Women’s Day special: First all-women crew of the Indian Army talk about their maiden sailing expedition
The women covered a distance of nearly 900 nautical miles, marking this voyage as the first-ever sailing expedition undertaken by the all-women crew of the Indian Army
On February 15, 10 women officers from the Indian Army flagged off from the Chennai Port for a gruelling journey from Chennai-Nizampatnam-Vizag-Nizampatnam-
The 10 days long expedition was led by Major Mukta Gautam, and the crew comprised Major Priya Semwal, Major Priya Das, Major Rashmil Sangwan, Major Arpita Dwivedi, Major Sanjana Mittal, Captain Jyoti Singh, Captain Malvika Rawat, Captain Shubham Solanki, and Captain Sonal Goyal. The women covered a distance of nearly 900 nautical miles, marking this voyage as the first-ever sailing expedition undertaken by the all-women crew of the Indian Army, after the Navika Sagar Parikrama by the Indian Navy in 2018.
The girls had an adventurous time onboard Bavaria 44 foot sailing yacht. From cooking, swimming to singing bhajans when winds weren't in favour to seeing rare species of marine life, they witnessed it all. Battling with rough seas, a scorching sun, harsh cold and freezing winds, the girls braved everything with an unrelenting spirit and a collective attitude of focus and determination. Whether it was navigation, communication, weather predictions or repairs on the boat and dealing with emergencies, these women learned everything on the job.
The crew tells us that their training helped them conquer the many moments of crisis. “The Indian Army believes in the concept that ‘the more you sweat in training, the less you bleed in war,” says Major Priya Semwal. The crew went through rigorous training in bluewater sailing and watermanship on the Seabird boat, one of the toughest vessels to sail, under the tutelage of the EME Sailing Association and HBTC Marve before embarking on the expedition.
As the crew reached the Chennai port from their ambitious mission, we caught up with the five officers earlier this week for a conversation about their experiences and individual takeaways from the expedition before they headed for their duty stations in different parts of the country.
For the love of the uniform
Major Mukta Gautam,the skipper of the boat, had always been fascinated with the olive green uniform. Being the first woman to join the Indian Army and get commissioned in 2011 and is currently posted in Delhi. “As a skipper, I always have to be on my toes. You are constantly in a tight spot to make decisions. Your crew is looking up to you. You are out at sea and there is no help for you. Everyone’s safety is your responsibility and at the same time, you need to have a lot of patience and respect others’ opinions as well because there are other equally qualified minds onboard. You have to come up with a solution all the time because there is no one to help you far on the sea,” says Major Mukta.
When Major Priya Semwal's husband Naik Sharma, who served in the 14 Rajput regiment in Arunachal Pradesh and was martyred in a counter-insurgency operation near Tawang — she decided to join the armed forces to pay tribute to her husband and became the first army wife of a non-commissioned officer to join the army in 2014 as an officer. She is a mother of a 13-year-old daughter and is currently posted in Assam. Major Priya took up this expedition to prove that women can do anything like men. “Being a woman, I have proved enough that women are strong and capable enough to take up anything and finish that successfully. We wanted to motivate other women to take up challenges. We all became friends on the boat and it’s a team effort,” says Major Priya.
Woman boss on fire
Major Rashmil Sagwan proudly tells us that she is the first woman officer to be posted in the toughest region of high altitude – 15,000 feet above the sea level in Ladakh. "The temperature is -37 degrees with minimum oxygen and the highest amount of UV rays," she clears. "I have always been posted in field areas like Baramulla and Suratgarh so sailing was another challenge that I wanted to take up,” says Rashmil, who joined the Indian army in 2014 to fulfill her mother’s wish when she was diagnosed with last stage cancer. “She wanted to see me in a uniform because she couldn’t do that when she was young. So, to fulfill her wish, I became an officer. Her love and the void have made me a woman of fire. I was seasick and still can’t stand upright, for I feel everything is moving but it’s all worth it. I feel rewarded now and this entire expedition has taught me a lot about myself,” she says.
Defining gender equality
Major Sanjana Mittal, who hails from a family of all entrepreneurs, decided to carve her own path and joined the Indian Army in 2014. Being a mother of a three-year-old son, Major Sanjana's only intention to participate in the expedition was to prove that women can achieve anything. “If you are in a team you can achieve anything. We all officers serve in different cadres but we came together with a similar goal and focus. We were never treated differently for being women. We are all uniformed officers and we all have to prove ourselves equally,” says Sanjana, who is posted in Panagarh in West Bengal.
Controlling the gears
Growing up Captain Jyoti Singh saw her father in the Indian Army uniform. However, that never fascinated her to join the forces. She worked in a multinational company for three years and after a few years, realised that her calling was something else. Her knack for adventure made her sit the armed forces exam and join the Army in 2018 and is currently posted in Jorhat, Assam. “It's a beautiful place with a lot of greenery around," she cuts us when we say 'it's a difficult posting area'. "It’s completely different from what I do now but it’s wonderful. I was charmed with the kind of exposure you get as a defence officer and there is so much to learn; sailing is one of them. We had a wonderful time onboard. We would cook for each other and volunteer to help watch at night. The sunrises and sunsets are the best thing you can experience at sea and I’ve lived it all,” says the officer.