Chennai girl, Divya Ajith Kumar became the first lady cadet to bag the prestigious Sword of Honour from the Officers Training Academy (OTA), Chennai, in 2010. She inspired girls across the country. Renu Shekhawat from Rajastnan followed in Divya’s footsteps and joined the OTA in 2015. Like the 33 other lady cadets about to pass out of the academy this March, Renu hopes to bag top honours. The women will have to compete with 150 other gentlemen cadets including trainees from across the world.
Divya has become Captain and the first woman to lead a CRPF contingent at the 2015 Republic Day parade in New Delhi. “When I read in the newspaper about Divya’s achievement I decided to join the Army . Gender is no barrier here at the academy. We are all put through the same gruelling course,” says Renu in The Times Of India.
Last year, officer M Anjana from Ernakulam won the Sword of Honour. Anjana, 25, worked at a law firm after studying at the Government Law College in Mumbai. A trained Bharatnatyam dancer, she also holds a master’s degree in fine arts. She outclassed more than a hundred other male cadets to bag the credit for merit and overall performance after 48 weeks of gruelling training. The cadets are put through unforgiving physical tasks including route marches where they run for distances ranging from 20km to 40km through perilous terrain.
Women match men in strength training and other physical tasks that include a 14-obstacle courses, to the point that one can hardly differentiate between men and women training at the academy. Age or marital status is no bar either as proven by 2015 `Veer Nari’ recipient Ruchi Verma who joined the academy after her husband Major Vineet Verma died in action in the insurgency-hit Balipara, Assam L in 2013. The ‘veer nari’ title given to army widows wasn’t enough for Ruchi. She stepped out of the comforts of her home and took over her husband’s duty to the nation. Last year, 24-year-old Ruchi was among the 185 cadets of OTA who were formally inducted as officers of the Indian Army. “My life has turned upside down since I joined the training academy, ” Ruchi said after the piping ceremony that commissioned her as a lieutenant. She hopes her six-year-old son Akshat Verma will join the Army some day.