'The Navy is a tight-knit family': Commander Prerna Deosthalee, the first woman to command Indian naval ship

Deosthalee says she was led by a “sense of adventure”

70-Prerna-Deosthalee Prerna Deosthalee | Amey Mansabdar

For the first time in history, the Indian Navy appointed a woman as the commanding officer of an Indian naval ship. On Navy Day on December 4, Commander Prerna Deosthalee assumed command of the Goa-based warship INS Trinkat, a fast attack craft of the Indian Navy, named after Trinkat island in the Andaman and Nicobar archipelago. A post-graduate in psychology from St. Xavier’s College, Mumbai, Deosthalee joined the Indian Navy in 2009, led by “a sense of adventure and an urge to do something different, something for the larger good”. Since her growing-up years in Mumbai, she was fascinated with naval, aircraft and helicopter operations. When her younger brother joined the Navy, she, too, was motivated to do so.

I aspire to be the best in whatever i do and to do my duty well, and, hopefully, make a difference.

Today, she is married to a naval officer and has a three-year-old daughter. “My family’s encouragement and its lineage encouraged me to join the Indian Navy and live my dream,” she says. “Belief in oneself is the only quality required; the Navy trains you well for everything else. We have an ocean of opportunities which enables both professional and personal growth for officers and sailors.”

Life at sea, says Deosthalee, is engaging. “The day is full of challenges as well as fun-filled activities,” she says. “On some days, you are chasing and capturing pirates, and on other days you are saving lives. Sometimes you are on a mission to aid a friendly nation, and other times you are on one representing India on foreign shores. You get to witness some of the best spectacles of nature at sea―the best sunrises, sunsets and photogenic skies. Sometimes you get to see schools of dolphin or whale crossing the ocean. Some nights you experience the ocean glittering with bioluminescence, and on other nights, you witness the grandeur of the Milky Way, with the occasional shooting star underscoring your wish to return home soon.”

And going forward, what is her wish for herself? “I have realistic dreams that are achievable. I aspire to be the best in whatever I do and to do my duty well and, hopefully, make a difference,” she says.

Deosthalee grew up in a close-knit family―her father was a professor at Mumbai University and her mother was a CFA (chief financial advisor) at the Mumbai Port. Since childhood, she says, her parents emphasised on their overall development. In school and college, she was not only a good student, but swam, played tennis, and participated in various extracurricular activities. This well-rounded personality is what made her perfectly suited for the defence forces, regardless of her gender.

The services, says Deosthalee, are gender neutral. “Gender has never been a hindrance for women in the services and women joining warships,” she says. “Women are already enrolled for combat duties such as fighter pilots and air operations officers. I can cite my own example in the Navy. I am, at present, the First Lieutenant (deputy executive officer) on board the INS Chennai, a frontline destroyer. After I was granted permanent commission in 2020, I underwent training in warship operations and all other tasks that a warship undertakes. Thereafter, I was tasked equally as my male counterparts. As the First Lieutenant, I was involved in operation deployments, managing the ship’s routine and its personnel onboard.”

She says that earning the trust of her teammates to meet objectives―sometimes even at risk to their lives in highly challenging and life-threatening conditions―is something the Navy trains you well for. “The Navy is a tight-knit family, and the bonding and camaraderie are unmatchable,” she says.

To all those women who aspire to join the armed forces, the commander insists on professional competence and a sense of honour, duty and courage. “The Navy also hones your management skills,” she says. “The most important thing that the armed forces teach you is self-discipline and staying composed in all situations. The Navy is not a job or a career. It is a way of life.”