While Indian mythology has believed in the female power or Shakti as the source of all powers, more often than not the power of domestic women in India was always portrayed as limited to chasing the husband with her rolling pin. However, now, all this seems to be a matter of the past as Indian women are continuously challenging their counterparts in almost every field, even to the extent of reaching such fields which had been considered traditionally as exclusive male bastions.
In July 2016, Anju Mangia became the first woman superintendent of Tihar Men’s Jail, Vankadarath Saritha was Delhi’s first female bus driver, in 1998, Surekha Yadav became the first woman train driver of a passenger train and in 1992, Priya Jhingan became the first woman candidate to join the Army and was commissioned in the Judge Advocate General Branch of the Army, in March 1993.
Surprisingly, it is our women from villages and small towns who are striking the right chord of gender equality. One such name is that of Avani Chaturvedi — India’s first female fighter pilot. Avani Chaturvedi along with Bhavana Kanth and Mohana Singh created history by becoming India’s first female fighter pilot, proving that a woman from a small town in Madhya Pradesh could not only become a combat pilot, but also shatter the gender stereotypes in a male dominated profession.
While women have served in the Armed Forces since long, their services were restricted to the medical profession, as doctors or nurses. Women were inducted for the first time into other ground duty branches of the IAF in 1992 and were commissioned after a year’s training at the Air Force Academy, in Hyderabad. Encouraged by the determination and aptitude of the young ladies, the IAF inducted women for the first time, in 1993, into the Flying Branch of the IAF. However, their flying was to be restricted to transport aircraft and helicopters. Consequently, in 1994, Harita Kaur Doel earned the distinction of becoming the first IAF lady pilot to fly solo on an HS-748 Avro aircraft. Sadly, two years later, Harita was killed in an air crash when her aircraft caught fire and went out of control.
When women were inducted into the fighter stream of the IAF, it was decided that they would be flying the existing fighter aircraft of the IAF fleet except the MiG-21 as the latter, despite its versatility and yeomen service to the nation’s defence, has always been considered to be a highly demanding aircraft. The planners were obviously not fully aware of the growing capabilities of Indian women, as when Avani became the first Indian woman to fly solo on an IAF fighter aircraft, it was none other than the MiG-21 Bison aircraft.