India just got the first woman officer operationally deployed at the world's highest battleground - Siachen. Captain Shiva Chouhan trained for a month at the Siachen Battle School for the posting. Chouhan will be responsible for combat engineering tasks and will be posted in the merciless terrain for three months.
We have often heard of Siachen, the highest militarised zone in the world, with a history and strategic importance to India.
Before we get into what life is like in unforgiving Siachen, here's a little bit about Captain Shiva Chouhan, who will be the first woman calling the glacier her home for three months:
'Breaking the Glass Ceiling'— @firefurycorps_IA (@firefurycorps) January 3, 2023
Capt Shiva Chauhan of Fire and Fury Sappers became the first woman officer to be operationally deployed in Kumar Post, post completion of arduous training, at the highest battlefield of the world #Siachen.#SuraSoi@PMOIndia @DefenceMinIndia @adgpi pic.twitter.com/nQbmJxvLQ4
What is life like in Siachen? If you are shivering in the Delhi winter at 4 or 5 degree Celsius, imagine what it must feel like to live in a place where temperatures can drop to between -18 and -60 degree Celsius at any given point without a warning.
'Quartered in Snow, Silent to Remain. When the Bugle calls, they shall Rise and March Again'#SiachenWarriors of Fire and Fury Corps wish a very #HappyNewYear to all citizens of #India#IndianArmy#NewYear#NewYear2023@adgpi@NorthernComd_IA@ANI@lg_ladakh@PIB_India pic.twitter.com/lupPWS456y— @firefurycorps_IA (@firefurycorps) December 31, 2022
The altitude: First, soldiers need to get acclimatised to the heights - at 9,000 ft, then at 18,000 ft - where oxygen levels are low and the lungs are pushed to their limits.
How long does it take to reach Siachen: From the base camp at 9,000 ft, it usually takes 4-10 days to reach a post depending on its location.
The climb: If you get out of breath climbing a few flights of stairs at your apartment, imagine going up a hill carrying a load of 20 to 30 kg. Soldiers need to carry their ice axe, weapons, and other requirements.
Battling weather: Avalanches are common and in the past, both Pakistan and India have suffered casualties due to avalanches.
Mental health: Soldiers are also up against various mental health issues in the cold and lonely Siachen. Usually, soldiers have their own coping mechanisms like dining together, playing games, etc.
Food: Appetite isn't great at the glacier, where the body doesn't get enough oxygen and fatigue sets in.
Protective gear: Protective gear is very important. There is a risk of skin peeling off or even losing a hand if someone touches a piece of metal, like a gun, without wearing gloves or protective gear.
Shelter: Soldiers now stay in fibre-glass huts, an upgrade from tents. But the shelter is not held on stable ground and the structure keeps coming off.
Why is this uninhabitable place militarised? According to one report, the military on average spends about Rs 5 crore per day to operate at Siachen. But that is nothing compared to the human cost.