This year’s commissioning ceremony of the Indian Armed Forces saw history being created with the induction of the first women fighter pilots for the first time ever. Avani Chaturvedi of Madhya Pradesh, Mohana Singh of Rajasthan and Bhawana Kanth of Bihar were formally commissioned by the Defence Minister, Manohar Parrikar, in the capital during the Combined Graduation Parade in honour of the 129 graduating trainees of the IAF including 22 women.
All in their early twenties, these young women have a six month training ahead of them after which they will fly fighter jets like Sukhoi and Tejas.
Women are not allowed in combat roles such as in the infantry and armoured corps of the Army and the Navy, and even though the commissioning of Singh, Kanth and Chaturvedi has been done on an experimental basis of five years, the step signals a marked beginning into a new stream towards gender inclusion in the defence. It is interesting to note that women fighter pilots have been allowed in the US since 1993 and in the UK since 1994. The 18th of June, 2016 marks a red letter day for Indian history. Hopefully this step will be followed by similar such inclusivity practices in other fields and greater equality in existing ones.
Flight Cadet Avani Chaturvedi, one of the women chosen for this great task, is an engineer whose inspiration to join the IAF were her family members in the army. Flight cadet Bhawana Kanth joined the IAF after always dreaming of flying and felt that being chosen for the combat wing was the best thing to happen to her. Her father, an engineer at IOCL encouraged her to follow her dreams right from childhood.
Cadet Mohana Singh joined the IAF after being inspired by her father and grandfather, who both served in the air force and thereby carries the family legacy forward. The women talked about the hazards of their job in interviews and how they coped with difficulties with fortitude and following strict protocols along with their instincts.
The three women have owed their success to the encouragement given by their family to follow their dreams. This reminds us of the crucial task that we as family, and as society, should keep in mind: that of breaking societal norms and conditioning in our own ways and in our own houses. As important as it is for the country to acknowledge women in every capable role, it is equally important for women to be allowed and encouraged to be able to reach those.