Updated: June 22, 2022 9:09:33 am
“It was instantaneous,” says Shanan Dhaka, 19, on her decision to apply for the Army. The Haryana resident came first among women candidates — and tenth overall — in the entrance examination for the National Defence Academy (NDA), which will admit women cadets for the first time this year.
“I took inspiration to join the armed forces from my grandfather, Chanderbhan Dhaka, who was a Subedar, and my father, Vijay Kumar Dhaka, who retired as a Naib Subedar from the Army Service Corps,” Dhaka told The Indian Express. “Growing up in cantonment areas, I saw the respect being accorded to Army officers. Plus the trust everybody has in Army personnel really motivated me to join the service. It’s an opportunity to serve the nation with unparalleled pride and honour.”
Dhaka, who studied in the Army Public Schools at Roorkee, Jaipur and Chandimandir (Panchkula), had enrolled for an undergraduate course at Lady Shri Ram College for Women in Delhi last year when she learnt of the opportunity at NDA. “I decided to apply at once,” she says.
The course, the results for which were declared on June 14, will have 19 girl cadets — 10 for the Army, six for the Air Force and three for the Navy. The academy has said the three-year training will be conducted in a “gender neutral” manner.
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Getting in, though, was not easy. As per government figures, of the 5,75,856 applicants for the entrance exam, 1,77,654 were women. The exam was held on November 14 last year and women were only allowed to sit for it after a Supreme Court direction to the Centre in September.
Talking about her preparations for the exam, Dhaka, who currently lives in Punjab’s Zirakpur, says she studied five hours a day for 40 days and made it a point to solve previous years’ papers.
For the Services Selection Board, considered tough to crack, she was mentored by Colonel Ashokan, a veteran at his Olive Greens institute, for two weeks. Before the interview, she also got some tips from the principal of APS Chandimandir, Suman Singh, who told her to be herself. “Be honest and enjoy the process, I was told,” says Dhaka.
The youngster, who often frequents her ancestral village of Sundana in Rohtak district, says her parents never tried to clip the wings of their three daughters. Dhaka’s elder sister is in the military nursing service while her younger sibling is in Class 5.
The APS Chandimandir principal, a retired army officer, says they are proud of Dhaka’s “extraordinary achievement”. “She has always been a self-motivated and hard-working kid.”
Dhaka also says she derives inspiration from the life of the late President APJ Abdul Kalam. “He started his career from scratch and scaled heights of success through his skill, determination, and honesty. Even though he became President of the country, he was always grounded.’’
Her father Vijay, who now works for a private security agency, says: “It is a moment of immense pride and honour for our family. She has made each one of us proud, especially her grandfather who started the tradition of serving the nation.”
For those looking for a career in the Armed Forces, Dhaka had a message. “Don’t aim to join the forces only for the charm of being an officer. Pursue this profession only if you are really passionate and ready to work hard.”
(Sushant Nepta is an intern with The Indian Express in Chandigarh)
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