I was born in a remote village in eastern Uttar Pradesh, where girls were married off in their mid-to-late teens. Performing household chores was the only lesson ever taught to them. I had a problem with that sick thinking and wanted to change it, but there were many hurdles in my way. Society thought I was insignificant and fit only for marriage and procreation. We are four sisters, and we don't have a brother. People often saw our parents with pitiful eyes and sympathised with them for the unfortunate circumstance of not having a male child.
My father was denied the right to ancestral properties because his brother said, "Tumhari 4 betiyaan hai, aur betiyon ko kaha jaydad milti hai." These things triggered me a lot.I wanted to break this stereotype. I wanted to prove to the world that parents who have girls are doubly lucky to have them.
My parents always inspired us to be strong, self-reliant, educated, and financially independent. I knew education was my only ladder to achieving my goals. After my schooling, I enrolled in college to further my studies. One day I saw a group of people donning beautiful olive green uniforms marching outside my classroom. I was in awe; my eyes got stuck there, and I was constantly looking at them. It was dreamy. I got so obsessed that the next day I went to the sergeant and got myself enrolled in the NCC (National Cadet Corps). I was confident, my goal was clear, and most importantly, I was happy.
I was a member of the NCC, India's largest youth organisation. No one in my family has served in the armed forces in any capacity, so joining the armed forces was a dream very close to my heart. I started my preparation to get into the Indian Army from day one. To support me, I started teaching as a PGT in physics at a school in Gujarat. But I was determined to reach my goal, and I was determined to clear my SSB interview without losing my zeal. I appeared for the exam and continued doing my job. One day, I received a call from my father, breaking the news of my joining letter.
The moment was surreal; I was stunned for a minute and asked my father to confirm with the official authorities if the given data was correct.Even I confirmed my selection by calling the headquarters. I resigned from my job, packed my bags, and returned home.
I started preparing for the academy phase in 2005. The year was promising yet challenging for me because Mumbai got hit with major floods. Reaching my destination became difficult, but I knew that life was testing me by bringing challenges, and this was my first one before entering the Indian Naval Academy. My father and I had to take a longer route to reach Asia's largest naval academy, and we finally made it! After all, "Challenges are what make life interesting; overcoming them is what makes life meaningful."
As I stepped inside the academy, I felt a different kind of aura; the feeling was inexpressible. I finally made it to the merit list of the Indian Navy and became the first woman Navy officer from our district—my dream had finally come true! After overcoming numerous hurdles, I could see myself as an idol for all the girls in my village who aspired to be something but couldn't because of societal pressure.
The new life I'd given myself was exciting and full of challenges. My training period was mentally and physically strenuous but rewarding in itself. It was jam-packed with roller coaster rides. The Navy offered me a lot of challenges, which is what I love about my experience. It gave me the ability to manage men and materials worth crores of Indian rupees. I got to lead men; I got to pursue cases for the training of my men; I got the chance to skydive, sea swim, etc. We in India are wary of talking about money, but let me tell you, the pay and perks and the life the Indian armed forces offer are a class apart. The way this academy shapes a person into a tough fighter is all I love about it.
I was an under officer and the best cadet in my directorate, and I represented it in Delhi. Being commissioned in the Indian armed forces is an honour and privilege. The President of India is the supreme commander of the armed forces, and he signs your commissioning certificate, conferring on you the rank and responsibility of an officer. To top it all off, my favourite icon, the president at the time, signed my certificate: the late Dr APJ Abdul Kalam, whose signature I treasure on my commissioning certificate.
I am ever thankful to the Indian Navy for grooming me into a fine individual. I can withstand any tough situation with poise and ease and come out with flying colours. Life is a beautiful gift, and to be part of the armed forces of our motherland while guarding the frontiers of the water was indeed supreme in its way. There is a lot of respect in society, and people feel obliged to you for serving the nation.
The best part of the Indian Navy is that it is a three-dimensional service. It is highly technical, precise, and professional. I am extremely grateful to be a member of the world's fourth-most powerful military. It is a formidable blue-water Navy in the making. Gender parity is progressing slowly, but with each passing day, the organisation is becoming better. The Navy allowed me to skydive as one of the members of the women's skydiving team. They say, "You can be out of the Navy, but nobody can take the Navy out of you."
People who spurned us once were now hailing us.Not only did our lives change that day, but many people in our village began sending their daughters to school. I am glad I could inspire many, including my sister, Cdr. Richa Giri, who followed my legacy and joined the Indian Navy. I finally hung up my boots after serving for 12 glorious years.
I am still dreaming and trying to prove that women are no less than men and that they don't come with shelf lives. Today I am the founder of Infinite Ripples, a life and leadership coach, and I also train corporate employees, building human skills in people. Nothing is more fulfilling than changing the lives of people for the better.