Most of us don’t think beyond a certain point and that’s why most of us remain ordinary all our lives. However, some people think differently and become pioneers in what they do. Tanu Shree Pareek falls in the latter category as she proved to the country that she is as much capable of combat roles as any man out there. She is the first woman combat officer in the Border Security Forces. She broke BSF’s 51-year-old record of not having a single woman in combat until 2016.
In February 2016, Pareek became the first woman to join the force in the officer rank after she cleared the all-India exam conducted by the UPSC in 2014. A year after that, in March 2017, Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh put the rank stars on the shoulders of Pareek during the piping ceremony, which also saw her leading the passing out parade of 67 trainee officers.
Talking about her childhood and how she made it to the combat role, Pareek said, “I was the kind of student who would participate often in extra-curricular activities like playing badminton, joining judo classes and the NCC etc. So till 10th, I was not sure of what I wanted to do but uniform and forces always attracted me. Then when I joined an engineering college and enrolled in NCC, I realized that I didn’t want to work with machines.”
However, she did get placed in Tata Consultancy Services Limited during college placement.
“In 2009-10, I was a part of NCC. That’s when I wore the uniform and went to different camps and parades. That was the time I decided that I will wear khakhi and join the forces because the uniform itself is so empowering that it gives you the courage to combat,” Pareek recounted.
Pareek grew up in the small city of Bikaner in Western Rajasthan in a humble Brahmin joint family set-up. Her father, Dr S P Joshi is a veterinarian and professor of parasitology at the Veterinary University of Bikaner. And while many would think that her family would have clipped her wings and compelled her to join a profession like engineering that would allow her a stable life, this isn’t true in Pareek’s case. Her family stood rock-solid to support her and gave her a gender neutral upbringing.
She never really thought of breaking the glass ceiling, all she wanted was to wear the uniform. About her journey, Pareek said, “I always believe that small steps taken consistently result in a concerted achievement. I never thought that I would end up becoming the first female combat officer of BSF.”
In 2012, Pareek started preparing for the exam of Central Armed Police Force (CAPF) and qualified it in the first attempt. The same exam qualifies one to join ITBP, CISF, CRPF etc. “CRPF already has several women officers in combat and usually people choose CISF for the comfortable postings it provides. But BSF opened the entry for the first time and I just felt that I should join it. It gave me a sense of acknowledgement that I could be a pioneer. There were several women with me who got selected for CISF but no one got selected for BSF.”
What comes after selection is the rigorous training that tests one both mentally and physically. Pareek was the only woman in the training camp of 67 male members in the academy in Tekanpur, which is almost 770 km away from her hometown. However, she had decided to let nothing pull her down. “While I was okay with my male colleagues, sometimes I felt that they were not okay with my presence as the entire BSF academy was not used to seeing a lady officer since its existence. I was brought up in a gender neutral home so I took every task in that spirit.”
“I forgot that I was a man or a woman or that the person standing next to me was a man or a woman. Everyone was a trainee. Everyone was getting trained for the duties that the government assigned us to do. We were given chest numbers, so everybody was just a number. I chose 13 as my number as it is my lucky number and my birth date.”
Although for Pareek, gender never clashed with her ambitions, she realized that that is not the reality for many girls in the country. “Most of the times what happens in our society is that girls believe that because of their gender constraint, they can’t do several things and they end up doing nothing,” she noted.
So for her, it was important to keep that in mind during her training as not only did she have to prove herself, but also the fact that women all over are capable of fighting and combat roles. “Nothing comes easy and initially every small task was very hard and strenuous to do as we were new to the training. So disappointments are part of life but what is important is how you get over it. My main motivation was that I was representing the entire women fraternity and making people believe that this is doable and women can do it. Even in times when I felt like not performing well in tasks, I still gave in my 100% per cent just to prove that women can do it.”
“While I was okay with my male colleagues, sometimes I felt that they were not okay with my presence as the entire BSF academy was not used to seeing a lady officer since its existence. I was brought up in a gender neutral home so I took every task in that spirit.”
With such determination, it was only imperative that she ranked second in the whole batch.
Finally the day came when she was felicitated on 25 March, 2017. Reminiscing the day, Pareek said, “I was just observing that moment. I felt like I had dual responsibility — one of Assistant Commandant which I became after the training and second to prove that women can excel in all the fields if they get a chance. The second responsibility of encouraging all women of the country was the most difficult and important one at that.”
With grit, determination and passion to do things differently, Pareek proved that any woman can take a leap from ordinary to extraordinary.