India’s first female jawan in the Indian army Shanti Tigga was an epitome badassery and prowess who outperformed her male counterparts and participated in the territorial army. A widow who lost her husband when she was just 35, Shanti Tigga joined Recruitment Training Camp, and came first for her skills in firing. She was also honoured by former President Pratibha Patil, for her extraordinary endeavours. Shanti hailed from the Jalpaiguri district in West Bengal. She was found dead on May 13, 2013, under suspicious circumstances. Her little known story deserves to be told for she not just broke barriers, she stood up for herself, and excelled in a field few women have managed to breakthrough.
She was a 35-year-old mother, to two kids when she joined the army. She was deemed fit and proved by topping the training institute in drills and firing exercises. Age, gender, motherhood no bar, she earned the distinction of becoming India’s first female jawan in a 125 year old Indian army.
“Women are allowed to join the armed forces only as officers in the non-combat units. But Tigga has earned the unique distinction of being the first lady jawan in the 1.3 million strong defence forces,” a senior Army officer said
Born in the district of West Bengal and belonged to a socially marginalised Scheduled Tribe community according to some reports. At that time child marriage was prevalent. At 17, Shanti was married and soon became the mother of two. She was a housewife, But things changed, when in 2005, Shanti’s husband passed away.
Journey to Defence Forces
She was offered a job from the railways as compensation and she worked with the Railways as a points-man and posted at Chalsa station in West Bengal’s Jalpaiguri district. Tigga volunteered for the Territorial Army (TA) in 2013.
“I joined Railways in 2005, on the compensatory ground after my husband passed away,” she said to The Hindu. She learned about TA Railways and volunteered for it. It had always been Tigga’s dream to join the Army, wear the olive green uniform and fire guns.
“At that time, I was not aware that no woman has ever joined the Army as personnel below officer rank. But that was hardly a deterrent.”
Tigga became the first woman jawan in the 1.3 million strong defence forces. She outperformed her male counterparts during the recruitment training and topped the batch.
Tigga cleared all her tests to join the 969 Railway Engineer Regiment of Territorial Army in 2011. She defeated all her male counterparts during their physical tests.
Reports say on her 1.5 km run, she outran all of her other male counterparts to complete it with 5 seconds to spare till they caught up. She completed the 50 m run in 12 seconds during her tests.
Shanti Tigga died under mysterious circumstances. Her family said it was murder. She was kidnapped by unknown miscreants, on the evening of May 9, 2013, blindfolded and tied to a post near the railway tracks. After a few days of that incident she was hospitalised and kept under observation when one morning she was found hanging from the ceiling.
Some reports claim Shanti was wrongly accused, of taking money from people under the pretext of giving them employment and that based on this, she was assumed to have committed suicide.
Women in Indian Army
Here’s the general landscape of women in the Indian armed forces. Currently are more than 3,500 women in the military, but front-line combat roles were off limits to them until Indian Air Force (IAF) approved a plan in 2015 to induct them into the fighter stream.
It was in 1992 that the army, air force and navy began inducting women for short-service commission (SSC). This was the first time women were allowed to join the military outside the medical stream. In 2006, a policy change allowed women to serve for a maximum of 14 years as SSC officers.
Further in September 2008, the defence ministry decided to grant permanent commission (PC) to eligible SSC women officers in branches such as the Judge Advocate General and Army Education Corps.
There have been talks of a Mahila Provost Unit as well.
Women as Jawans
In January 2019, Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman took the historic decision to induct women as jawans in the Corps of Military Police in the Indian Army. In under three months, on Thursday, 25 April, the Army issued a formal advertisement, calling for women to join as Soldier General Duty. When the position opened, for 100 jawans more than a lakh women applied for it.
Ritu Yadav is an intern with SheThePeople.TV