In recent years, India has been taking giant leaps towards gender equality in its armed forces by enabling women to serve in combat positions on-ground, to serve onboard submarines and tank units. In 2016, President Pranab Mukherjee announced that the Indian armed forces will be accepting women to take up combat roles in all its sections. This signalled a dramatic and radical shift towards gender parity in one of the world's most male-dominated fields.
We're celebrating 10 extraordinary women in the Indian army who shattered the glass ceiling and paved the way for gender inclusivity.
Captain Tania Sher Gill, a fourth-generation army officer will be the first woman to lead an all-men contingent at the Army Day Parade to be held on January 15, 2020. Captain Tania Sher Gill from the Corp of Signals will be the Parade Adjutant. Her father was from artillery, her grandfather was from armoured and Great Grandfather an infantry soldier from the Sikh regiment.
Lieutenant Bhavana Kasturi was the first woman in the history of the Indian Army to lead a contingent of 144 male personnel. She joined the officers training academy in October 2015 after she cleared the NCC 38. Talking about the whole experience, she said, "The moment when I saluted the Supreme Commander of the Indian Armed Forces, the President, that was the most memorable moment of my life."
Punita Arora was born into a Punjabi family that moved to Saharanpur in Uttar Pradesh during the partition and is the first woman in India to don the second-highest rank, Lieutenant General of Indian Armed Forces, as well as the rank of Vice-Admiral of Indian Navy. She was also the commandant of the Armed Forces Medical College in 2004, the first woman at the helm of the institute.
In February 2011, Lt Col Mitali Madhumita became India’s first female officer to receive the Sena Medal for gallantry, a decoration given to soldiers for exemplary courage during operations in J&K and the northeast. She was leading the army's English Language Training Team in Kabul and was the first officer to reach the Indian embassy in Kabul that came under attack by suicide bombers in February 2010. Though she was unarmed, she ran close to 2 km to reach the spot, personally extricated nearly 19 officers of the army training team who were buried beneath the rubble and rushed them to hospital.
On the 21st of September 1992, Priya Jhingan enrolled herself as the first lady cadet to join the Indian army. A law graduate, Jhingan had always dreamt of joining the army. In 1992, she wrote a letter to the Army Chief himself, asking him to let women in. A year later, he did, and Jhingan and the other 24 new female recruits began their journey. When she retired, she said, "It’s a dream I have lived every day for the last 10 years."
She was only 21 when Divya Ajith Kumar beat 244 fellow cadets including both men and women to win the Best All-Round Cadet award and get the coveted 'Sword of Honour' which is the highest award given to a cadet of the Officers Training Academy. To achieve the 'Sword of Honour', one must triumph the merit list which is made up of P.T. tests, swimming tests, field training, service subjects, obstacle training, drill tests, cross-country enclosures, among other things. The first woman to win this honour in the history of the Indian Army, Captain Divya Ajith Kumar led an all-women contingent of 154 women officers and cadets during the Republic Day parade in 2015.
Meet Anjana Bhaduria, the first woman to win a gold medal in the Indian Army. Always wanting to join the Indian Army, she completed her MSc in Microbiology and applied to an advertisement for the induction of lady officers into the Army through the Women Special Entry Scheme (WSES). She was accepted into the first-ever batch of women cadets in the Indian Army in 1992 and excelled in every field during her training. Thus, she was chosen for the gold medal from a batch that consisted of both men and women.
Priya Semwal's story is one for the books. She lost her husband, Naik Amit Sharma from the 14 Rajput regiment in a counter-insurgency operation and lost all hope for the future. She was a 26-year-old mother of a then 4-year-old Khwahish Sharma. However, in the memory of her late husband and his love for the motherland Priya Semwal joined the Indian Army. She became the first Army jawan’s wife to join as an officer in the armed forces.
Lt Col Sophia Qureshi of the Corps of Signals created history when she became the first woman officer to lead a training contingent of the Indian Army at Force 18, the ASEAN Plus multinational field training exercise held in 2016. She was also the only woman officer Contingent Commander among all ASEAN Plus contingents present for the exercise. We're lauding her achievements.
Lieutenant Ganeve Lalji became the first woman to be appointed as a key aide to an Army Commander. A third-generation Army officer, Lt. Lalji was commissioned in the Corps of Military intelligence in 2011 and recorded several achievements during her training course at Pune. She was selected from 350 shortlisted women officers, Lt. Lalji is also a keen adventure enthusiast and has taken mountaineering and skiing courses at Western Himalayan Mountaineering Institute, Manali.
This Army Day, we're saluting these women. More power to you for making our country proud.