Lt. Manisha Bohra of the Army Ordnance Corps becomes the first woman to lead its all-male contingent at the Rajpath parade on Republic Day. The third-generation army officer speaks exclusively to HerStory about her love for the olive-green uniform and the stars on her shoulder.
Earlier this year, on Army Day (January 15), Lieutenant Manisha Bohra became the first lady officer to lead the all-male Army Ordnance Corps Regiment, an honour she will repeat at this year’s Republic Day parade, celebrating the 75th year of India’s independence.
This makes Manisha only the third lady officer after Lt. Bhavana Kasturi and Captain Tania Shergill to command an all-male contingent in the Republic Day parade at Rajpath, New Delhi.
“I have seen my seniors do it and now getting the same opportunity for myself is a matter of pride for me,” Manisha tells HerStory.
Originally from Khuna Bora village in Champawat district, Uttarakhand, Manisha became the first woman from her village to don the olive-green uniform. A third-generation army officer, Manisha’s grandfather was in Army Services Corps and retired as a Naik Subedaar, whereas her father was in the Corps of Electronics and Mechanical Engineers and also retired as a Subedaar. Manisha completed her schooling at Army School, Secunderabad, after which she studied BSc in Biotechnology, Genetics and Chemistry from Osmania University before clearing the Services Selection Board (SSB) exam and going for training in OTA Chennai.
“My journey of joining the forces was full of motivation. I enjoyed the whole process right from my NCC days,” says the 24-year-old, who is serving in the Army Ordnance Corps and posted in Leh currently.
Motivation to join the army
Although Manisha has an army background and she grew up amidst men in uniform, in her childhood, she witnessed barely two or three women donning the army uniform.
“Studying in the Army School, I saw a lot of boys joining the army and that was my first motivation to join the armed forces. Women were few but since I am from fauji background and my school gave me equal opportunities as men, I felt motivated. I have been vice-captain of sports and editorial captain of my school, and these things really built my confidence and public speaking skills,” says Manisha, who was into athletics in school and college.
Manisha recalls how from very early on in her life, she told her parents she would also grow up to be an army officer. “When I became the vice-captain of sports in school, and got stars on my shoulder, I felt so different, and my parents also knew then that I would do something different in my career.”
Serving the country
In March 2020, within just a couple of months of Manisha joining the army, India went into a lockdown imposed by coronavirus. She remembers that when she reported to her unit for the first time in late 2019, it was a normal procedure but soon everything changed.
“Just like everyone else, we had to wear masks, and practice social distancing as well, but work never stops in the army. There was a reduction in manpower, so we were not able to send several people at once. My corps was responsible for providing logistics support to the combat army to do its job efficiently. Right from a nail to a tank, we provide everything,” she shares.
Manisha believes that the army isn’t the only place for those who feel like serving the country, and this feeling should be ingrained in every citizen working in any field.
Manisha, who was first posted in Baramulla, J&K and now in Leh, Ladakh, says she is proud and honoured she has served the country in the most highly active conflict areas standing shoulder-to-shoulder with her male counterparts.
Permanent commission for women in Army
In 2020, after the Supreme Court allowed women officers in the army to be entitled to permanent commission, Manisha felt grateful. “It feels like an acknowledgement to the views of many women officers who want to compete and be treated as equals. It’s like being treated as an equal without being granted any gender-specific concession so it will be a great opportunity for women to shoulder higher responsibilities as now we can rise higher in the army too,” says Manisha, adding that the move has also led to greater job security.
As women account for only 0.56 percent of the force (excluding those in the medical wing), as per a Defence Ministry statement released last year, the approval of permanent commission has been a welcome move, and Manisha affirms it will further help strengthen women’s numbers in the army.
“Right now, women are serving in corps only while Infantry or main land combat roles are higher in numbers than in corps in the army. We can see that now there are women soldiers in the Corps of Military Services (CMP) as well. But I am confident that as we progress, more avenues will open up for women,” says Manisha.
Lt Manisha Bohra leading aoc contingent
During the Army Day parade earlier this year, Manisha led the all-male Army Ordnance Corps with great determination, and she is excited to do the same on Republic Day as well.
“I have been a part of NCC earlier so that posed an added advantage for me to be selected to lead the contingent in comparison to other officers. The Army Ordnance Corps is returning to Rajpath after nine years, so my troops are highly motivated. We have practiced the command, the march, and the drill movement every day since October. I am confident that we are going to put up a brilliant show at Rajpath too,” she says.
As army officers get to participate in various adventure activities, Manisha also wants to do mountaineering. “I just finished two years in the army and the entire time, the nation has been hit by coronavirus. Since I am from the mountains, I want to carry out a mountaineering expedition if the COVID-19 situation allows.”
Climbing mountains aside, Manisha’s biggest goal being in the Army is to have more stars on her uniform. “More stars mean more responsibility and more challenges. Being in the Army isn’t just a job, it’s a way of life and I would love to live all my life wearing the olive-green,” she says.