Tell us a little about yourself. What inspired you to join the Indian Army?
I belong to Tehri Garhwal district of Uttarakhand. My Father is retired from Fire Brigade and Mother is a homemaker. We are three siblings my elder sister, me and my younger brother. My Brother is serving in the Indian Air Force. I have done my schooling from Uttarkashi, which is a beautiful town in the hills. I am a Bachelor of Education from DAV PG college in Dehradun. I joined the Indian Army in Sep 2011 after being trained at the Officers Training Academy at Chennai. Since then it has been an enriching journey serving in the Army.
Uttarakhand is the place with the maximum number of soldiers, I think the decision to join the Army came naturally to me seeing so many soldiers around me and listening to their brave stories. But I used to get motivated seeing my father wear his uniform with pride every day, that as a kid used to fascinate me and had a lasting impression.
What was your role as a peacekeeper in South Sudan and how long did you serve?
I was working as a Military Observer in South Sudan. Military Observers are the unarmed personnel. Being unarmed and unbiased towards any conflicting party, their reach is better in the local community. They are termed as the eyes and ears of the mission. My role included patrolling, investigation and reporting.
I served for one year in the mission. From Nov 2018 to Dec 2019.
Tell us more about your schedule? What was life like?
The schedule used to vary depending upon the type of patrolling that we had to take on. Patrols could be Long Duration Patrols (3- 5 days), short-duration Patrols, town patrols or aerial patrols. Every team member used to be rotated to take on different kind of patrol. On a typical day, we used to reach office at 8 o clock and have a meeting with our team about the planning of patrols and the information that is required from us, then those scheduled to go on patrol would leave and others had administrative jobs like documentation and upkeep of our patrolling equipment and vehicles. While on patrols we would interact with locals, soldiers at the check posts and Government officials. After being back we would write the patrol report and our assessment and information gathered. Then coordinate with the force for next days patrol.
How was your experience as a UN peacekeeper, especially as part of UNMISS ‐ maintaining peace and bringing recovery and development in a foreign land?
Serving under the Blue Helmet and wearing the Indian flag in a UN peacekeeping mission is an honour for me. This has been a life-changing experience, this was the first time for me, serving in an international environment outside the Indian army. I could see different cultures and learn a lot from people around me.
South Sudan is a beautiful country, people there are very friendly and welcoming. They see hope when they meet a peacekeeper. To break the interaction barrier with the locals I tried to learn the Arabic language, which actually proved beneficial and I could see people connect more easily with me when I greeted them in their language.
What was the contribution that got you the UN Military Gender Advocate of the Year award for 2019?
When I was at the team site I participated in joint military patrols, later I got absorbed in the headquarters as a training officer for the Military Observers, there I integrated Gender perspective in the induction training of the Military Observers. I was the focal point for gender issues for Military Observers, we were a total of 37 women Military Observers out of 220 in total. I actively participated in the seminars and workshops conducted for the women soldiers of the South Sudan army. Later I was sent to Kenya for a course on Conflict-Related Sexual Violence. After being back I was conducting lectures about the force initiative on curbing CRSV, many seminars were also conducted for the Government forces to help them launch their action plan. I was also in touch with an NGO who used to work for women and gender cause.
What was the most fulfilling part of your job in South Sudan?
I think the most fulfilling part was interacting with the local women in the villages. When I used to greet them in Arabic then the smile on their faces and the excitement in their voices was worth living for. They used to teach me many new words and small little things about their culture too.
Tell us about your biggest challenge while serving as a peacekeeper?
The biggest challenge was ensuring freedom of movement while on a patrol. We had to manoeuvre through a lot of checkpoints and every time we would have to explain the soldiers there about our movement since there was no formal way of communicating between two checkpoints.
How was the peacekeeping experience different from the Indian army experience?
Peacekeeping is in a multinational environment where sometimes it is difficult to understand the work culture of your teammates, whereas in Indian Army we all work almost in a similar fashion. The learning value and growth is immense in a peacekeeping mission. We all are the ambassadors of our respective countries serving there.
What was the reaction from your fellow officers on getting the award?
Some of them are still in the mission and some have returned back. All of them were equally happy and proud. They congratulated me on call and through messages.
What was the reaction of your family?
It was overwhelming news for them. My parents were very happy when I shared this news with them. My family was really happy and proud of me getting this prestigious award and more so since I would be the first Indian to be honoured with this award.
As an Indian woman peacekeeper winning the UN Military Gender Advocate of the Year award for 2019, what is your message?
I would urge all the member state to pledge more and more female peacekeepers as a female soldiers’ visibility can empower women and girls and increase women’s participation in the security sector. The message is quite clear, equal opportunities for half the population.
What role do you think women can play in global peacekeeping?
Women can play a very big role in peacekeeping, in fact at many places they are playing big roles already. Local populations in host countries often feel more comfortable liaising and sharing information with military troops that include women alongside men, by obtaining better information, we can better protect these communities. Women have a natural instinct and men and women both are comfortable in communicating with them, this enhances the reach of the mission in all communities.
Women are deployed in all areas – police, military and civilian – what impact have they made in building peace and protecting women’s rights?
Effectively ensuring women’s rights requires, firstly, a comprehensive understanding of the social structures and power relations that frame not only laws and politics but also the economy, social dynamics and family and community life. With participation of women in all areas these dynamics are of course better understood. Women in leadership roles encourage and inspire others to strive for more. Women’s rights will be automatically protected if they participate in all areas.