India’s Golden Girls break the glass ceiling to enter battlefield

William Shakespeare penned in Hamlet “frailty thy name is woman”. Not in India because women from time to time have shown their prowess. Now there is a giant step towards gender equality as women enter the battlefield. The responsibility to safeguard borders and sovereignty rests with the Armed forces and there can’t be a better development than women given a level playing field to show their might. They are ready to play a more active role serving as the frontline of armed conflicts.

The Prime Minister, Narendra Modi, who recently made a surprise visit to Nimmoo in Ladakh amidst stand off with China, himself lauded women, “I am looking at women soldiers in front of me on the battlefield at the border and this view is inspiring”.

Women pilots are being trained at Ambala Air Force Station to become part of Rafael’s 17 Golden Arrow Squadron.  A woman pilot who has been flying MiG-21 fighters is tipped to join the Golden Arrows Squadron operating the multi-role Rafale fighter jets.  Since Rafale is a very potent aircraft, having a woman pilot among its select crew has added significance.  There is another reason too as the Rafale jets are the country’s first major acquisition of fighter planes after the Sukhoi jets were imported from Russia about 23 years ago.  

Ambala Air Force base inducted five French-made multirole Rafale fighter jets into the Indian Air Force on September 10. To coincide with this, in a historic first, two women officers Sub Lieutenant Kumudini Tyagi and Sub Lieutenant Riti Singh would be posted on Indian Navy warships. They would be the first women airborne tacticians in India to operate from the deck of warships. The Navy generally deployed women staffers in logistics and medical stream.

In fact, the entry of women was earlier restricted to the fixed wing aircraft due to several reasons including lack of privacy.  Now women officers would be in the frontline to function as combatants.  The number of women officers in the Air Force has in the meanwhile increased to 1875 of which 10 women officers are fighter pilots and 18 navigators.

A beginning had been made in 2015 when the government decided to open the fighter stream for women on an experimental basis. Avani Chaturvedi, Bhawana Kanth and Mohana Singh were the three women pilots commissioned as flying officers in 2016. Two years later, flying officer Avani Chaturvedi scripted history by becoming the first Indian woman to fly a fighter aircraft solo in 2018.

The latest developments are likely to witness more women coming into operational streams and new streams being opened for women in coming days. However, there are also concerns that too much media and public attention on these new entrants may put unwanted pressure on them.

Now the Ministry of Defense has begun the process to give permanent commission to women officers. A positive news indeed!