Captain Yashika Tyagi was amongst one of the first batches of women in the Indian Army who did not give up, even after battling stereotypes and challenges, as she was determined to pave the way for other women in the Army.
She was walking down the lane of Bhatinda when she saw two army men coming from the other side of the road. Both of them were tall, muscular Sikh jawans who were talking to each other, but as they saw a girl in the army uniform, they got confused. The jawans could not understand if it was actually a woman in the uniform or just a kid wearing it for some fancy dress competition. But as Captain Yashika Tyagi reached nearby and the jawans saw stars in her uniform, they went into the attention position and saluted saying, ‘Jai Hind’.
Captian Yashika Tyagi was amongst one of the firsts in the initial batches of women in the Indian Army. Talking about the incident, which took place in 1994, Captain Tyagi laughs as she says, “Women in the Indian Army was a new concept back then. The majority of the people, including Army personnel were also not aware of the fact that the government had started inducting women into forces.”
Born in Dehradun, wearing the army uniform was Captain Tyagi’s childhood dream since her father, Colonel Sushil Kumar Hatwal, was also army personnel. However, after her father was martyred, her childhood did not remain as pleasant as it was. Captain Tyagi was just 7 years old. His, Aruna Hatwal, was left alone to take responsibility for her three daughters. The time was hard for the family. Dealing with a financial crunch was tough for them. It would often lead to sisters breaking down one pencil into three or wearing the same old clothes interchangeably. It was even hard to make both ends meet.
Amidst the difficulties, Mrs. Hatwal decided to complete her education and got a degree of B.A. and went for B.Ed, after which she became a teacher. Gradually, the family reached the level of sustenance. Aruna Hatwal was clear about the lessons that she wanted to give her children and that was “do your best.” She had also made clear to her daughters that they would not talk about the marriage of the girls unless they became financially independent.
On the other hand, what had not gotten out from the mind of Captain Tyagi was still that urge to wear the Army uniform despite knowing that the Indian Army was not open to girls. During her school days, she had once participated in the Republic Day Camp (Junior Wing) through NCC, where former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi was invited to have lunch with the cadets. As he was meeting with the students of one cadet to another and came near to her cadet, the 15-year-old Yashika asked, “Sir, when would we be having girls in the Indian Army?” Rajeev Gandhi looked at Yashika and said, “One day.”
Right before her last year in college, the government declared that the Indian Army was going to include women in Short Service Commission. It was a merit-based selection, and Captain Tyagi had already topped the university, which paved the way for her into the armed forces. She was sent to the Officers Training Academy, Chennai, after which her first posting was in Bhatinda as Second Lieutenant. While she thought that she had lived her dream, her journey had just begun. “Everything was new, not for us but men,” says the 50-year-old.
Women as scheme
Indian Army assigns a number to each Jawan where a prefix is written followed by the number. The prefix is nothing but the nature of the commission where ‘IC’ is used for ‘Permanent commission’ and ‘SSC’ for ‘Short Service Commission’. The same was, however, not followed in the case of women officers when the Army initially started to induct them. Instead, they were given ‘WSES’ which stood for ‘Women Special Entry Scheme’.
Moreover, as per Captain Yashika Tyagi, two women officers were hired together in one unit so that women do not feel alone amid the crowd of men and have someone to talk to. Captain also recounts how people would expect her to use ‘women toilets’ that were available for clerks instead of toilets meant for Army officers. “Women in the Army were a rarity. It was a ‘Scheme’ and a kind of experiment for the government that they would focus on if the results were good,” Captain says. “Since I knew this, I had to deliver ‘my best’ so that it could open opportunities for women in future,” she adds.
The time passed, and Captain Tyagi became part of ‘Operation Rhino’ in Guwahati – an operation to monitor the small operations and border movements in North East covering all seven sisters. Since these states share borders with many neighbouring countries, Captain says that the Army was always on alert. The main work of Captain Tyagi was to provide logistics to the entire North East region, and she says that she was given a one-line job description – “Your mistake is going to come back in body bags.”
At this time, Captain Yashika Tyagi was already married to Major Sanjeev Tyagi (now Colonel) and was pregnant, but she did not choose to take leave and rather says, “It was a moment of pride for me. I did not have a choice to step back from work and I did not even want a choice.” In 1997, Captain also volunteered in Leh and became the first woman in the Indian Army to be posted in the extremely cold climate region, for which Captain thanks herself as it helped her adjust to the adverse climatic conditions that turned out to be helpful during the Kargil war in 1999.
War, motherhood, and standing tests
As the majority of the army personnel got deployed in Kargil after the Pakistani intruders called for a war with India, Captain Yashika Tyagi was one of the officers struggling to provide logistics to the Army. The Indian Army has Advanced Winter Stocking (AWS) that contains clothing, fuel, tents, arms and ammunition to be provided to the personnel. These needed to be passed in vehicles through roads, but since intruders were based on the strategic heights, they were in the position to make all possible attempts to hinder the movement of vehicles.
Amid gunshots from the enemy and desperation to provide the logistics, Captain Yashika Tyagi was also dealing with a societal mindset that would often place her at the point of proving herself. At that time, she already had a son, who she would take to the office, away from her base camp, and was also pregnant with another child. In her words, “It was a time, when I could not figure out who all were testing my capabilities just because I was a woman, but there were many.”
Even though Captain was making sure of what she ate, she had no control over the physical changes that were a challenge for her. Her husband was also posted in the Drass sector – one of the major battlefields in the Kargil war, about which Captain says, “I did not know if I would ever meet my husband alive and had no idea about what to tell my son as where his father was. I only knew one thing that I am an officer of the Indian Army and the Army is at war”.
What also refrained her from giving up was the fact that women were hired in the Army on a short-term basis, and Captain Tyagi was determined to move beyond her comfort zone as she knew she could not serve the country for long. To meet the problem of logistics, Captain says that Bofors ammunition was imported from other countries at an additional cost to be used in the war, and unlike pre-war, the Army used aircraft for the supply of essentials. Captain Tyagi, following her duty, made sure that the requirements were met, and like in any other war, even the Kargil episode can not be completed without mentioning the contribution of the logistics team.
With the last posting in 2000 at Jalandhar, Captain Tyagi retired the next year after serving her term. Later, she got associated with Symbiosis University and worked in the Administration department. However, as she was invited for motivational interaction at Punjab Engineering College, she found her new calling and that was to inspire the young minds and instill “warrior mindest” in them.
The Coronavirus-induced lockdown paved the way for Captain Tyagi, who started a YouTube channel aiming to share the inspirational stories from Kargil War and other major happenings in her life. In addition, she is training youth through boot camps and is on her way to writing four books very soon.
Talking about her journey, Captain says, “It was a trail of standing everyone’s test, every time, especially being a woman officer.” However, she also adds that now is the best time to join the Indian Army as it has started offering Permanent Commission to women. “Prove yourself with your performance. Imagine, now you can command the unit and launch the operations on your own!”, she adds.
Also Read: Kargil War: Remembering India’s bravest of the brave who held the tricolor high
For more such stories follow Local Samosa on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and Telegram.