Meet The First Woman Who Joined Indian Army
For centuries, armies have been consisted of all males. Only recently that women have been allowed to join in. Priya Jhingan was the first lady cadet to join the Indian Army. On September 21, 1992, she was enrolled 001 in the first batch of 25 women to get recruited.
She decided to join after graduating from college and wrote to the then Chief of Army Staff, General Sunith Francis Rodrigues requesting him to allow women to join the armed services. He replied informing her that the army was planning to do so in another year or two.
Filled with hope and reassurance from the letter, she waited patiently and obtained a law degree in the meantime. “The signed letter from the General remains one of my prized possessions,” says Jhingan. The full-page advertisement finally did appear in the newspaper in 1992 and Priya was the first to enrol. She was given one of the two seats reserved for law graduates.
Priya joined among the batch of 25 at the Officers Training Academy (OTA) in Chennai. The group of women had been given no information on what to expect and so went with suitcases packed with party wear they thought they would get a chance to wear at social events. The commanding officer was infuriated with the list of special demands including warm water, tube lights and even a saloon!
They were made to train rigidly, with the same standards expected from the men. Priya was supportive of this and didn’t mind training that rigorously. In fact, she objects to the current routine which has been relaxed for women compared to men.
While training however, she recalled a few awkward moments which the women had to face. They had to train parallel to the male cadets, which meant these shy women had to swim alongside the men and train exercise under the watchful eyes of male officers. She remembered how the women refused to let go of their towels on their way to the swimming pool but were forced to by command and continued training.
She spoke about her experience with having to share a toilet with other male officers during her first posting at Ahmedabad. “Often, I would go in and see someone else using the facility. So, soon I devised the system of knocking hard on the door before entering. But never once did I think that I should be allotted a separate facility,” she says. An intoxicated jawan once entered her room and she gave him a good thrashing. He was later court-martialed and booted out.
The women could serve for only 10 years after which they had to leave. After her service, she moved on to work in the private sector. On being asked about what other changes she hoped for in the army, she spoke about her dream to join the infantry, which she was not allowed to do. She is waiting for the day women can join the infantry and can be allowed to serve for a longer time.
Over two decades later, the Indian Army has opened its doors even wider for women. Priya Jhingan was the first to enter and walk the unbeaten path which thousands of Indian women are now following.
(By Tarini Mehtani)