an application and submit it. When I never wrote one, how would there have been any counselling session?”
Meanwhile, the Southern Naval Command has begun an internal inquiry, and Antony asked officials to take serious note of the allegations, after a previous allegation of wife-swapping — also squashed by the Navy — surfaced in 2011 in Kochi. Sitanshu Kar, Additional Director General (Media & Communication), said that two inquiries are on in the case.
“The Kerala police inquiring into it and the Navy is also conducting its own inquiry. The final decision can be taken only after reports come in.” He refused to entertain any other questions regarding the matter. There are also many within the Navy who are raising questions about the truth of Kiran’s allegations.
They wonder how a Marine Commando — known for being highly disciplined and hard working — would be involved in such an act. The Marcos is a highly elite section of the Indian Navy. Many who volunteer for this branch of the Navy don’t last the rigorous year-long training, which involves swimming several miles, going without sleep for days on end, and sometimes, spending time in the ocean without supplies.