M R Jayananda pants as she picks up the phone. “I was playing outside with my friends,” she reveals. The 11-year old from Marode, Wayanad, is one among the first-ever batch of 10 girls to get admission at The Sainik School, Kazhakoottam.
“I am happy. What more can I ask for? My child is making history,” says her father Jayaprakash MV who is a day labourer.
Sainik Schools are run by the Sainik Schools Society under the Ministry of Defence to prepare students for entry into the Indian armed forces. Three years ago, Sainik School, Chhingchhip, Mizoram, became the first in the country to admit girls. In August, during the 75th Independence Day speech, Prime Minister Narendra Modi had announced that female students will now be admitted to all the 33 Sainik Schools in the country, thereby giving wings to many young girls who wish to join the Indian defence forces.
Jayananda studied at a government Malayalam medium school earlier and came to know about the admissions through a panchayat member. “I received coaching through the Kanmani project by the government that ensured the welfare of kids and women in the locality. Classes began two weeks ago and it is online. The network is patchy in my locality and I sit outside in the front yard with my phone to attend them,” she says.
Another student, Vedha Shibu from Thiruvananthapuram, says that it was her father Shibu Kottukkal who influenced her to join the Sainik School. “He dreamt to work in the army, but could not make it. So when he explained to me about the school, its facilities etc. I decided to pursue it. Films like "Gunjan Saxena: The Kargil Girl" and a video on Lieutenant General Madhuri Kanitkar (the 3rd woman to hold this rank) also gave me the push to strive for it,” she says.
The admission process involved filling up the application, a written exam and a medical test.
“The exam was the hardest part,” Vedha reveals.
Alphonsa P Anil from Wayanad was also influenced by a Korean TV series to join the school. “The show is called 'Descendants of the Sun' and it has a defence professional playing the lead. My father and grandfather also worked in the military,” she states.
Preparations pay off
Vedha took online coaching classes on Maths, General Knowledge and Social Science for three months ahead of the Sainik School entrance test.
“My school time was different from that of the coaching centre, but I obtained notes and prepared. It was not easy. I spend long hours studying, sometimes till 3:00 am. I am happy all that paid off."
Alphonsa also attended online coaching and says that solving previous years' question papers helped her the most.
“Though I had prepared well, I found it hard. It was a 300-mark question paper and 150 was allotted for Maths. Other than that we had General Knowledge, English and questions that check the intelligence,” Alphonsa explains.
She also exercised for a month to prepare well for the physical exam. “My mother helped me stay fit. She took me to a nearby ground every morning for my workout. I see this admission as my first step to get into defence. I dream of being an army officer in the future,” she adds.
Poojalekshmi V from Kollam was inspired by the life of Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman, the IAF pilot who was held captive by Pakistan in 2019, to join the Sainik School.
“My father narrated his story and I want to join the Air Force when I grow up. I also have a cousin studying in the same school.”
When asked if Sainik School is different from regular schools, she says, “Yes, it is different, very different. My class here begins at 8:30 and it goes on till 12:30, and the best part is we have a swimming pool.”
For Afrah Fathima, it was her brother Mohammed Isa who encouraged her to attend the exam.
“He always wanted to join the Sainik School. So when he heard that girls too are admitted from this year, he asked me to try. Both of us wrote the test and I am glad both of us made it,” Afrah beamed as she shared the twin achievement.
The siblings from Thiruvananthapuram also took coaching for the exam. “We also helped each other prepare. We went to the campus for the final admission procedure. It is huge and green. I can't wait to pack my bags and go to my new school,” concludes Isa.