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Want a career in the Indian armed forces? Here’s the lowdown from a few Indian women in the army, air force and navy.
Being a part of the armed forces is a matter of great pride. The Indian Armed Forces was considered a male bastion for several years but now boasts of many confident women who are a part of it.
The role of women in these forces was confined earlier to being just doctors and nurses but from 1992 women could join the services as regular officers in the fields of law, logistics, engineering, aviation and so on. Women who are part of the non-medical fields serve as Short Service Commissioned (SSC) Officers. This means that service is limited to a period of 5-14 years.
Women who choose to join in the medical field however, serve as Permanent Commissioned (PC) officers and can retire from the armed services. More information on how to go about joining these services can be found here.
Here, a few officers who retired from the three branches of the armed forces share their experiences and tips for young Indian women interested in a career in the armed forces.
“I decided that I would rather be an Air Force Officer than be known as an Air Force Officer’s wife!” Wing Commander Farah Khan (Retd) laughs and says. She adds “I come from a “fauji” background. My father, brother and brother in law are in the Indian Army. She had always loved the services; it was very much part of her as she was already exposed to it.
When asked how different a career is in the Air Force as compared to one in the corporate world, she says, “It’s not just a job. It’s a lifestyle. It is not a 9-5 job. You don’t go home at 5 and forget about work. It’s part of you.”
Wing Commander Khan was a doctor in the Air Force and there were times when she was on call at odd hours as well. A full medical checkup is carried out on pilots before they fly. She was expected to do this flight check up whether it was during the day or night. This was just one of the examples she shares where life was a little difficult. However, she is quick to add that it was not a major one and that when she looks back on her career now, she finds a sense of fulfilment and achievement.
Her advice to young women who wish to make a career in the armed forces is, “There is a lot of change involved when you join the Air Force – different postings, moving with children, setting up home each time etc. However, you need to realize that this is your life now and accept it. Keep that in mind and enjoy it. It’s different but you will end up enjoying it.”
Captain Saloni Sarpotdar (Retd), who retired from the Indian Army, also came from a defense background. Her father was in the Army and so she was used to being with him and this way of life from childhood itself. She says, “There was nothing new for me actually; it was very much a part of me already. The biggest surprise was that being a ‘woman’ in the Indian Army meant that I had to prove myself every single day. The Army itself calls you a “Lady Officer”, not just an officer!”
Apart from this she says she definitely enjoyed her time in the Army. Yes, there were the challenges of being posted to remote locations, sometimes to remote Indian villages where communication was not always top notch, but on the whole it was a learning experience. The Army, she feels prepares you for everything. “It makes you more prepared to face the world, it helps you in every sphere – whether it is about people, money, capital, infrastructure management- you learn it all.”
“The Army helps its own” is how Major Gopika Chauhan (Retd) sums it up. She is married to an Army officer and this helped tremendously when postings came about. “The Army considers this fact when the time comes for a new posting.”
She states that she never faced any problems because she was a woman in the army. She considers that she was able to make full use of every opportunity she was given and never sought special privileges on account of being a woman. She says, “The Army taught me to understand myself better, to understand human behavior, and how things should function. More than this it taught me the importance of striving towards perfection.”
This is imbedded in her so deeply that even today, when she is in the corporate world, she strives for perfection. Major Chauhan left in 2002 because she wanted to see “life outside”, but in her 10 years of service, “every day was unique”. She recommends it to every young woman and says, “Go for a career in the Army- there’s a world of opportunity in it.”
Lieutenant Commander Rohini Chauhan (Retd) was pursuing a degree in M.Sc (Physics) when she decided to decided to “do something else”. She saw the form for admission to the services and filled it in – for both the Army and Navy. It stated that a 5% weightage would be given if one had done a computer course. She went ahead and did this as she was determined to get in.
She was selected in both branches but her ‘Navy call letter’ came earlier and so she joined the Navy and was trained on board the INS Mandovi in Goa. “It was a very proud moment for me and my family as I was the first Naval Officer in the family,” she says. She chose to be a part of Air Traffic Control (ATC).
Like Captain Saloni, she states that, “Yes, you have to prove yourself at every step. Prove you are better than your male counterparts.” At times she did feel bad because it was a tough job, the hours were demanding but she was not always given her due recognition. She says that there is a general perception that “She is a SSC officer; she will leave after a few years.”
Having said that though, Rohini is quick to add that there were many positive points as well. “You gain in confidence and you are proud to be serving your nation. The punctuality and discipline that was instilled in me in those years is with me for life” is how she signs off.
All these women have been frank in their views on life in the armed services. You have to take the good along with the bad in any job and this seems to be the case in this area as well. However, as Wing Commander Khan pointed out, “There is a sense of belonging and community when you are in the defence services. The services is like one big family and when you move from place to place there is a sense of continuity and familiarity – which is not there in civilian life. “
So what do you think? Are you cut out for a life in the armed services? We look forward to your comments on this! If you know a young woman considering a career in the armed services, make sure to share this post with her too.
Top image courtesy the Indian Army website
Melanie Lobo is a freelance writer. She grew up in cities across India but now
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