Malakal: Over 1,000 Indian peacekeepers, including five female Army personnel, have been honoured with UN medals for their vital work in the UN Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS).

"Take a bow, #India. Exactly 1,171 of your finest sons and daughters have received UN medals for their vital UNMISS work in Upper Nile, South Sudan. Major Jasmine Chattha and a couple of her female colleagues tell us more about their experiences," the UN Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) said in a tweet on Thursday.

There was something distinctly different about this year's medal award ceremony for the Indian peacekeepers in Upper Nile. For the first time, the parade of the large contingent, consisting of infantry, engineers and medical staff, was led by a woman, Major Jasmine Chattha.

"It has been an honour to represent my regiment on this special day. By positioning women as leaders, we are sending a strong message to the citizens of South Sudan in general and its women in particular. In our work, for example when we repair roads or try to mitigate floods, we are in contact with the local population and they can see that we, women, are leading a team and we are both respected and listened to," she was quoted as saying by UNMISS in a press release.

While it is true that India's peacekeeping contingent in Upper Nile is almost all male, Major Chattha was not the only woman to receive a medal for the outstanding work of her compatriots: five out of the 1,171 troops awarded the shiny pieces of metal were females.

Captain Karishma Kathayat, an engineer, was one of them. Like Major Chattha, she hails from a military family. "It is a great feeling to contribute to a better standard of living for people. We are here to serve. We take great pride in our engineering work," she said.

According to the UN, the Indian contingent serving with the United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) may be best known for its efforts to build and repair critical infrastructure, but protecting civilians is of course also a vital and sometimes dangerous part of their mandate.

Deadly violence in Adhidiang and Kodok, where some 11,000 displaced persons are still gathered adjacent to an UNMISS military base, has caused untold suffering and injuries.

Since September last year, Indian medical staff have performed critical emergency surgeries that have saved the lives of five children.