Bangalore: “Women officers of the Indian Army have brought laurels to the force,” the Supreme Court said, as it dismissed government arguments against giving women command appointments and listed the achievement of 11 female officers. Here are some of their stories:
Lieutenant Bhavana Kasturi
Born in Hyderabad, Bhavana Kasturi did not know much about the armed forces. That changed when she joined the National Cadet Corps (NCC) during her graduation. She joined the officers’ training academy in October 2015 and, in 2019, became the first woman officer to lead an all-male Army contingent at the Republic Day parade in Delhi.
“Life of an officer in the Indian Army is the most challenging and adventurous and there is also a lot of responsibility,” Lieutenant Kasturi told SheThePeopleTV last year. “I joined the forces because I was carried away by the charm of the organisation and the uniform.”
When asked about the perceived gender bias in the armed forces, Lieutenant Kasturi added in the same interview, “For the army, a cadet is a cadet and an officer is an officer. The training standards for men and women are the same. We don’t have barriers—if men are running, even we have to run. If they are climbing ropes, we climb ropes. If they have to do push-ups, even we have to do push-ups. And I think after joining the army, the amount of respect an officer gets is all same.”
She has a masters degree in microbiology.
Captain Tania Shergill
A fourth-generation officer, in 2017, Captain Shergill was commissioned in the Army at the officers’ training academy in Chennai. After completing her B.Tech in electronics and telecommunications from Nagpur University, Shergill was placed in TCS. She, however, had no intentions of entering the private sector. She told SheThePeopleTV that right from the beginning, she wanted to join the “fauj”. After all, her father, grandfather and great grandfather had also served in the Army.
Her father was in the 101 Medium Regiment (Artillery); her grandfather was in the 14th Armed Regiment (Scinde Horse); her great grandfather was in the Sikh Regiment. “I think our generation has this privilege of joining the fauj as a woman officer. So I just went for it,” she said.
Captain Shergill became the first woman Parade Adjutant in the history of Army Day and led all-male contingents. She currently posted at 1-Signal Training Centre in Jabalpur in Madhya Pradesh.
Major Mitali Madhumita
Mitali Madhumita joined the Indian Army in 2000 and got commissioned into the Army Education Corps. By 2010, she was leading the Indian Army’s English Language Training Team in Afghanistan.
On 26 February, 2010, the Hamid guesthouse in Kabul was bombed by terrorists, who reportedly had ties to the Haqqani network and the Lashkar-e-Taiba-terror groups. Lieutenant Colonel Madhumita displayed bravery as she ran into the debris to look for her fellow officers.
“There was cross-firing all around me and the militants were throwing Chinese incendiary grenades. I couldn't see the militants but they were hiding somewhere around me. I searched through the debris and before long started pulling out bodies,” she said in an interview a year later.
For her actions, Lieutenant Colonel Madhumita became the first woman officer in India to receive the Sena Medal, a gallantry award “for such individual acts of exceptional devotion to duty or courage as having special significance for the Army.”
A short service commission officer, Madhumita had requested the Army for a permanent commission. The Ministry of Defence, however, had refused to accept her request. Following that, in March 2014, Madhumita appealed before the Armed Forces Tribunal, the Ministry of Defence's decision not to give her permanent commission.
Despite the Tribunal finding merit in her request—it directed the Ministry of Defence to reinstate her in February 2015— the Ministry appealed against the order of the Armed Forces Tribunal in the Supreme Court. The Ministry argued that Madhumita had enlisted in the army on a short service commission.
In 2016, the apex court rejected the Ministry’s plea against granting her a permanent commission in the Indian army.
Lieutenant Colonel Sophia Qureshi
Sophia Qureshi was the first woman to lead an Indian Army contingent among 17 participating nations at a multi-national military exercise in 2016.
An officer from the Corps of Signals of the Indian Army, Qureshi has also served in the United Nations peacekeeping operation in Congo in 2006, monitoring ceasefires and aiding in humanitarian missions.
Hailing from Gujarat, Lieutenant Colonel Qureshi holds a postgraduate degree in biochemistry. Qureshi, too, comes from an Army family. Not only was her grandfather in the armed forces, but she is also married to an Army officer from Mechanised Infantry.
Captains Ashwini Pawar, Gopika Pawar, and Shipra Majumdar
On 2 June, 2005, nine members—five men and four women—of the Indian Army Women’s Everest Expedition scaled the world’s highest peak. Among the party were Captains Ashwini Pawar and Shipra Majumdar.
Captain Majumdar, a mechanical engineer, was commissioned into the Corps of Engineers in March 2002. In September the same year, Captain Pawar was commissioned into the Army Ordnance Corps. While she wasn’t part of the nine-member team, Captain Ashwini Pawar’s sister Captain Gopika Pawar was also part of the expedition, according to a 2005 feature in The Tribune.
The report mentioned that both sisters, who hail from Vadodara, Gujarat, had opted for the NCC in college. They hold postgraduate degrees in industrial relations and personnel management. Commissioned in September 2002, they both began mountaineering together in 2003 after doing basic as well as advanced courses in mountaineering at the Nehru Institute of Mountaineering in Uttarkashi.
Captain Ashwini Pawar was reportedly in charge of the team’s accounts, while Captain Gopika Pawar was responsible for the management of the Advanced Base Camp at 20,000 feet from the ground.
They too come from an army family. Their grandfather was a Major-General in the Baroda State Army.
Captains Ashwini Pawar and Shipra Majumdar were awarded the Vishisht Sewa Medal, which recognizes “distinguished service of a high order,” by the President of India in 2007.
The court also named:
Lieutenant Colonel Anuvandana Jaggi, who served as the Women’s Team Leader of the UN Military Observers Team in the UN mission in Burundi. She was awarded the UN Force Commander’s Commendation and an Appreciation Epistle from the Chief of Army Staff for her commendable effort.
Major Gopika Bhatti, who, in the role of a convoy commander, handled junior commissioned officers, jawans (drivers and supporting staff), vehicles (filled with logistics, arms and ammunitions) and other military equipment.
Majors Madhu Rana, Preeti Singh and Anuja Yadav, who were awarded the UN Medal completing the qualifying service as military members of the UN Mission in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
(Pathikrit Sanyal is an independent journalist based in Bangalore)