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India takes a big stride into the future as Women Warriors lead the charge in India's 75th Republic Day Celebration
|The Author is former Chief of Staff of a frontline Corps in the North East and a former helicopter pilot. He earlier headed the China & neighbourhood desk at the Defence Intelligence Agency. He retired in July 2020 and held the appointment of Addl DG Information Systems at Army HQ.
In a speech "Why I left Home and Homeland" on July 9, 1943 in Singapore, Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose called for every able-bodied Indian to enlist in the INA and concluded with a stunning demand: "I want also a unit of brave Indian women to form a 'Death-defying Regiment' who will wield the sword, which the brave Rani of Jhansi wielded in India's First War of Independence in 1857." Promptly, on July 12, 1943, a female guard of honour for Bose was organised with some difficulty under Dr Lakshmi Swaminathan. Twenty women were persuaded to train to present arms using Lee-Enfield 303 rifles borrowed from the INA. With no time to produce uniforms, the women wore white saris. The fabled Rani of Jhansi Regiment took shape that year in October. The images of a smartly uniformed Captain Lakshmi Swaminathan (Sahgal) marching step in step beside Netaji Bose inspecting will remain etched forever.
Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose, in 1943, had called for the formation of a 'Death-defying Regiment' of brave Indian women
Netaji Bose would be smiling approvingly from his majestic 28 feet tall statue perched on the canopy near the India Gate, surveying the 75th Republic Day parade as women in uniform from the armed services, paramilitary forces and departments like the ISRO and DRDO marched down the Kartavya Path. The traditional Republic Day parades exhibit a heady mix of culture and combat power; and while women have always had a significant presence in showcasing our culture, this is the first time they made their forceful and emphatic presence in the display of India's raw combat power.
Breaking tradition, the parade was heralded by over 100 women artistes playing Indian musical instruments such as sankh, naadswaram and nagada instead of military bands kickstarting the celebrations. In another first, an all-women tri-services contingent marched down the Kartavya Path, reflecting the country's growing 'Nari Shakti' (women power). Of course, the jewel in the crown wasthe Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces President Draupadi Murmu, taking the salute.
The all-women tri-service contingent, led by Captain Sandhya of Army Military Police, with three supernumerary officers Captain Sharanya Rao, Sub Lieutenant Anshu Yadav and Flight Lieutenant Shrishti Rao drew huge applause.Another all-women Armed Forces Medical Services contingent, headed by Major Srishti Khullar with Captain Amba Samant of the Army Dental Corps, Surgeon Lieutenant Kanchana of the Indian Navy and Flight Lieutenant Dhivya Priya of the Indian Air Force also marched down the ceremonial boulevard.
The 75th Republic Day parade showcased a historic display of India's raw combat power, featuring all-women contingents from the armed services, paramilitary forces, ISRO, and DRDO
The Indian Navy's contingent consisted of 144 men and women Agniveers, led by Lt Prajwal M. as contingent commander and Lt Mudita Goyal, Lt Sharvani Supreiya and Lt Devika H. as platoon commanders. It was followed by a naval tableau, depicting the themes 'Nari Shakti' and 'Sea Power Across the Oceans Through Indigenisation'.
The Indian Air Force contingent comprised 144 airmen and four officers led by Squadron Leader Rashmi Thakur. Squadron Leaders Sumita Yadav and Pratiti Ahluwalia and Flight Lieutenant Kirti Rohil were the supernumerary officers. Fifteen women pilots, including six from the fighter streams, operated the IAF platforms during the fly-past.
The fourth 'Service', the Indian Coast Guards were not to be left behind. Its contingent was commanded by Assistant Commandant Chunauti Sharma, who had previously marched along the Kartavya Path as a member of the National Cadet Corps (NCC). The BSF marching contingent was headed by Assistant Commandant Monika Lakra; CISF by Assistant Commandant Tanmayee Mohanty; CRPF by Assistant Commandant Megha Nair; ITBP by Assistant Commandant Moniya Sharma; SSB by Deputy Commandant Nancy Singla; and Delhi Police by Additional Deputy Commissioner of Police Shweta K. Sugathan. What stole the show was a motorcycle display by 265 women from the CRPF, BSF and SSB who performed various stunts to showcase bravery, valour and determination.
For the first time, the Republic Day Parade had an all-women tri-services contingent, marking a significant moment for 'Nari Shakti' (women power) in India
Eight women scientists from the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) who were part of India's biggest space dream of Chandrayaan-3 moon landing on August 23, last year formed part of its tableau. The Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) tableau was also based on the theme of women powerin protecting the nation by providing the defence shield in all the five domains of land, air, sea, cyber and space. Outstanding scientist Sunita Devi Jena was the contingent commander, with P. Laxmi Madhavi, J. Sujana Choudhary and A Bhuvaneswari also present on the tableau.
Why India chose to celebrate its 75th year of independence with a focus on female empowerment, featuring all-women contingents, and showcasing their diverse achievements? For one, gender equality has been a challenge in the armed forces. Prodded by adverse UNDPKO reports, the first all-women peacekeeping force for the United Nations was in 2007 that consisted of 105 Indian women deployed to Liberia. Women officers make up a miniscule 3.6 per cent of the Army. Their representation is somewhat better in the Air Force (13.09 per cent) and Navy (6 per cent). This adversely compares to 4.5 per cent all ranks in China, 16 per cent in the United States, 10 per cent in Russia, 40 per cent in North Korea. The Supreme Court in February 2020 ruled that women could serve as Army Commanders, brushing aside the government's stance that male soldiers were not ready to accept orders from female officers as "disturbing". This opened doors for granting permanent commission to short service women officers recruited since 1992.
Many women officers today command army units, IAF Squadrons and naval ships. Doors have been opened for girls into NDA and the first batch passed out of its hallowed portals last December. On January 1, this year, an all-girls Sainik School has been opened in Vrindavan. This is apart from allowing them into all the existing Sainik Schools. In a country like India, which aspires to be an emerging superpower in the future, discrimination on the basis of gender in the armed forces would certainly be a backlog for the country.
The decision to focus on female empowerment during the 75th year of independence addresses gender equality challenges in the armed forces, with efforts to increase women's representation and grant permanent commissions
As Bharat enters its Amrit Kaal, it was time to course-correct. What better than be inspired by our very own rich civilisational heritage. In ancient India despite a patriarchal system, women enjoyed a position of respect and reverence. Their presence in the battlefield goes as far back as Treta yuga, when Kaikeyi accompanied Dasharatha to help Indra fight against the Asuras. It is said that during the battle, the bolt of one of the wheels slipped out, Kaikeyi inserted her thumb in the hole of the bolt and kept the chariot steady, saving his life. The Rigveda provides ample evidence to prove the concept of equality of women with men as right to access and capacity to acquire the highest knowledge, even the absolute knowledge. Many of the Vedic rishis were women like the great Maitreyi, who rejected half her husband Yajnavalkya's wealth in favour of spiritual knowledge.
Coming from Bengal that celebrates powerful goddesses Durga and Kali as powerful icons symbolising resistance andcourage, it was natural for Netaji Bose to exhort women to join him in his fight for freedom. Inspired by Netaji Bose's vision, it was time that our women marched step in step with men as the Republic turned 75.
In a proud moment for Indian Army as well as women of the country, Havildar Preeti Rajak, Trap Shooter was promoted to rank of Subedar on January 27, 2024. Subedar Preeti Rajak is now the First woman Subedar of Indian Army. Her achievement is an extraordinary display of Nari Shakti.
Subedar Preeti Rajak joined Indian Army in the Corps of Military Police on December 22, 2022 based on her proven performance in Trap Shooting. She is the 1st Meritorious Sportswomen in Shooting discipline to be enrolled in the Indian Army as a Havildar. Based on her extraordinary performance, she was awarded first out of turn promotion to Subedar. Her great achievement will motivate generations of young women to come forward to join the Indian Army as well as carve a niche for themselves in professional shooting.