Women’s Day: Five Voices from The Frontline

Answering the call of duty to the nation, he has done the unthinkable and shattered the glass ceiling beyond recognition. On International Women’s Day, CNN-News18 interviews five incredible Indians.

Major Abhilasha Barak, Army’s first woman combat aviator

Major Barak, deployed in the world’s most complex region with decades of conflict… How’s the experience?

I am serving in Kashmir Valley since July 2022. Being in an area where there are counter-terrorist and anti-terrorist operations going on every second, every second, it demands 24×7 duty. We have to be in battle 24×7 and we have to be in the air in 5 minutes. So there is no time for preparation. You need to know the valley like a backyard in the back of your head. So, it’s a very proactive role that we’re playing.

Being a ‘combat aviation pilot’… it gives us a sense of your operations. When did you decide to make this trip? You could have chosen the easy route of becoming a commercial pilot.

Coming from a military background, I always wanted to be in the Indian Army. Initially, I wanted to join the Indian Air Force as I always wanted to fly. I always wondered why walk when you can run and why run when you can fly? So aviation was always a passion. Nothing beats being in the Indian Army and flying one of the finest state-of-the-art equipment.

You said you have to be ready for battle in 5 minutes. This is a very challenging area. Were you looking for posting elsewhere or is it a matter of pride for you to be posted in Kashmir?

You know what a great pride this is. Real operation means what you see in J&K. Difficult conditions and serving the country in the frontline… I feel very satisfied with the work I am doing out there.

How often do you meet or talk to your family?

Most of my friends have joined the Indian Army or IAF because we share the same objective and in my family, my father is a retired colonel, my mother is a teacher and I have two brothers. An elder brother is also serving in the Indian Army and my younger brother is in college at Punjab University. Since the situation is quite normal in the Kashmir Valley, we get to talk at home every day. There is no connectivity problem or network is down…we can come home every 6 months but we talk to him very often.

You come from a military background, and that comes naturally to you, but who is your inspiration?

My father was a self-made man, he was my inspiration. My great grandfather was also in this line, so it runs in my blood.

These places were male dominated. The army has now started opening it up for women. How do you feel?

Recently he opened the doors of NDA for women. This is a historic decision. Society is changing and recognizing us.

What is your message to young girls who want to follow in your footsteps?

follow your passion. It is not difficult once you know what you want, but hard work comes after that. You have to make choices and grab every opportunity.

Captain Shiva Chauhan, the first woman officer posted in Siachen

Tell us about your journey in the army and your posting in Siachen.

I got posted here after coming on 2nd January. Before that I had to go for training. It was for 28 days and the posting period is 6 months. This is the most memorable trip of my life. I got to learn many more operational aspects.

Tell us more about being stationed there. How is life in Siachen for women, does it get tough for you or are you one of those people who feel that women are very strong mentally, physically and they only get better when they face challenges do you perform?

We in the army need to be mentally and physically strong to serve in such areas. We have to face difficult situations.

Were you waiting for this posting? What does this tell you about women in the military, in the sense that we’re certainly celebrating the women who are on the front lines on the front lines? Does it indicate that now it is a big change in the Indian Army and defense forces in general?

It has inspired me and other women as well. Other women are interested in joining the Indian Army. They should understand that the requirement is different and not like other civil services. It demands a person to move from one place to another.

What about your friends and family when they come to know that you are going to be posted in Siachen? What was his reaction? Tell us about the nature of your work in Siachen.

Friends and family are very proud of me for being the first to be posted…I am an engineering officer. I take care of him here in this area.

Is it hard to get out there and stick to your routine?

We are being adequately trained in our academies. They make us effective enough to deploy in such difficult terrains.

You are the only woman posted there. How many men are there? Does being a single woman make it special or does it make it difficult and what is your routine like?

With regard to my male counterparts, they are all cooperative and welcoming. If I am here, I feel it is a lot of support from Siachen Brigade and others… All women counterparts and soldiers are very welcome

You are at -30°C. This is going to be very difficult for you. It also requires some degree of customization. tell us about it. How difficult is it for you being the only woman in Siachen?

There are many challenges in the area. You should be aware of your responsibilities. One should be well versed.

Major Beena Tiwari, Army Medic, part of Operation Dost

Major Beena, you became the face of Operation Dost. Tell us what the lady (seen in the Turkish scenes) was telling you.

It was our second day there and they were very grateful for our service and our gestures. He thanked me and kissed me and asked us to stay with him.

Major Bina, what becomes overwhelming when we see those pictures is that India stands for countries in general. Rescue and relief after a disaster like an earthquake is extremely difficult. It is very painful when you see despair all around. How was your ten days in Turkey? What did you think when you were told that you would be going on such a mission?

The initial view was very disturbing. We put our heart and mind into treating people. He saw our work and promoted it. After this the crowd of patients was not taking the name of stopping. We also got volunteers. Patients’ feedback inspired us. We treated 3,600 patients. Our hospital was open 24×7.

You are right it was awesome. We were miles away and those pictures were haunting us. You were in the midst of tragedy. How many female officers were there in general? We saw the conversation with all of you when you came back home and especially the PM saying that women bring empathy which is needed when you deal with this type of tragedy.

I was the only woman in my 99-member medical team. Women were working in NDRF. I am happy to be a part of the team and help patients.

Overall when you look back at your journey in the Indian Army, is there satisfaction or is there a glass ceiling that you want to break?

I joined the army because it was my ambition. I grew up with an army background. My only goal was to join the army. I am very satisfied here. I don’t see any drawback. The army takes great care of women officers. They take care that their privacy is not violated.

Capt Diksha CM, first woman officer in special forces

You are the first woman officer in the special forces. There is always a lot of prestige and responsibility attached to being first. What does it really mean to be the first female Special Forces officer?

This is a very responsible post. I am very proud to be a part of it. It was an eye opening experience for me. I come from a civilian background. I didn’t know much about the Indian Army. The deployment made me understand the challenges of being a soldier. I completed my probation in Agra and got accepted to SF unit.

Do you think it takes a lot to be a woman and be fearless? I have met a lot of women on board INS Hansa and they have a very strong sense of service to the nation. Is this what drives you?

My main motivation is that I wanted to do something that would make a difference. I wanted something challenging and unique, I wanted to give back to the country. This is the driving force. It always gets me going.

At times when you realize that being a woman in this kind of terrain is really tough, being part of an operation of that nature, is that something you really want to do?

As a medical officer, our biggest challenge is not to fall ill. or should not render me incapacitated in the performance of my operational duties. As a medical officer, I should be the first person to get used to the area. I must be proactive every time because I have to take care of my men. Administratively also we should have all the resources available. I would say that we have some additional challenges like menstruation and therefore we need additional resources.

Major Ruchi Aggarwal, Leader, Female Engagement Team, Congo

It is a special time when women are working in roles that were not seen as female-friendly, that were largely seen as bastions of men for the longest time. How is it working in the infantry that too in a foreign country?

The experience has been extraordinary and extraordinary in its own way. I got exposure. This is the first time I have worked with infantry in such close proximity. We did a great job together.

You are posted in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. What are the challenges associated with a terrain of that nature?

There are some challenges in the terrain… It is not like our soil, we are not familiar with the terrain. There are frequent movements, and the situation is dynamic. We faced the problem of familiarization with the terrain. Roads are not well developed.

When you were posted in Congo, we have seen in the recent past that when the Indian Army went to Turkey for Operation Dost, there was a lot of respect for Indians because India was the first to respond. There is a lot of sympathy when Indians are on the field. What reaction do you get when you interact with people in Congo?

People have a lot of respect for us. They look at us. The faith they have in you fills you with inspiration. India has left its mark as a peacemaker.

What would you say to those who are watching you, especially about breaking the glass ceiling in the Indian Army?

The army is moving forward. Every small step is like a milestone. May these milestones fill you with joy. But it takes a lot of hard work and you have to prove yourself. You can’t lower your standards. We have to prepare ourselves to meet the standards of the army.

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