Wahida Prism Khan [b.1972] : Armed Forces
By Charu Bahri
Surgeon Lt. Commander Wahida Prism Khan was born on March 11, 1972 in village Thanna Mandi in Rajouri district of Jammu & Kashmir. Born to a middle-class family, in fact a teaching couple, her father Gulzar Ahmed was the headmaster of a government school while mother Hajra Kaser is still a schoolteacher. Wahida is one of five siblings, three sisters and two brothers. Like her, her eldest sister has also excelled as an inspector with the J & K police, a career that is seldom chosen by women, especially Muslim women from Jammu & Kashmir.
WahidaÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã¢â€žÂ¢s early and middle schooling took place in Rajouri. A Scout Guide, she was an active student leader throughout her schooldays, commanding platoons at school, college and at the state-level during an international jamboree of Scout Guides in Bangalore in 1987.
Post-schooling, she relocated to Jammu to study medicine, where she joined Jammu Medical College. When it came to making a career choice, Wahida was influenced by what she had heard about the Navy. While the presence of the Army in Jammu & Kashmir was apparent and something she was well exposed to, the Navy came across as different. She visualized her ideal career as a medley of discipline and plenty of physical activity, which the Navy suited to a tee. When coupled with the fact that she wanted to move out of her home state, for it offered limited career prospects, applying to the Navy seemed a good move.
She was selected for the Navy after an interview in Delhi. Two months later, on November 10, 1997, subsequent to an orientation training course at the Officers Training School in Lucknow, she was commissioned into the Navy.
Wahida married a former short-service commissioned officer, Major M F F Khan, a pathologist by profession. She now teaches microbiology at the Armed Forces Medical College in Pune.
Even though Wahida moved away from her home state, her personal life received severe blows from militancy back in Jammu & Kashmir. In 2001, her father was gunned down by militants during school hours. The event stunned the family, more so because Gulzar Ahmed was a helpful, popular man with no political affiliations.
Wahida credits her father for her success for his guidance, to work hard to achieve their goals, to be self-independent and do well in life. Her middle name, Prism, was also a special moniker from her father, who was especially enthralled by a prismÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã¢â€žÂ¢s seven reflecting colors, and thenceforth named her Wahida Prism.
Wahida, who has also served aboard naval ship INS Amba for 19 months, made waves on March 13, 2006, when she was selected as the first woman ever to command the passing out parade of over a hundred medical graduates including twenty two women officers, of the Armed Forces Medical College (AFMC) at Pune.
Wahida achieved this rare distinction by sheer grit and merit. The parade officer is selected based on his/her previous yearsÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã¢â€žÂ¢ performance. Her achievement speaks volumes for her sincerity and commitment, which may also be gauged from the comments of the director general of the college Vice Admiral V K Singh, when he introduced her to the invitees his words were ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã‹Å“this young lady has done a good job.ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã¢â€žÂ¢
Besides being a testimony to the secular credentials of the armed forces, at a time when the army has been plagued by queries from civil sources to list its Muslim officers, WahidaÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã¢â€žÂ¢s selection as a parade commanding officer was perceived as a ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã…â€œparadigm shiftÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã‚Â? in what traditionally was a male bastion, marking the coming of age of gender equality in IndiaÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã¢â€žÂ¢s armed forces.
Interestingly, Wahida lauds the armed forces for their secular fabric as well as for the absence of gender bias. Based on her personal experience, she states never having been privy to any special privileges meted out to a woman officer nor to any discrimination for the same reason.
While she mentions her husbandÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã¢â€žÂ¢s support and encouragement as reasons for her success, possibly another underlying factor is her clarity of roles ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã¢â‚¬Å“ she does not mix up her naval officer, her Kashmiri Muslim woman and motherÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã¢â€žÂ¢s roles ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã¢â‚¬Å“ switching easily between each depending on the occasion.
Wahida also lists her candid acceptance of lifeÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã¢â€žÂ¢s happy and sad moments as a reason for her stability, contributing to her success. In 2005, she suffered much illness but resolutely fought her way back to health, all the more conscious of lifeÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã¢â€žÂ¢s blessings.