Women officers came from different parts of this vast country to give us some of the proudest moments at this Republic Day.
Archana Masih/Rediff.com speaks to Lieutenant Haobam Bella Devi and Captain Divya Ajith, young Army officers who stole the show on Rajpath.
Under a rainy sky, just as the grand celebration of Republic Day began on Rajpath, Lieutenant Haobam Bella Devi, a 24-year-old Indian Army officer from Manipur stood near the saluting dais.
Like most Indians, she had never unfurled the Indian flag before -- and here she was entrusted with that responsibility in front of the whole nation on the nation's grandest day.
Image: Lieutenant Haobam Bella Devi unfurls the flag on Republic Day.
In the run-up to Republic Day, she and another officer had practiced the procedure. When the big moment arrived, the only thing she had ears for was the command from the commanding officer of the President's Bodyguard.
Just as he finished giving the crisp command, Lieutenant Bella, tugged at the rope to unfurl the flag and gave it a smart salute. The rose petals wrapped within the flag lay around, while in the distance she could hear the roar of the 21-gun salute.
"There is a whole procedure and ceremony as far as the flag is concerned. How it is put up, how it is tied, how it goes up, how it is folded. I learnt everything about it," says the officer, who was commissioned a year-and-a-half ago and is currently posted in Amritsar.
The only child of retired army officer Colonel H G Singh, the lieutenant grew up in cantonments around the country, staying in Manipur when her father was away on field postings.
"There are not many lady officers from the North-East and girls get motivated when they see me. I tell them the Army is not a profession, but a way of life," says the lieutenant who arrived in Delhi on January 4 for Republic Day preparations.
"I hope more and more girls join the armed forces. It gives you the opportunity to grow professionally and personally."
The Army's marching contingent was invited for tea by the Army Chief, General Dalbir Singh, on Republic Day, while there is a 'Bada Khana' -- a meal shared by the officers and men -- on January 31.
At the tea he hosted, the Army Chief, General Dalbir Singh, not only congratulated his officers, but also gave out commendations.
One of them to receive the honour was Captain Divya Ajith, 25, the officer who led the Indian Army's contingent of women officers. An instructor at the Officers Training Academy in Chennai, she was awarded the sword of honour as the best cadet when she graduated from the academy in 2010.
The others who received the Chief's commendation were the contingent's drill instructors.
"The drill instructors were a major part of how well we did," says Captain Divya. "One important thing is that our motivation comes from them. They are the people who train us, even when we were tired, they ensured that we practiced till the time we were perfect."
Not new to the Republic Day parade, the captain had previously represented the National Cadet Corps as a school girl at the event. Her mother, a housewife, had watched her at that parade and had hoped that one day her daughter would march down Rajpath as an officer.
When the captain commanded the contingent to a rousing reception from the audience, her mother was there once again. Her dream had finally come true.
The marching contingent comprised officers from Jammu and Kashmir to Tamil Nadu. Training began in Chennai in early December where they would march 7 to 8 kilometers every day.
Early in the mornings, practice was held at the city's main highway where 12 files could be accommodated and which provided a longer stretch. Later in the day, marching practice took place at the drill square at the OTA.
"Selection as contingent commander was purely on how you fared at drill. The drill instructor, adjutant selected around 10 people, which was later reduced to 3 with reserves," says Captain Divya, the first person in her family to join the Army.
Since the Republic Day parade, she has been inundated with congratulatory messages. Some of the best messages have come from her teachers at Chennai's Good Shepherd School. Now that she has a home posting, she hopes to pay them a visit soon.
In the four years that she has been in the Army, the captain has served in Anantnag, J&K, and MHOW before being posted to Chennai six months ago. "Anantnag was a very good exposure for me. It was a field posting. I had counter intelligence duties there," says the officer whose father is a painting contractor.
"I feel if young girls want to pursue a career in the Army," she says, "they already have a desire to do something different. They should stick to it and be determined to achieve what they want."