This post has been self-published on Youth Ki Awaaz by Akshara Bharat. Just like them, anyone can publish on Youth Ki Awaaz.

Braving All Odds, BSF’s First Woman In A Combat Role Stands Tall Guarding Borders

More from Akshara Bharat

Tanu Shree Pareek, Assistant Commandant, BSF

In India, people will storm theatres to watch a biopic on the life of a legendary queen, who led a rebellion against the mighty British Empire and wielded swords ferociously on the battlefield. They will, however, squirm at the thought of their own daughters and sisters in uniform taking up arms and standing shoulder to shoulder with men at the border.

Even though many wings of the Indian Armed Forces have started inducting women in direct combat roles, their numbers are still dismal in comparison to their male counterparts. The stereotype that women are unfit and too fragile to take up combat roles still plague society.

In 2013, the Border Security Force opened its doors for women officers in supervisory combat roles.

Breaking through the glass ceiling, Tanu Shree Pareek emerged as the first woman combat officer in the forces’ 51-year existence in 2016. Hailing from Bikaner in Rajasthan, the lady Assistant Commandant is posted at Fazilka in Punjab. Braving the odds and the spine chilling weather, Tanu Shree stands tall guarding the country’s borders, as we sleep in the comforts of our home.

In an interview with YKA, the lady officer talks about her journey to become the first lady combatant of BSF, while also shedding some light on the challenges encountered by women in armed forces.

“Initially, the men around me were a bit uncomfortable, as I was the only woman among the entire lot of BSF trainee officers.”

Akshara Bharat: How did you feel, when you first donned that uniform? Was it fate, or was it something that you had always aspired for?

Tanu Shree Pareek: I was in college when I joined NCC. The uniform not only gave me a sense of pride but also a sense of comfort which made me push my mental and physical limits. So, I decided to pursue a career in the defense forces.

Joining BSF wasn’t fate, but a choice. Having said that, becoming the 1st woman in a combat role of the world’s largest border guarding force could be fate, as I never planned it that way.

AB: Why did you opt for BSF? What was your family’s reaction, when you broke the news of your selection to them?

Tanu Shree’s Parents

TP: I spoke with my father about this, when I qualified the written exam of Central Armed Police Force(CAPF) conducted by UPSC in 2013. He was a bit surprised as I informed him only after clearing the written stage of the exam. His immediate response was asking me to go ahead and qualify the physical test as well. Getting through the medical test was toughest as I had to reduce around six kgs in a span of three weeks.

The entire family was elated when I secured a rank in the final list. No one in the past seven generations of my family had made it to the forces. My selection into BSF was a breakthrough which was heartily welcomed by my family, especially my grandfather.

AB: Were you intimidated or thrilled, when you realized that you are the only women officer of your batch, and you will be undergoing a 52-week training in a campus with over 16,000 men? How was this experience like?

TP: I was the only female who got selected out of 110 candidates in 2013 by BSF through the combined examination of CAPF. Joining the force – that too being the first and the only female – wasn’t thrilling or strange, however, the question that loomed large in front of me at that time was, if I really wanted to go through the 52 weeks long arduous physical training.

I was raised in a gender-neutral environment, so I didn’t find it strange to be at a place where no other woman had been until then. However, the men around me, were a bit uncomfortable, as I was the only woman among the entire lot of BSF trainee officers.

Tanu Shree with her colleagues

AB: Has the responsibility of carrying the baton of first lady combat officer of BSF, ever weighed you down?

TP: I always believed in doing things to the best of my capacity. That’s why I secured the second position in my basic training. I was the parade commander of my passing out parade. It was the first time in the history of CAPF when a female officer led an entire male contingent.

Being the first woman in combat role of an elite force has bestowed me with the responsibility of representing the female fraternity in a male-dominated area, in order to prove that women are as competent as men. This role has never weighed me down but has honored me with a privilege to motivate and encourage other women and girls to aspire for and achieve their dreams.

AB: During the course of your training, were you treated any differently just because of your gender?

TP: I can proudly say that BSF is one of the most gender-neutral organizations/ forces of India. Since the first day of our training, we were allotted chest numbers as our respective identities. I chose number 13, and since then my identity for the entire course of training had been “Terah Number Sahab/ chest number 13”.

AB: All wings of Indian Armed Forces allow women in combat roles, except the Indian Army and Special Forces of India. Recently Army Chief, General Bipin Rawat was quoted as saying that most jawans come from villages and they may not accept a woman officer leading them. What’s your take on that? As the only lady officer in BSF, have you ever felt the brunt of inherent misogyny, while commanding your troops?

TP: I don’t want to comment on anyone’s take but the best part of CAPFs is that they are least skewed against the women in comparison to the Triforces ( Army / IAF/ Navy). There is equality in all aspects it’s salary, promotion, allowance, or length of the service.

According to my experience, while commanding the troops it’s your rank and your demeanor which guides the behavior or response of your subordinates towards you. If you are professional, positive and firm in your decisions, then your gender is insignificant.

AB: As a woman officer in a combat role, currently posted in Punjab border, have you ever felt any difficulty because of the administrative and infrastructural inefficiencies? When it comes to building up of administrative capacities, what immediate changes would you like to see?

TP: I have experienced difficulties not only as a woman but also as a commander on the field. Although, gradually the needs are being catered to, however, the process needs to gear up.

AB: Should Indian Govt come up with an elaborate policy on the induction of women in combat roles?

TP: Why not?! Actually, it’s already in the pipeline at least with respect to CAPFs. The Ministry Of Home Affairs has come up with certain guidelines. I believe gender-neutral forces/ originations are more humanistic and civilized. Women are part of the same society and contribute not only as much as men but even more when it comes to other social responsibilities. I feel that one’s full potential should be harnessed and life decisions must not be restrained by gender, especially the choice of profession.

AB: Indian Air Force had 13.09% and 8.5%, Indian Navy 6% and 2.8% women, and Indian Army 3,80% and 3% in December 2018 and December 2014 respectively. BSF also boasts of having 50,000 women personnel. Although the numbers have gone up, but are still low when compared to the overall strength of these forces, especially in combat roles. Do you think the cultural fabric of Indian society still does not subscribe to the idea of women in uniform taking up arms?

TP: Teaching, nursing, and medicine are professions deemed to be most suited for women by society, as they leave them with sufficient time to carry other socially defined responsibilities like taking care of the family, bringing up children etc. The social role of a mother and wife has always been given priority over the professional aspirations of a woman. Thus, many women end up leaving their jobs after getting married or having children. Until and unless this mindset changes and the professional capabilities and potential of a woman is given its due respect and credit, this issue will last long.

AB: Finally, what message would you like to give to the girls out there, who are aspiring for a career in armed forces?

TP: Firstly, my message is to the parents as they are the one who shape the children’s mind in the initial years-treat your children equally irrespective of gender. This will inculcate a sense of equality in them and will boost their confidence.

To every girl out there my message is,- always have faith in yourself and never doubt your capabilities. Your life choices guide your journey so keep the steering in your hand. If I can do what I dreamt of, certainly each one of you can achieve what you really aspire for with dedicated and determined efforts.

Jai Hind!

You must be to comment.

More from Akshara Bharat

Similar Posts

By Rupsa Nag

By Rupsa Nag


Wondering what to write about?

Here are some topics to get you started

Share your details to download the report.

We promise not to spam or send irrelevant information.

Share your details to download the report.

We promise not to spam or send irrelevant information.

An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Read more about her campaign. 

A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

Read more about the campaign here.

A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

Read more about the campaign here.

A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

Share your details to download the report.

We promise not to spam or send irrelevant information.

A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

Sign up for the Youth Ki Awaaz Prime Ministerial Brief below