Stars in uniform

Women power

Stars in uniform

Not all women wear heels to work; some wear combat boots. That is the case of these divas of the battlefield who do their bit for the country in a number of ways. From fighter pilots to air traffic controllers to systems technicians- no field is off limits for them and their confident strides have brought them on par with the men in uniform.

 Flight lieutenant Ansha V Thomas is a technical officer in the Air Force; a way of life she chose four years back. “I always had a passion for making it to the Air Force. No one in my family has served in the forces so when I cleared my SSB, I felt that my dream had come true,” she says with a smile.

However, she admits that initially her parents were not enthused about the idea of her joining the forces.

 “I was doing my Mtech Final year so my parents were like you will get a normal job and why do you want to go for this? My mother was literally crying when she sent me for the training. But now, they are happy and proud,” says Ansha.

She attributes this concern to a lack of awareness among people. “A lot of wrong information is doing the rounds when it comes to life in the defence forces. When I joined, I was told by people that it is not a safe career for women. That’s so untrue; this is one of the safest job choices for women. Everybody around you is protective and you will not get such an atmosphere anywhere. But you just have to get through the training, which is very tough. It is kind of like the selection trials for ‘Roadies’,” she says with a laugh.

Air Traffic Controller Neha Chaudhary adds that the selection process is a test of one’s personality than knowledge.

“They want to test whether your thought process is positive or negative, whether you are flexible and ready to adapt, whether you will get along well in a team and so on. If you have the right attitude, you will make it. I myself didn’t prepare much for the exam. I saw an advertisement in the paper and applied; there was no prepping involved.”

For Flying Officer Ragi Ramachandran, joining the defence services was a natural process, the culmination of a passion nurtured by a strong family presence in the forces. Her mother is a nursing officer and sister a doctor in the Indian army. “Being a defence girl, I had a good exposure to this kind of a life. I had a conviction that I could make it; this belief never died. And finally, I got my wings and I am a pilot now,” says the recent passout of the NDA.

She stresses on the need for having faith in your dreams to make through the gruelling training process. “A lot of hard work goes into this. I have seen people leaving in between because of the tough system,” says Ragi, adding that there are a lot of misconceptions about women in this field, which prevents many of them from even giving it a try. “There were many who told me I couldn’t do it but the Air Force gave me equal opportunities and treated me on par with the men. At no point in time did I feel that I should pull back a little.”

Manjri Rastogi, Squadron Leader rank officer, has been in the Air Force for nine years now and says it is not at all difficult for women to get into this field.

The Ambala girl is the first person from her family to have chosen this career and she has done well for herself, emerging the All-India topper the year she wrote her SSB entrance exam. “It is tough to get in, no denying that, but everyone has a equal chance, provided you have the right traits. They don’t test your knowledge, they test your personality. I am an engineer yet they didn’t ask me a single technical question. They know that since I have cleared the entrance exam, I must have a basic knowledge of engineering. Further, the Air Force is there to teach me what I don’t know. In fact, I got a Masters in aeronautical engineering from Air Force. They just require a basic, average person to come in so that they can groom the person to be a good officer,” says Manjri. 

So what about the punishments and tough disciplinary actions that seem to be an integral part of the training process, at least according to the movies? “It is not punishment, it’s a part of grooming,” Manjri clarifies. “They don’t do it to humiliate you, it is meant to toughen you. A common motto there is that it is all in the mind. We are made to run 21 km; something that an average female thinks she can’t do. But we ran because we knew we had to do it. So the process shows us that all our limitations are in the mind only.”

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