New Delhi: As India showcases the 'woman power' in its armed forces, the officer leading the all-women's contingent of the Indian Army on Republic Day Jan 26 hopes seeing them march down Rajpath will inspire more women to don the uniform.
Captain Divya Ajith Kumar of the Corps of Army Air Defence led a contingent of 154 women officers and cadets during the parade, where US President Barack Obama was present as the chief guest.
"It is indeed an honour, and perhaps a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity," said the 25-year-old Capt. Ajith told IANS in an interview at Rajpath, where rehersals for the parade are in full swing.
While women officers have been participating in previous Republic Day parades, this was the first time that an all-women's contingent of the armed forces marched down Rajpath.
"I hope watching us march in uniform will inspire many women to come ahead and join the forces to serve the nation," she added.
Capt. Ajith graduated from the prestigious Officers Training Academy (OTA) in Chennai in 2010. She created history by becoming the first woman in the army to receive the coveted Sword of Honour, which is awarded to the best cadet of a course.
A total of 244 cadets, including 63 women, passed out of the OTA that year.
But that is not the only feather in her cap.
She was named the best NCC cadet at the Republic Day parade in 2008. She was also the first woman officer to receive the'Sword of Honour'.
The Hindu reports: "She was the first woman cadet in the history of the Army to have been awarded the prestigious ‘Sword of Honour’ at the passing out parade of the Officers Training Academy (OTA) in Chennai in 2010. A multi-faceted personality, she is also an accomplished Bharatanatyam dancer, percussionist and well-versed in sports like basketball and discus throw."
Ajith is 25 years old and received the Sword of Honour when she was 21. Her father is an army officer too.
"I always wanted to be in uniform, and my exposure in NCC was the inspiration that led me to join the army," she said.
The process for preparing an all-women contingent was not so easy either.
Nearly 200 women officers from all over the country had come down to the OTA, and after a rigorous selection process, 126 officers, and 28 women cadets from the academy were selected for the parade, an army officer said.
Practice for the parade started well in advance and the women marched around 7-8 km every day.
"We started practice from December 5. We zeroed in on a road in Chennai where we could march in the formation that we have on Rajpath. We used to march in the mornings and the evenings were for practising the formations," Capt. Ajith said.
Asked about the low number of women in the army, Capt. Ajith appeared positive and said things were changing fast.
"Things are changing fast. The role and strength of women in the Army is increasing," she said.
Women were inducted in the Military Nursing Service in 1927 and in the medical officers cadre in 1943.
They were enabled to join the armed forces in 1992 on short service commissions.
In 2008, the government decided to grant permanent commission to short service commission women officers in those arms of the three services that do not entail direct combat or the possibility of physical contact with the enemy.
The Indian Air Force currently has the highest number of women officers at 1,350, followed by the army with 1,300 and navy with 350.
"More and more women are joining the forces every year. They are now in combat support roles as well. Maybe in 10 years, we will be on the border," said the young officer.
In 2009, the three services had recruited 219 women, of whom 70 were in the army, 24 in the navy and 125 in the air force.
In 2010, the services recruited 277 women officers - 93 in the army, 39 in the navy and 145 in the air force.
There was a 67 percent increase in 2011 at 366 women inducted - 164 in the army, 68 in the navy and 134 in the air force.
In 2011, the total number of women officers in the three services stood at 1,055 in the army, 288 in the navy and 936 in the air force.
Updated Date: Jan 26, 2015 11:23 AM