#DefendersOfOurFreedom: Lieutenant Colonel Anila Khatri

Aug 24, 2021, 18:15 IST

Freedom, First
This August, the month of our 75th Independence Day, Healthntrends celebrates the Defenders of Our Freedoms, women who are at the forefront of ensuring liberty and safety on a national level. With this feature on women from across India’s armed forces – the Army, Navy and Air Force – we reiterate our respect and gratitude both for the service they offer and the inspiration they provide to women across India and the world

“The Army Needs Soldiers Not Men or Women...”
Lieutenant Colonel Anila Khatri 

Army Woman
Photographs: Saurabh Dua

The first in her family to join the armed forces,
Lt Col Anila Khatri was born in Delhi, studied at NK Bagrodia Public School in Rohini, and graduated from Khalsa College, North Campus, Delhi University. It was in college that she joined the Army wing of the National Cadet Corps (NCC), and where she got insights into life in the armed forces. Inspired, she attended a camp at Officers Training Academy, Chennai, and decided to join the Indian Army after graduation.

The charm of the uniform was one of the major factors that motivated me to join the Army.
The awe and respect it inspired in me and everyone around was beyond comparison. After joining the Army, I realised, more than the awe it generates in others, it is the strength it gives me or anyone donning it that is so singular.

With great power comes great responsibility. 
I know I am quoting Spiderman, but that is what the Army has taught me. I have also learnt to not give up. The Army teaches you to draw that last reserve of energy from within you. It teaches you to respect yourself, and yet not be proud and vain. When we join the training academies, we are very proud of our achievements (even if they are not too great). There, our egos are grounded and crushed. That is the birth of the simple soldier, who is capable of achieving the impossible without creating much fuss before or after.

“The awe and respect the uniform inspired in me and everyone around was beyond comparison.” – Lieutenant Colonel Anila Khatri

A typical day starts with the morning PT.

As an officer, you are responsible for your fitness and that of the men you command. A quick wash, breakfast, slipping into the olive greens, and you are ready for the day, juggling issues related to manpower, training, equipment, vehicles, welfare, the personal problems of the men and their families. One heads home for lunch and re-joins for the games parade. There are evening commitments often. In between all this, my daughter keeps reminding me that she’s waiting to see me at home. There has never been a dull day in these 15 years in the Army. I enjoy and live every bit of it. When I see myself in the mirror, in the olive greens, it’s just amazing and a super feeling. There is nothing better than that to start the day – the zing stays with me throughout.

Army Woman

Photographs: Saurabh Dua

I feel the Indian Army is the best organisation our country can offer for one to serve in.
It is time tested. It has worked out certain requirements – things that it demands in anyone wanting to join its folds. The question shouldn’t be whether it’s the perfect fit for me; it doesn’t have to be anyone’s perfect fit. The question is whether I can meet its requirements, whether I can fit in, whether I can match its lofty standards or not, and, while doing so, whether I am joyful and at peace. If the answer to this question is a resounding ‘yes’, I must join the Indian Army, otherwise I’ll be happier somewhere else, and the organisation will be better off without me. To put things in perspective, it is like seeking something really great or divine like so many people seek Lord Shiva. Now, some people undertake treacherous journeys across mountains in extreme climates – it is commendable, but does that mean that ‘thing’ that they seek should come to them? Their dedication is appreciable, but greatness still lies in that ‘thing’ that inspires such dedication in them. They have to do what it takes to reach there and not vice versa. Similarly, the Army doesn’t have to be anyone’s perfect fit. It has to be you, your dedication and your will to be the perfect fit for the Army.

Azadi is freedom, to be free, to have no constraints, to be everything you ever wanted to be.
It also is to have the support to achieve your aim, to have the faith that you will be cared for if you fail, and, along with all this, the realisation of what this freedom cost our forefathers. Their sacrifice, the strength of their will. Freedom is sharing the responsibility of safeguarding it. Freedom doesn’t mean abusing or criticising the government. Freedom doesn’t just mean ‘rights’, it also means more responsibilities – responsible thought, responsible speech and responsible actions.

“Shed the ‘complex’. Break the shackles of forever competing and proving yourself better than men. Be free from this burden.” – Lieutenant Colonel Anila Khatri 

I feel I am not the right person to be answering your questions on this topic. Seriously, and I’ll say it again – the Army doesn’t need men or women; it needs soldiers.
If you can be one – well, great, come on in. The Army doesn’t differentiate based on gender. It should not be made a means to achieve or propagate gender equality in the country. This can be a fallout of the process but not the aim of it. A ‘soldier’ is gender neutral. More women should join the Army, not because they are women, but because they are good ‘soldier material’, because they can transform themselves into soldiers capable of defending the nation.

To women across India, I say:
Shed the ‘complex’. Break the shackles of forever competing and proving yourself better than men. Be free from this burden. Do something for the pure bliss of doing it. Be human; someone who can make mistakes and move on without being guilt-ridden. Get away from the ‘onus’ of representing every woman on the planet. Relax and take it easy. Believe me, you’ll be happier, feel lighter and perform better both at work and home. One last thing, let’s not put the blame for all our failures on ‘gender bias’. Introspect. We are human beings too. We can commit mistakes and that’s okay. Just don’t stop at that; be the best you can be. Keep improving, keep fighting, and keep the spirit alive.

Also read: #DefendersOfOurFreedom: Major Namrata Rathore, VSM