First woman to join Indian Army

Priya Jhingan was the first woman to join the Indian Army. An aspiring police officer and later a law graduate, Jhingan’s dream was to join the army. In 1992, she wrote a letter to the Army Chief himself, asking him to let women in. A year later, he did, and Jhingan and the other 24 new female recruits began their journey. From this point onwards, they were referred to as 'Sirs' and thrown into the same bathrooms, swimming pools and training regimes as the men. At a time when sexual inequality was still highly prevalent in the working and domestic spheres, Jhingan's ambition to promote equality in the armed forces was certainly ahead of its time.

When did you join Indian Army and how long did you serve it?
I joined the Indian Army on 21st September 1992. I got commissioned into the Judge Advocate General on 6th March 1993. I served for 10 years and was released from device on 5th March 2003.

How and why did you decide to be a teacher after being in the Army?
After the Army left me, I did a number of stints. I cleared the Haryana Judicial Services, but did not join it; I cleared Bachelors in Journalism and Mass Communication and became an editor of a weekly journal with Sikkim Express and then finally a Soft Skill’s trainer. My students were college students doing engineering and MBA. They conveyed to me that if they had been trained at an earlier age, they would have profited so much more. So, I thought I needed to train children at an earlier age. I wanted children to become independent, self-sufficient and confident in the early stages of their life. That is how I thought of joining a school where I could make that happen.

How long have you been associated with The Lawrence School, Sanawar, and please tell us about your role as an English teacher and House Mistress.
I have been with The Lawrence School Sanawar for 3 years now. The two jobs that I handle are very different. As an English teacher I have to cater for students of classes 7th and 8th, both boys and girls. They are in a very impressionable age and they digest everything I say. I try and add a lot of new words to their vocabulary and insist on speaking well and confidently. On the other hand, as a House Mistress, I am responsible for girls ranging from class 9th to 12th. This is an absolutely vertical axis. Here my responsibility transcends from dealing not only with their academics but also taking responsibility of their discipline, behavior, sports and every other aspect of their growing up. Let me tell you that this is the most challenging part of my job. I have the responsibility of mentoring 35 teenaged girls, going through the most exasperating and tumultuous years of their life.

How do you see a public school today in India when no one cares much about a Public School with so many CBSE schools around? Are these public schools producing leaders ?
Well! That is a very difficult answer. I am not an expert on this, having just three years of experience in teaching, but I am of the opinion that every school has the vision of producing leaders. How many succeed is a matter of luck, commitment and opportunities. Each school aims at producing capable citizens. I don’t think any school has a destructive or damaging objective for its students.

Why did you choose Army as your profession? What was the motive behind ?
I belong to the old school where wearing the uniform, serving your country came before earning a hefty salary. I wanted to do it for my country. That is why I wrote that classic letter to the Chief of Army Staff to allow commission to women into the Army. I wanted to march through life wearing the olive green uniform.

What was the first reaction from your family when you announced your decision ?
My dad was a Police officer, who was very open minded and I had always been a tomboy in my childhood, so my mother knew that I would land up doing something that boys did. So, this did not come as a surprise to them. In fact, they were very pleased and supportive of it. I would like to add here that my parents never restricted me from following my dreams at any point in my life. My dad told me recently that they were very apprehensive and pretty scared about me going away all by myself for the SSB interview at Allahabad, but they did not let me know about it at all. They showed no signs of their anxiety which could have adversely affected me. I am so glad that they did not say so much to me at that time.

Does the training differ from male to female officers?
When we went to the Academy, the Army did not know what our standards would be, so, they were almost the same for both the ladies and gentlemen cadets. They wanted to see capabilities before they could lay down the standards. Now they do have different standards for both, however the training is the same for boys and girls.

Did you ever face any gender discrimination in your service period?
No, I never did face any such issues ever. Most of the troops still address us as ‘Sir’, but to me that sounds good.

Mention an unforgettable experience during your tenure as an officer.
This definitely would the first Court Martial that I conducted. The Presiding officer was a Colonel. When he met me for the first time in the Court, he asked me how many trials I had conducted earlier. I knew that if I told him the truth, all the members of the trial would undermine my capabilities. I told him it was my sixth trial. He felt very relieved and said they were in safe hands. The trial was a tricky one but I handled it very smoothly and professionally. It was only when it had concluded that I told the members that it had been my first Court Martial. They were all so pleasantly surprised, as well as impressed. It was a very significant moment for me. I had arrived!

You raised your concern about the voting rights of defence personal. Now that the petition has won, did you vote anytime?
No, we have not had elections in our state since then. But surely, I will vote in the next elections.

Recently, The Federal Defence Ministry gave a nod for recruiting Female Fighter Pilots in the Indian Air Force. According to you, why didn’t the Indian Army have women in Combat roles all these years?
Flying Fighter Planes is different than serving on an isolated post or fighting in a combat role. Flying is more a skill based profession; however, serving in combat roles in Army in difficult field conditions with men is a totally different scenario. It will take few more years of acceptance before realistic roles in combat for women can be thought of. Also, women are doing active support roles in combat zone in the Core of Engineers, Army Service Corps, and Army Ordnance Corps, Army Medical Corps and other arms and services. Hope we soon get to be accepted in combat roles too.

Your advice to our young readers
The present generation is lucky to have so many technological opportunities. The whole world is theirs. With a click of a button you can get as much of information about any aspect of life. Having said that, the present generation is unlucky too, as all this exposure takes away their childhood at a very early stage. I would like to advise them to handle such exposure responsibly. They should spend quality time with their family rather than with their gadgets. It is very important for children to keep their focus on academics and character development. Finally, I would urge them to work hard to follow their dreams. There are no short cuts to success.