Captain Riya Nehra (retd.) was young when she got married to Captain Somesh Srivastava, a young Engineers officer in Indian Army posted at Leh on 20 October 1999. Their life was bliss,for once Riya thought this will last forever but Captain Somesh Srivastava lost his life on the line of duty exactly after 1.5 years of their marriage in a snow clearance operation in Manali- Leh sector on 4 March 2001. Life had never been same for Riya since then. From being a newly wed to a Veer Nari within a short span took toll on her spirits. Many a times she felt like giving up but her parents supported her a lot. She realised she could not insult the legacy of the bravest men she ever knew by giving up and so, just to carry on his legacy she decided to adorn the same stars once on his shoulders. It was at a time when joining Army by a woman was considered revolutionary and a Veer Nari was supposed to lead her life within the limitations imposed by society. But it did not deter her and she joined OTA and commissioned on September 2002. Today she works as business consultant with an Indian multinational outsourcing company. Her daughter is 13 year old and Riya Nehra is proud to have been leading her life with pride and dignity on her own terms than succumbing to stereotypes vanishing into shadows. Here is the complete interview of Captain Riya Nehra (retd) where she reveals various aspects of her life.
Tell us a little something about yourself?
I am an ex- army officer on my second career stint as a business consultant. I grew up in Dehradun, a city famous for its schools and considered a hub for military training. At a young age I was exposed to the army culture, and was very inspired by it. It was purely by turn of events that I myself took a career in the army and served for almost 7 years. I am currently working with a large Indian multinational company. I am a mother to a smart 13 year old and in my free time I love to pursue my passion for creating and styling food.
Tell us about your Journey to OTA? Why did you intend to be an Army officer?
My journey to join the army came from a personal and deeper experience of having witnessed army from close quarters. As I mentioned, my growing up years I was inspired by army life living very close to the Indian Military Academy . At a young age I fell in love with a dashing army officer and married him at an age of 21 and moved with him to the beautiful yet difficult terrain of Ladakh where I spend a year with him. During this period, I got a first- hand experience of the tough life that our soldiers and officers lead during their service guarding national borders in difficult terrains.
After 1.5 years of marriage while I was away to give my post- graduation exams, tragedy struck us- as we received the news from his units that Capt Somesh Shrivastava had laid down his life during a snow clearance operation in Manali- Leh sector.
This tragedy shook us to the core however I felt an inner strength and decided to follow his footsteps to join the army.
Tell us a little something about your training in OTA. What all things a lady cadet has to perform to make it as an officer?
When I joined the army I had little idea of what lay ahead. Army training is a very well structured one to ensure that they prepare and train officers to be well versed and equipped to handle any situation of combat or difficulty. The training was very rigorous, and required a discipline of a very high order.
The day would begin by waking up very early, going for drill practice followed by PT/ Obstacle course training. The rest of the day would be full of different sort of trainings – Weapons training, firing, classroom sessions to understand battle tactics, military history and military laws.
Each aspect of training was very meticulously planned to ensure that we picked up the ropes of what was expected of us and slowly build our strengths- mental and physical both to prepare for a very challenging career ahead.
Where was your first posting and what challenges did you face as a Lady Officer?
My first posting was at a very large ordnance depot at Delhi where my role was to ensure storekeeping, availability and shipping of critical military stores and high altitude clothing and equipment to different units at formard locations across the country. My role was very challenging however I had great mentors and senior officers under whose guidance I learnt my work really well. I did not face any major challenges as such- our training prepares us to deal with situations. However I do realise that Lady Officers were few and one had to work really hard to earn the respect of the troops you lead- once you achieved that. I was fortunate to have learnt from every person in the course of my career.
Your most satisfying moments in Army when you thought to have done your bit?
There isn’t one experience that I would like to call out separately – as my entire career has been extremely satisfying professionally and personally. I definitely remember the day I was commissioned as a very emotional one as I felt that I had indeed achieved what I had set out to do.
“Wearing the Uniform with my husband’s star was one of the biggest achievements of my life and I still remember the moment every time I hit a roadblock to remind myself that I have come a long way.”
There have been many ups and downs in my career of 7 years during which I had the opportunity to serve at some of the most difficult locations like Arunachal Pradesh and J&K. My work was associated with provision of critical stores which contributed to the war readiness of the army units- working closely with forward locations and supporting the fighting arms and getting a first- hand exposure was very enriching to me professionally
How did Army change you as a person, most importantly as a woman?
Army is not just a career but a way of life and my stint in Indian Army changed me as a person forever – it made me realise my innate strengths and the perseverance to stand up to any trying situations in life. My perspective to look at a challenges changed totally – something that has always been my super power all these years.
Why did you leave Army?
Being a short service officer, I completed my mandatory service period in 2007 thereafter I took an extension for another year and finally hung my uniform in Oct 2008- a very emotional moment for me again to move on to pursue a career.
What are you doing now? How did you build your life third time over? What motivated you?
I am working in an Indian multinational outsourcing company as a business consultant with a specialization in Sourcing and procurement. Building a second career (and a third life) wasn’t easy in the beginning given I started a job with corporate amidst the recessionary times in 2009-10- I started at a level not commensurate with my years of experience but I was keen to work and took what came my way. Slowly and consistently I worked my way up and am now considered an experienced and a well -respected professional in my company managing key assignments.
You are working from home. Tell us about your work profile.
Being a consultant provides me flexibility to work from home – this way I am able to strike a balance between my work and home and motherhood responsibilities.I also have restarted to follow my passion of many years which is food – I lover creating new recipes and styling food and often Blog and share my work through Instagram and other social media channels.
I have also had the opportunity to work with brands like Aaj Tak for food videos. I was also a top 40 contestant in Master Chef India season 6. I am also a keen writer and whenever I find time, I do pick up my pen to express.
What is your future plan?
My future plans are to be supporting my child in her future endeavours.I also am exploring an opportunity to hone my writing skills and working on a Book concept at the moment.
“someday I also plan to set up an all- women’s kitchen wherein I can provide opportunities to next of kin of Army martyrs. “
Army is still not a conventional place for women. Do you think it is a wise career option for a young motivated girl to join Armed Forces or they should choose other sector?
Army is definitely a very good career choice for young girls today and with the recent ruling about the grant of permanent commission to Women officers, I believe the stage is now set for women to demonstrate their full potential. Army as I mentioned is a way of life hence I would encourage women to seriously consider this as one of their career choice.
What is that one thing you want to change in Army for women?
I feel army is a great organization and wouldn’t like to change anything.
“I would rather comment on the generalizations and age old patriarchal stereotype that still prevail in the society which create blocks for women planning to embark on this tough career choice.”
We need to bring up a girl to deal with much difficult situations.
You yourself is very inspiring. But who are the other women inspiring you the most?
My maternal grandmother and mother – both have been my biggest source of strength having dealt with many challenges in their own lives with courage and perseverance.
Any message to young girls who aspire to join Army one day.
Work hard, dream big. Army Officers are well rounded and you need work hard on your all round development- including physical & mental robustness.
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