They describe their profession as a way of life rather than a job. From fighter pilots to flight engineers, the women in the Indian Air Force have left no bastion unconquered. Metrolife finds out more.
Flight lieutenant Hina Jaiswal is the first woman flight engineer in the Indian Air Force. She has been trained to handle the Mi-17 aircraft. “We are trained to cater for emergencies in an aircraft; we are taught how to save an aircraft. The responsibility for the aircrew, during an emergency, also lies on the flight engineer.”
Transport aircraft operate throughout the year and pilots like Squadron Leader Sneha Shekhawat, who flies the Avro, are taught to prepare for emergencies all the time. “We are involved in rescue operations during floods and are also called in when the roads close during natural calamities,” she says.
Wing commander Divya Yadav is an Air Traffic Controller and senior air traffic officer of a base. She says that her task involves providing a safe environment for the departure and landing of an aircraft. “In case of an emergency, we are trained to assist the aircraft to ensure safe landing of the passengers.” She says that it helps to keep an open mind because everyday throws up new challenges. “There’s never a dull day,” she adds with a smile.
Wing commander Aparna Bisht has been in service for 14 years. “I train all the military air traffic controllers of the Army, Navy, Coast Guard and friendly foreign countries. There are specific rules to be followed and we teach them how to adhere to a certain discipline when following the rules. Once you start controlling it, you will realise that it is like a video game. With experience you will learn how to efficiently handle air traffic, enable an aircraft to be air borne faster and help in recovering faster,” she explains.
Squadron leader Samvedita Singh is a helicopter pilot who flies the Chetak and Cheetah helicopters. Commissioned in the Air Force in 2010, she has close to 1600 hours and has covered almost all the states and terrains of the country. She has undertaken many civilian and emergency casualty evacuations. “My grandfather was a freedom fighter so we were always a very patriotic family. My father was the one who fully supported me in my decision to join the armed forces.”
She is married to a MiG-29 pilot, Squadron leader Ankit. “One common misconception people have is that since no war is going on right now, we have no job to do. Flying is a very complex activity and you have to practise all the time. You have to be always ready to face situations,” she adds.
Squadron leader Anupam Chaudhary with nine years of service was earlier serving on helicopters and is presently in missiles. The national-level basketball player joined the forces as she wanted to serve the country in some way; a decision which made her family proud and scared at the same time.
“Clearing various stages of selection was a major challenge. For example, medical. Out of ten people who make it to medial, only two clear it. During training, you have to pass all your academic exams and at the same time be a part of all the squadron activities, team camps and more.”
Another one was clearing the pilot aptitude battery test, which is a once in a lifetime one. “If you fail that test once, you can never apply for flying branch again; you can only apply for flying branches.”
When asked what people think of a woman in the armed forces, she says with a laugh, “Earlier, when my parents would tell people that I was in the Air Force, they would think I was an air hostess. Thankfully that situation is changing now. The awareness of and respect for our profession is exponentially high now.”
More women in forces is a step towards equality
Squadron Leader Sneha Shekhawat says that women were always present in the Indian Air Force. “However, we are now motivating more and more women to join the forces,” she says. Flight lieutenant Hina Jaiswal adds that there is no embargo for women. “We see women officers working in every branch,” she says.
Women train just as hard as men do
Flight lieutenant Hina Jaiswal says that everybody goes through rigorous six-month training before they are posted n duties. “We are trained to be mentally tough and then physically strong as well,” she says. Wing commander Divya Yadav points out that the forces prepare you for any situation. “It teaches how to make right decisions at the right time. You don’t have time to either think or procrastinate,” says Divya.