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'My daughter has plucked the stars and put them at my feet'

January 28, 2019 12:48 IST

Major Khushboo Kanwar, the daughter of a Rajasthani bus conductor, made history on Rajpath on Republic Day.
The father and his army officer daughter speak to Rediff.com's Archana Masih.

Major Khushboo Kanwar

IMAGE: Major Khushboo Kanwar is the first lady officer to lead the all women contingent of the Assam Rifles. She is posted at the Indo-Myanmar border Photograph: Kind courtesy Major Khushboo Kanwar/@unsettled artist

Since she led an all women contingent during the Republic Day parade, Major Khushboo Kanwar has been overwhelmed with adulation.

"I feel like a superhero. People are telling me that 'You have given girls a dream and the inspiration to wear the uniform'."

"And I say to them, 'If I can do it, then anyone can'," says the major who led the Assam Rifles contingent which had 10 women whose husbands or fathers had died while serving in the Assam Rifles.

"The best compliment I received was from a lady soldier from the contingent. She sent me a message at 12:30 at night saying that she wanted her sisters and daughters to be like me."

"What I felt cannot be expressed in words," says the officer from Rajasthan. Married to an army officer, she brought her little daughter with her to New Delhi where the 144 women practiced drill for 8 hours over 15 km every day.

 

Assam Rifles all women contingent

IMAGE: 144 women personnel from the north east participated in the contingent. 10 Sainiks were wards of men who died serving the Assam Rifles. Photograph: Kamal Kishore/PTI Photo

For a paramilitary force which only has 220 women soldiers, fielding a contingent of 144 was not easy. There were no reserves, so they took the bold decision of gathering whatever strength they had -- and created history.

This was the first time the Assam Rifles participated in the Republic Day parade and debuted with its women soldiers who came from different parts of the north east.

The Assam Rifles is the country's largest paramilitary force. It operates in the north east. Many women in the contingent had left their children back home for over a month to come and rehearse in New Delhi for the parade.

Since the Assam Rifles does not have its own officer cadre, 25 women officers from the Indian Army are posted on deputation to the force.

Major Khushboo Kanwar

IMAGE: Major Kanwar was commissioned in the Indian Army in 2012. She is on deputation with the Assam Rifles, India's largest paramilitary force, for 19 months. Photograph: Kind courtesy, Major Khushboo Kanwar

Belonging to her parent unit of the Army Service Corps, Major Khushboo has been posted with an Assam Rifles unit near the Indo-Myanmar border in Manipur for 19 months.

Among the many who watched her making history on Rajpath were her parents, husband and in-laws. The daughter of a bus conductor with the Rajasthan State Transport, Major Kanwar is her father's pride.

And for her, he is her role model. The sacrifices he made have brought her here, she says. She can never forget the day she returned to Jaipur after her selection in the army in Allahabad.

"I stepped out of the bus on the road and my parents were waiting for me with tears in their eyes," she says over the phone from Delhi.

"I remember him travelling to Delhi in the bus in the biting cold. Today when I sleep in a soft blanket, I remember how he must have shivered on those cold nights."

Major Khushboo Kanwar with her parents

IMAGE: With her parents at the Passing out Parade. She is the daughter of a bus conductor and says her father is her role model. Photograph: Kind courtesy, Major Khusbhoo Kanwar

It was difficult to pay his two children's fees for bus conductor Laxman Singh Shekhawat, and Major Khushboo says she studied mostly on scholarships.

Her father retired after his son and daughter picked up good jobs. The son works for the excise department.

"My father struggled so much, he never complained and, worked very hard to support my education. He is my role model," says Major Khushboo, when she speaks her voice brims with pride about her father.

Major Khushboo Kanwar with daughter

IMAGE: With her daughter who has picked up the 'ek-do-ek,do' marching commands! Photograph: Kind courtesy, Major Khusbhoo Kanwar

Just back in Jaipur after attending the parade, Mr Shekhawat says he feels he is still walking on the clouds.

"My daughter has elevated me to the heavens," he says over the phone. "She has plucked the moon and the stars from the sky and placed them at my feet."

The entire neighbourhood has been stopping by to congratulate him, television channels have interviewed him and a senior officer of Rajasthan Road Transport called and met him at the bus depot.

"What can I say about my Khushboo? When she was commissioned she dedicated the two stars on her lapel to me and said 'These are for you'," he says, overwhelmed.

"Today she has given me the moon."

Archana Masih / Rediff.com
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