Saturday, May 18, 2024

‘Exceptional’ first batch of women military police gears up to join Indian Army

women military

Bengaluru, April 1: For a group of 100 young Indian women who are set to be inducted into the Indian Army in May as the country’s first Military Police Women, exceptionalism is the rule.

Between 19 and 22 years of age, this batch comprises the top 100 selectees out of two lakh applicants across the country, explained Lt-Colonel Julee, who is in charge of the training of the cadets.
According to information from the Army, 21 are graduates with college degrees and 51 have experience in the military system, having been members of the National Cadet Corps (NCC). A high SSLC percentile cutoff of 86% means that only the top scorers could be considered for the first batch, even if they only qualified for the “enlisted ranks.” However, the Army said that its CDS exam which is the pathway to an officers’ commission is open to the women.
Twenty-seven of the women are from Uttar Pradesh, 26 from Haryana, eight from Karnataka, six from Kerala, two each from Himachal Pradesh and Assam and one person each from the rest of the states like Punjab, Haryana, Rajasthan, Tamil Nadu, among others, except for the other northeastern states.
Their presence has shaken up and challenged the largely male Army establishment, even as the precedent which they have set creates opportunities for employment for women from agrarian backgrounds and lower economic strata. That these women did not come from well-to-backgrounds was apparent that many in the batch were anemic when they joined, said Major Richa Chakravorty, the medical officer in charge of the training unit. Lt-Colonel Julee added that many of the cadets are the sole breadwinners of their families back home.
For Sepoy Bheemakka Chavan, 20, of Dharwad district, the matter of a good income was vital. Her family of farmers earns only Rs 20,000 a year. “I come from a very backward area which lacks basic infrastructure for students studying in government school,” she said, adding that she was inspired to join up because several family members had previously served in the armed forces.
The salary of Sepoys is about Rs 30,000, out of which Rs 22,000 is the basic pay. Lt-Colonel Julee said that all of the cadets will be granted the rank of Lance-Naik upon being inducted in May, which will increase their salaries.
Chavan said that she hopes to use her salary to help improve the infrastructure of the school in her village. Another Sepoy, Jyothi Hanchinmani, 20, from Bailhongal taluk in Belagavi district, said that she sends her entire salary home to help her family build a house.
This sense of giving back to communities is a common theme among the young women. Another young Sepoy, Aarthi Talawar, 21, who hails from a family of farmers in a small village along the Karnataka-Maharashtra border, said that she saw the Army as means to earn a stable income while serving the country.
“We have a four-acre farm. After attaining a Bachelor of Commerce degree, I was pursuing a job in banking when my application to join the Army was accepted,” she said.
She told DH that she had secured 94% in SSLC and 83% in Pre-University. According to the Army, the cut-off requirements for joining this special programme as Woman Military Police is 86% in 10th standard. However, the second batch which is expected to join in May, has a cut-off of 85%.
“Initially, life in the Army was very emotional. I missed my parents and my regional cuisine. I have since adapted,” Aarthi said, adding that she had learned several new skills such as firing all manner of small-arms and driving jeeps and motorcycles
According to the Army, only three of 100 had previous experience in driving four-wheeled vehicles before joining the Army, while 41 had previously ridden motorcycles. The women have now also been trained to maintain vehicles. The trade-off is the stark change lifestyle imposed by military service.
“Usually, we just get two hours on Sunday to speak with our parents. I have become less addicted to mobile phone now,” the Sepoy said.
Their hair trimmed short, many of the young women were almost indistinguishable from their male counterparts, barring the difference in height. Those who went home on leave on September 5, 2020, said their families could not identify them at first.
Cadets have to be a minimum of 152 cm in height and during selection, have to fulfill a series of physical demands like running for 1.6 kilometers. The Army stresses that physical training requirements have only been slightly nudged down for women and that the training regimen between the two sexes is the same.
It is a difficult job, said Jyothi Chavalagi, 21, of Khanapur taluk in Belgaum District.
Born into a farming family in a small and remote village, Jyothi said that she had to walk 3 km to school every day in a neighboring village. Despite this handicap, she managed to secure 89% in PU and 98% in SSLC.
She was studying to be a nurse in a BSc programme when she was accepted into the Army. When asked why she had forsaken a lucrative nursing career for the Army, she said she was drawn to the military for the sense of duty it instilled. She noted that PT drills start at 5.20 am every day and that some days end at 8.30 pm if there is night training involved.

She added that she had no regrets about joining the Army. “The pay is good, but we have to work hard for it. It was a tremendous honor to be able to inspire other young women to join the service,” she said. (Courtesy: DH)