The Guardians

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Bharatiya Thalasena. The Indian Army.

There are no domains in the work sphere that women have not delved into. In 1992, the induction of women into the officer cadre was a very important landmark in the history of Indian Army.

Long considered a male dominated workplace, the Indian Armed Forces, now has brave and confident women, moulding into every role and setting examples for one and all. Only the creme of all those who apply, every six months, about 5,000 women graduates and postgraduates between the ages of 21 and 25 years attempt to join the Army, of which barely a fifth, clear the written test and only a tenth of those who do, are selected.

The role of women in the Armed Forces was initially restricted to the medical sector of being doctors or nurses. In 1992, when the doors for women applying for regular officers’ posts were opened, they applied against the advertisements. In the present day, over 1200 lady Cadets have already been commissioned into the various services of the Indian Army, who earn their bread and butter by protecting our nation.


Although the Indian Army is making progress in recognizing the contribution of women in its ranks, being forced early retirement is one of the biggest issues that women officers need to face. Except those who are in the medical corps, women are forced to retire after 14 years in office.

However, some dedicated women officers did manage to cross a few obstacles. A very prominent example is that of Shanti Tigga. She, a mother of two, broke a strong barrier in the Army by becoming the first woman Jawan. She outperformed her male counterparts in the physical tests, she joined the 969 Railway Engineer Regiment of Territorial Army. Her driving force, Tigga said, was that “at that time, ” she “was not aware that no woman has ever joined the Army as personnel below officer rank. But that was hardly a deterrent.” She had volunteered to join the Army on compensatory grounds after her husband passed away. However her hard-earned, “unique distinction of being the first lady Jawan in the 1.3 million strong defence forces,” as a senior Army officer said, was short-lived.


She was allegedly abducted, and was found blindfolded and tied to a post near the railway tracks, in the Chalsa district in May, 2013. She was, in the following week, found hanging from the ceiling of the cabin of the hospital where she had been admitted for treatment.

The past decade has seen many bright and brilliant officers end their lives due to clinical depression, mostly caused due to unequal opportunities for combat duties, based on their sex. Most gentlemen officers are / were unable to treat their female counterparts at par with themselves, simply due to the age old mentality that women can play their part only traditional roles. Deploying women officers at the frontline is generally not allowed, though recent amendments have ensured that they are posted in field areas, sometimes less than 50 meters away from actual combat.

However, in the more recent past, employment of women for the responsibility of being a guardian to our nation, and the acknowledgement of their contributions, has risen. The time when we use the term ‘sisters-in-arms’, just as we oft quote ‘brothers-in-arms’, hopefully, is not too far away.


In 1993,13 brave women cadets joined the Indian Air Force in its First Batch. During the Kargil war, Flight Officer Gunjan Saxena made history by becoming the first woman IAF officer to fly in a combat zone. She was later honoured with the Shurya Vir Award.On the 65th Independence Day, for the first time ever, India honoured a female soldier, Mitali Madhumita, with the Sena Medal, a gallantry award for the vital role she played in the 2010 attack against the Indian embassy in Kabul. Lieutenant Ganeve Lalji, a young intelligence officer made history by becoming the first woman to be appointed as a key aide to an Army Commander of the Indian Armed Forces. Divya Ajith of Chennai became the first woman in the history of the Indian Army, to be selected for the ‘Sword of Honour’. Punita Arora is the first woman in India to don the second highest rank i.e. Lieutenant General of Indian Armed Forces and the first Vice-Admiral of Indian Navy. She has been awarded with 15 medals in her 36 years of career in Indian Armed Forces. Padmavathy Bandopadhyay, who joined the Indian Air Force in 1968, is the first woman Air Marshal of the Indian Air Force. The BSF too have women officers and NSG has women commanders too.


Availability of opportunities and recognition of success are crucial elements that guide people towards or away from what they want to achieve. It is said that people often clap for the wrong things, but if the acknowledgement is directed towards what ought to be praised and glorified, it helps individuals put in their best efforts.

“Once there are enough women around, acceptability is likely to go up. And once that is achieved, more than half the battle is won. A soldier will then be a soldier, without the gender epithet (“woman jawan” or “lady officer”), undergoing the same training, undertaking the same duties, and standing by each other”, as Nishtha Gautam, an associate fellow at Observer Research Foundation has quoted.

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