According to the athlete and keynote speaker, Roger Crawford, “Being challenged in life is inevitable, being defeated is optional.” These words reiterate how life keeps throwing curveballs at us one after another, not with the motive to disappoint us or destroy our self-confidence but to make us more fearless and challenge life in return. The same thing could be said in the context of India’s very own ‘Agniputri’ or the ‘Missile Woman of India,’ Tessy Thomas. This feisty lady has had no fewer challenges dropping on her way threatening to stamp down her dreams and aspirations, but her resolution and focus defeated those challenges.
Tessy Thomas’s first brush with a challenge in life was at the age of 13 when she witnessed her father suffering from a stroke and going into a state of paralysis for an indefinite period. With the head of the family confined to bed, the family of Tessy Thomas was in an immense state of desperation when her mother decided to hold the reins of the family and looked after all the family members in that situation. Even in the face of this traumatizing experience at her home Tessy Thomas never stopped venturing into the realms of her dream of aircraft flying, rockets, and missiles becoming the missile woman of India.
The next challenge that Tessy Thomas had to encounter was after she completed her class 12 exams with an excellent score of 100 percent in maths and more than 95 percent in science subjects. She wanted to pursue engineering, but her financial condition was not such that further studies could be supported. Once again Tessy Thomas looked in the eye of the challenge and decided to boldly deal with and eliminate it instead of succumbing to it. She applied for an educational loan of ₹100 monthly from the State Bank of India, which helped fund her education at the Government Engineering College in Thrissur. God helps those who help themselves; Tessy Thomas’s merit paid off, and she went on to fetch her scholarship funds which were sufficient to pay for her tuition fees. Equipped with the loan money and the scholarship funds she wanted to continue her further studies.
One common notion that usually accompanies people in dire need of money is that they should not be selective about what job they get and sign up for whatever pays them. A similar prospect came before missile woman of india as well when her brother-in-law offered her a position at the software company where he was the CFO. However, with her unwavering focus on fulfilling her dreams of becoming a missile scientist she refused to take that job and decided to pursue a Ph.D. in guidance missiles under the supervision of the Defence Research and Development Organization (DRDO).
Soon enough Tessy Thomas was right at the doorstep of the fulfillment of her dreams when the former president of India, Dr.A.P.J. Abdul Kalam, appointed her as the associate project director for a very ambitious project of DRDO. It was the designing of new generation ballistic missiles under the project code name of Agni. After she successfully led three consecutive projects, i.e., Agni III, and Agni IV, she was asked to lead as the project director of the Agni V missile project. After it was tested successfully, missile woman of india got promoted to the post of Director General of Aeronautical Systems at DRDO.
One after another achievements, recognitions, and awards given to Tessy Thomas, missile woman of india, the highest being the Padma Shri award from the government of India for her enormous contribution to science and missile technology in India. She was also honored with the Young Women Achievers Award by Junior Chamber International, the ISRO team award, the NASA Group Achievement Award 2010-2011, and the National Technology Awards 2007-2008.
Tessy Thomas believed that every woman has the potential to do whatever she wants, including becoming a technology leader and challenging patriarchal thoughts to demolish male bastions. Her success is a blow to the stereotypical notions that women are better suited to adorning the responsibilities of the household. With her unrivaled leadership skills demonstrated on missile technology in India, Tessy Thomas made another record when after 30 years of her incessant hard work on missiles, she fetched an engineering doctorate from MIT that very few women and men have been able to achieve.
It was not an easy feat for Tessy Thomas to rise from a humble background and become the ‘Missile Woman of India’ with constant challenges trying to shackle her down. However, her firm belief was that no matter what kind of conflicting situations she faced she would never be afraid to stand up for her dreams and rights and would never allow any kind of ridiculing to derail her growth. With all the challenges that she experienced in her life and the failures that she had to go through in her career, she turned each of them into meaningful lessons and used each to further strengthen her confidence, hone her skills, and improve her style of work. Most importantly with her, it has always been the sheer thirst for knowledge that made Tessy Thomas pursue her dream to become a missile scientist. Tessy is a true inspiration for women trying to build a career in any field, be it science or another, to not only dream big but to also pursue it regardless of deterrents believing the fact that a woman is capable of making all her dreams come true; she is equal in the society and her dreams and aspirations are just as important as that of a man’s.