Our history books sing songs of valour of the brave men who vehemently fought in battles. Alongside these brave men, however, are women who were their pillars of strength. With the many battles the country has fought, India has the highest number of war wives. According to certain estimates, the country is home to 25,000 war widows, also known as veer naaris in the Indian Armed Forces, an astounding figure that is the highest in the world.
War Widows face several struggles in their journey. Apart from having to deal with a profound level of grief owing to their loss, they also have to toil through everyday life. Research shows that Army widows not only have to jump through the hoops of having to secure pensions, but also face societal pressure of remarriage and property disputes. Some may find it arduous to cope with the amplified cognizance of pride and honour owing to commemorations and award ceremonies.
While everyone’s journey is tough, the path to recovery chosen by each one of them is different. Some war widows cope with their loss by choosing to join the Defence Forces. Their stories are not simply of bravery, but rather of unique mettle and determination in the face of bereavement, of deep love and admiration for their partners, and of extraordinary tribute to the legacy of their husbands who were killed in action in the line of duty. This article aims to recount these war widows' spirit and passion.
Lt. Nikita Kaul, Indian Army
Pulwama, in south Kashmir, was the scene of an anti-insurgency operation, but apart from the country losing bravehearts, wives also lost their husbands. 27 months after this fateful incident, one such wife, Nikita Kaul, a 29-year-old wore the army uniform with pride on 29th May, 2021. Hailing from Kashmir, she married Major Vibhuti Shankar for a mere nine months after which her life took an ominous turn. Her husband breathed his last during a gunfight against Jaish-e-Mohammad militants. Apart from him, five others succumbed in the encounter. Driven by her husband’s supreme sacrifice, she left her job at a multinational company in Delhi and appeared for the Short Service Commission exams, interviews and rigorous one-year training to see her dream through. All her efforts bore fruits when Army’s Northern Commander Lt. Gen. Y.K. Joshi cheeped the much sought after stars on her shoulder. The Officers Training Academy in Chennai is where Lt Nikita Kaul’s dreams took flight.
Lt. Nikita Kaul, Source: India TV
Squadron Leader Samir Abrol and Siddharth Negi left their family dumbfounded in a calamitous incident when they lost their lives while conducting an acceptance sortie of the Mirage 2000. While the pilots attempted to eject themselves, they were caught amongst the flames and an explosion. Late Squadron Leader Samir Abrol’s wife Garima Abrol, however, took it upon herself to honour her husband’s memory by passing out from the Air Force Academy. She cleared the Services Selection Board from Varanasi in July 2019 and completed her professional training at the Air Force Academy, Dundigal. Not only was Garima bestowed with the “President's Commission”, but she was among the only 21 graduating officers. She went on to become an inspirational Flying Officer and give millions of women the courage to chase their dreams.
Flying Officer Garima Abrol, Source: Femina
Nidhi Mishra Dubey
Nidhi Mishra Dubey, the wife of Mukesh Dubey, a Naik in the Mahar Regiment, was pregnant when she lost her husband to a cardiac arrest. Upon realising that there were provisions in place for war widows to join the forces, she knew it was her true calling. The path ahead for her was laden with challenges, but she saw all of them through. With the assistance of Brigadier Colonel Diwanji, she made it to the merit list of the SSB in her fifth attempt. She accredits her joining the Army not only to the support she received from her family, but also to the endorsement the Faujis provided her with. For her, joining the Armed Forces was not only a way to pay tribute to her late husband’s heroism, but also to inspire her son.
Nidhi Mishra Dubey, Source: SSBCrack
Lt. Neeru Sambyal, Indian Army
Within three years of their marriage, Lt Neeru Sambyal lost her husband, Rifleman Ravinder Sambyal, who was attending a drill in his regiment in 2015. Woven in the webs of depression, Lt Neeru’s young daughter encouraged her to get back on her feet. Her husband’s sacrifice, her daughter’s inducement and the aid she received from her husband’s unit were driving forces of her success. While she faced hesitancy from her parents, her in-laws had her back and provided her with the encouragement she needed. Her dedication enabled her to clear the SSB in the first attempt and secure the only vacancy available. She was commissioned as a Lieutenant in the Army Ordnance Corps and graduated as an officer after undergoing a one-year training.
Lt. Neeru Sambyal, Source: Tribuneindia
Lt. Gauri Mahadik, Indian Army
Gauri Mahadik, the widow of Major Prasad Mahadik, made her way into the Indian Army as a Lieutenant on the eve of International Women’s Day in 2020. Her husband who was part of the Bihar Regiment was killed in a fire at his camp in Tawang. She wanted to pay tribute to her husband and realised she needed to get on her feet and quit her job to do so. In order to make him proud, she tread in his footsteps and topped the SSB exam in the widowed category in her second attempt. Placed in the non-technical category of Army widows, she hopes to join the combat forces one day.
Lt. Gauri Mahadik, Source: freepressjournal
These are just some inspiring tales of women who wear the uniform with pride. But the Defence establishment also supports other women whose husbands pay the price of War through several welfare schemes and concessions. The National Defence Fund for one includes a range of provisions made for War Widows.
From the Army Welfare Corpus funds to medical treatment, a range of assistance to War Widows is provided. They also receive Financial Assistance from Raksha Mantri’s Discretionary Funds. Ex-gratia grant to widows by the state government and financial assistance from the Amalgamated Special Funds is also offered. The Prime Minister’s Merit Scholarship Scheme includes aid for war widows too. The grieving wives of deceased Air Force members are eligible for the Family Assistance Scheme/Rehabilitation payment. The Indian Navy likewise offers concessions and benefits to war widows in a plethora of avenues.
It is often said that the families of men in uniform often exhibit the same kind of grit, as the men themselves. It is impossible for men to do justice to this way of life if their families don’t stand with them with equal, if not more, pride and determination. The stories of each of these women officers who overcame crushing losses and stood tall in the face of adversity is a stark reminder of the same pride and determination. By doing so, not only have they honoured their partners in death but also proved their commitment to the uniform and the nation. There is, indeed, great truth in what Retired Air Marshal Anil Chopra said, “Not all women are made equal, some are Armed forces Wives”.
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