Soldiering On: How Kumaoni Braveheart Soni Bisht Conquered Grief to Earn Commission in the Indian Army

Soni Bisht's life was wrecked by personal tragedy, but her resilience, courage, and dedication allowed her to overcome inconceivable adversity and top the merit list for admission to the Officers' Training Academy - an astonishing story of human persistence against all odds.

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Col NN Bhatia (Retd)
Col NN Bhatia (Retd)
Col NN Bhatia (Retd), besides being a combat military veteran is perhaps the only freelance consultant in Industrial Security. He has audited large numbers of core strategic industries in both private and public sectors such as Aeronautics, Airports, Banks, Defence, DRDOs, Mints, Nuclear Energy, Oil, Power, Ports, Prasar Bharti (AIR & Doordarshan Kendras) Railways, Refineries, Space, Ship Building, Telecom & various vital Research Centres & Laboratories and conducted numerous Industrial Security & Disaster Management Training Programs, Seminars, Workshops & Exhibitions & interacted with numerous Ministries, Departments & NGOs and undertaken Industrial Security Audits, Reviews, Training & Advice in Disaster Management & handling of IEDs & Explosives. He has vast experience in the management of the Human Resources, Training & Development, Liaison, Fire Fighting, Logistics, Equipment & Material Management, Strategic Decision-Making Process, clearance of Maps & Aerial Photography (GIS), Explosives handling, Industrial Security & Disaster Management. He is physically, mentally and attitudinally sound having good communication skills to undertake Industrial Security Consultancy, IED handling, Coordination & Liaison Assignments to add to the productivity of the Organisation. He can also organise discreet customised intelligence gathering & surveillance operations on a turnkey basis for his clients. He is a prolific writer written numerous articles on industrial security, national and geostrategic security issues and 5 books- KUMAONI Nostalgia, Industrial and Infrastructure Security in 2 volumes, Soldier Mountaineer (biography of international mountaineer Col Narender Kumar 'Bull' and Reminiscing Battle of Rezang La. *Views are personal.

This is an incredible story of 26-year-old Haldwani girl Soni Bisht, d/o retired Sub Kundan Singh of the Brigade of Guards Battalion. Happily married in December 2022 to Sepoy Neeraj Singh Bhandari of 18 Kumaon settled in Khatima, a few hours journey from Haldwani- both being Bhabhar region narrow 8-10 km wide east to west alluvial terrain belt along the foot-hills where Terai plains end giving rise to Uttarakhand hills. Shockingly, her world came to a sudden end as Neeraj sadly died as his two-wheeler met with a devastating accident with a tractor trolley in Khatima a month later, in January 2023. Hearing the shocking news, her mother suffered sudden cardiac arrest, and her younger brother, who was preparing to join the Army, had a paralytic stroke, and both are ever-since bedridden.

Soni studied at military stations in numerous Army Public Schools and did her B.Com from Jodhpur. Amidst these trials and tribulations in an otherwise miserable, blind, dark, endless, hopeless life tunnel, a ray of hope emerged through the encouragement and guidance of her father’s veteran regimental officer, Maj Gen Yash Mor and her late husband’s Commanding Officer Col Jagmohan Rawat of 18 Kumaon, advising her to apply for the only seat in the Officers’ Training Academy (OTA) Chennai reserved for the widow of the military officer/ soldier. They guided and coached her to face the Services Selection Board (SSB). This support network became the cornerstone of her selection to OTA, thus allowing her to seek a career and a tribute to her husband Sepoy Neeraj Bhandari’s memory and sacrifice and the valuable support of her parents and in-laws. Despite the immense grief, Soni Bisht persevered and overcame multiple setbacks. Her determination led her to achieve a remarkable feat, and she stood first amongst all the candidates in her category. Being a Kumaoni Officer, I too came into her contact and helped a little bit in the completion of her documentation and assisting through Col Jagmohan Rawat, CO 18 Kumaon, with her medical examination at Haldwani. I also advised her on her impending kit to be taken to OTA and overcoming fears of the unknown during the training as many of her friends have gone through the rigorous training successfully and excelled in their careers, bringing a good name to their families, the OTA and the Indian Army. Her OTA Training Course is commencing on 1 Apr 2024, and she is leaving by flight from Delhi for Chennai on 26 Mar 2024 to join the same with some joy and a little bit of heavy heart for her ailing mother and brother and overworked father. I advised her to take the first few weeks ragging by seniors lightly, pass and excel in a clearing in first go drill, physical training (PT), battle physical endurance tests (BPET), map reading, firing and field craft tests, etc. successfully, endeavouring to be an appointment in the final term, completing her training and getting commission high in merit in the service of her choice and work hard for next 4-5 years to get regular commission. I also told her that keeping short hair during her OTA training would be more convenient.

Soni Bisht’s Triumph-Clearing SSB for pre-commissioning training in OTA, Chennai
Soni Bisht’s Triumph-Clearing SSB for pre-commissioning training in OTA, Chennai

Soni’s life, who was once a young, carefree military brat making friends with numerous schools she studied due to frequent postings of her father, Subedar Kundan Singh Bisht of Guards Paltan, suddenly became bleak and most shockingly, all the dreams of Soni and her family were shattered that were further exacerbated by her mother and younger brother’s serious health issues. Her father and we advised Soni that both her mother and brother would be looked after and, if needed, full-time nursing arrangements would be made and that she should join OTA without any worries.

This is Soni’s story of overcoming life losses and struggles and physical and mental abilities to stand with her chin up despite emotional hopelessness. The key in her mindset was overcoming grief, avoiding pity and being on her own feet. Her courage, fortitude, and hard work against heavy odds make her a role model young lady for desperate boys and girls to lead dignified, meaningful lives, overcoming the most adverse everyday situations. Her path to clearing SSB for the OTA Chennai Course commencing on 1 Apr 2024 was filled with more downs to one final up encompassing all tragedies, unlike many other girls who have to break barriers to get this far. In her nonchalance, in the cold assessment of the situation, in the raw calmness, she exuded in her serendipitous adaptability and calm problem-solving faculty. We pray Kumaonis Goddess Kalika Mata that by 2024, she will be commissioned officer.

After forgetting past harsh realities, Soni worked hard to get her dreams nearly realised by topping the women’s quota of SSB interview for commission in the Army after completing nearly nine months of military training in OTA, Chennai. Joy, hard work, guidance from many veterans, CO 18 Kumaon and her, encouragement from devastated parents and in-laws and blessings of the Kalika Mata synergised her brain’s neurotransmitters, releasing energy and strength, improving her cognitive functions and making her more creative, better decision making, solving life’s many problems rationally and calmly. Her mental fortitude to deal with adversities, time and again, has been on role model display. Though so far, she has had more tragedies and downs that have taken a heavy toll on her physical and mental health, with courageous clearance of SSB, she shot to instant fame, and she and her family see the light at the end of the dark, miserable tunnel. I am sure she will do well during training in OTA, get commissioned in the service of her choice, get a regular commission in the next few years of service and be a ‘role model young lady officer’ inspiring younger generations of the future. We all are very proud of her and compliment her and the family for their unstinted support in realising her dreams!


  1. Soni Bist’s indomitable spirit stands out as a testimonial of courage,hardwork & strength of our Uttarakhani women – the Hill State is surviving upon.
    Soni- here is wishing you ‘God Speed & Good Luck’ in all your endeavours in future.
    Col Bhatia ,in his inimitable style,has written this excellent piece with his vast knowledge of Kumaon & the Kumaon Regiment.
    Bravo Zulu.
    Jai Badri Vishal.
    Kalika Mayya ki Jai
    Dada Kishan ki Jai.


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