When Captain Shiva Chouhan became the first woman army officer to be operationally deployed in Siachen — the world’s highest battlefield — she broke the glass ceiling, and two months into her stint at 15,600 ft, she has also displayed extraordinary physical endurance and mental toughness needed to survive such inhospitable terrains.
Born and raised in Rajasthan’s Udaipur, she lost her father in 2008 when she was just 11, and credits the support from her mother and her elder sister, a former National Cadet Corps (NCC) cadet, for her successful journey into the armed forces.
Commissioned in May 2021, she was posted in Siachen on January 2 after undergoing ”arduous training”, along with her male counterparts.
”At the Siachen Battle School, I underwent training for ice wall climbing, avalanche and crevasse rescue, and later after deployment also, I have received additional training sessions to achieve greater physical and mental toughness,” she told PTI in an interview over phone. ”When you are at 15,600 ft, and in a glacial terrain, where temperatures are much below zero, and can dip to even -40 degrees Celsius, it is not just the harsh weather you have to brave, but isolation too which comes at such a height,” Captain Chouhan said.
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The WhatsApp call dropped several times, and Captain Chouhan of the Fire and Fury Corps, said in a lighter vein, ”Well, my post is at over 15,000 ft, so network comes and goes here”.
Asked what are some of the biggest challenges at such a high altitude where oxygen level dips, she said, besides the harsh weather, ”isolation is something we all have learned to deal with”.
”We do Yoga and read books, but more importantly, the army trains you hard before deployment, and the lessons of survival hold you in good stead. But, to survive Siachen, mental toughness is the key, besides physical endurance capacity,” she said.
She also thanked the Fire and Fury Corps, Siachen Brigade and Sura-Soi Engineer Regiment for motivating her to soldier on in her journey despite challenges.
”Sura-soi means ‘only the bravest shall survive’ and it is matter of great pride for me and my family which has supported me in achieving my dream, that I am the first woman to be deployed in Siachen,” Captain Chouhan said.
Soon after her deployment , the army’s Fire and Fury Corps had tweeted pictures of her on the job.
”’Breaking the Glass Ceiling’ Capt Shiva Chauhan of Fire and Fury Sappers became the first woman officer to be operationally deployed in Kumar Post, post completion of arduous training, at the highest battlefield of the world #Siachen,” it said.
With her foray into Siachen, she has broken not just the glass ceiling, but the glacial ceiling, so to speak.
”As a leader, it is my job to ensure the safety of myself and those who are under my command. And, though I am the only woman posted here, in the army, a soldier is just a soldier, man or woman is immaterial. We all work together to serve our nation,” she said.
At 15,600 ft, she says, she has, ”her own tent with attached toilet facility”, adding, her body is now acclimatised to the Siachen conditions.
Captain Chouhan, who holds a bachelor’s degree in civil engineering from the NJR Institute of Technology, Udaipur, before deployment had led the Sura Soi Cycling Expedition from Siachen War Memorial to the Kargil War Memorial on Kargil Vijay Diwas in July last year, proving her physical endurance in harsh weather conditions and glacial terrains.
Asked, what inspired her to join the army, she said, ”My sister, she was an NCC cadet and that way I imbibed the values of discipline and sense of dedication before I made up my mind to go for the army”.
Captain Chouhan said in the 21st century there are ”adequate opportunities for both men and women, but before setting eyes on a career in the armed forces, young girls and women, must ask themselves if they have it in them, the passion and what it takes to be there, and no because, it looks glamorous”.