Lead Like a Woman: The Officers In Charge of This Year’s Republic Day Parade

Gender

Lead Like a Woman: The Officers In Charge of This Year’s Republic Day Parade

Illustration: Aishwarya Nayak

“So incredibly inspirational. Tania Shergill is what I’d call a true celebrity. THIS video should be trending…” read business tycoon and Mahindra Group Chairman Anand Mahindra’s tweet earlier last week, referring to this video from the Army Day parade.

It shows a 26-year-old Captain Tania Shergill standing tall as she leads an all-men contingent during a parade at the Cariappa Ground in Delhi Cantonment on January 15. She was carrying out her role as the first woman officer to officiate as the parade adjutant on Army Day. Tomorrow this young trailblazer will make history yet again, as she prepares to be the first woman adjutant at the country’s prestigious Republic Day parade.

For those not familiar with the importance of this title, as the adjutant, Capt Shergill will shoulder the responsibility of the entire ceremonial procession on Rajpath. In a largely male-dominated institution, this is notably a progressive step not just for the women in the Armed Forces but young women all over the entire nation. Still the valiant officer refuses to be defined by her gender: “A fauji is a fauji. When we don the uniform, we are just officers, gender is immaterial, all that matters is merit.”

An officer of the Indian Army Corps of Signals, the division in charge of military communications, Hoshiarpur-born Shergill grew up on “tales and anecdotes” of men in uniform. As a fourth-generation officer, Shergill has seen her father serve in the artillery regiment, her paternal grandfather serve the 14th Armoured Corps, and her maternal grandfather and great grandfather serve in the Sikh Regiment.

An electronics and communications graduate, Shergill was commissioned by the Army in March 2017 from the Officers Training Academy (OTA) in Chennai. Having now served for nearly three years, Capt Tania Shergill stands at the forefront of the slow transition in the Armed Forces.

However, Capt Shergill is not alone.

As the adjutant, Capt Shergill will shoulder the responsibility of the entire ceremonial procession on Rajpath.

Another Signals officer, Major Sheena Nayyar will be in command of the Transportable Satellite Vehicle at this year’s Republic Day parade.

Back in 2015, she was among the first four Indian Army women officers selected for the flag folding drill in the Beating Retreat ceremony. That same year, she was selected to be a part of the first ever all-women contingent at the Army Day parade.

Recalling the events of 2015 as “golden opportunities”, Major Nayyar believes this “has had a cumulative, culminating effect,” following which women officers would finally be considered on a par with their male counterparts.

An electronics and communications graduate, the Amritsar-born Major Nayyar has served in the Army for seven years. Hailing from a business family, serving the Indian Army is, for Nayyar, a realisation of her father’s unfulfilled dream. Choosing the Army over glamour — Major Nayyar modelled during her college days — she points out that women officers are seen as torch bearers to young girls. A skilled 10-metre air rifle shooter as well, Sheena aims to represent India in the 2024 Paris Olympics, adding yet another feather to her illustrious hat.

While 2015 is generally considered the year we began to see the participation of women officers — women officers from tri-services led a squadron with 148-personnel each on that Republic Day — 2019 saw the largest participation of women officers in a R-Day parade, writing history in its wake. From the all-women Assam Rifles contingent — the oldest paramilitary force in the country — led by Maj Khushboo Kanwar, to Captain Bhavna Syal, a third-generation officer fronting the transportable satellite terminal’s contingent, last year’s R-Day highlighted the spirit of Nari Shakti.

Named “Bhavana sahib” by the jawans, Lt Bhavana supervised both the parade drill and the administration, as the contingent commander.

Among the many headlines, Lieutenant Bhavana Kasturi’s name stood out as she became the first woman officer to command an all-male marching contingent. A historic moment for the nation, the Hyderabad-born officer and microbiology graduate led 144 jawans down Rajpath, after spending just two-and-a-half years in the Armed Forces.

With no familial ties to the Army, Lt Kasturi was motivated to serve the country while in the National Cadet Corps. In fact, a decade ago, as part of the NCC marching contingent, Lt Kasturi had her first opportunity to march down Rajpath — life coming full circle, if you may.

Named “Bhavana sahib” by the jawans, Lt Bhavana supervised both the parade drill and the administration, as the contingent commander. Whether it comes to leading jawans or young women, Lt Bhavana has no hesitation. “The army is about service before self, and the work exposes you to such fantastic things that I am running out of words,” she expressed in a chat with Rediff last year.

Meanwhile, another woman officer, Captain Shikha Surabhi has been kickin’ the curb with Lt Bhavana as the Indian Army’s first woman Daredevil. An officer from Corps of Signals, Capt Shikha was last year the first and only woman to join the Daredevils Motorcycle Display team at the 2019 R-Day parade, damning all gender constraints.

A daredevil since childhood, she joined her first martial arts class at the age of six and learnt how to ride a bike at the age of 15. However it was only after the software-engineer-turned-army-officer enlisted did she both learn how to ride a Bullet and also perform stunts on it. A major attraction every Republic Day parade, the officer, who hails from Jharkhand, has also had the opportunity to perform a standing salute on the bike.

Following Capt Shikha’s lead, the all-woman CRPF contingent is set to make its debut with daredevil stunts tomorrow.

Following her lead, the all-woman CRPF contingent is set to make its debut with daredevil stunts tomorrow. Reported to be a 65-member team, the CRPF bikers are expected to present nine daring acts, concluding in a human pyramid. The squad comprising of women officers between the ages 25 and 30 will be led in command by Inspector Seema Nag, who is currently posted with the Rapid Action Force.

71 years on, the Republic Day parade has become an avenue for the army to display not just its strength and grit but also a medium to exhibit its diversity. With the inclusion of women, who continue to challenge the monotony and shatter the glass-ceiling with their feats, the Indian Armed Forces can proudly add another badge to its name.

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