2019 has been a watershed year for India's defence services.
For the first time, in April 2019, the Indian Army put out an advertisement inviting women to be inducted into the force as soldiers. It possibly opens the doors for women to move closer to combat roles in the coming years. The opening of doors for women will also help improve the representation of women in the defence services.
The years leading to 2019 have witnessed important developments too. On September 3, 2017, Nirmala Sitharaman was appointed as India’s first full-time defence minister. She also presided over complex naval operations such as missile, gun and rocket firings and air interceptions, ship-to-ship replenishment, and anti-submarine operations when she became the first woman defence minister to visit INS Vikramaditya. Former Prime Minister Indira Gandhi had also held the portfolio on two occasions before the portfolio was allotted to a minister. The elevation of a woman as India’s defence minister helped break the proverbial glass ceiling too. India’s defence forces may have taken their time to induct women into the services but whenever women have been given the opportunity, they have left indelible mark and matched their male counterparts shoulder to shoulder.
According to the LBR, Flying Officer Avani Chaturvedi became the first woman to fly a fighter aircraft, a MiG-21 Bison on her first solo flight on February 21, 2018. She undertook the sortie from the Jamnagar Air Force base. Flying Officer Bhavna Kanth became the second woman to achieve the feat on March 16, 2018, taking off from the Ambala Air Force base.
Shubhangi Swaroop is the first woman pilot in the Indian Navy, trained to fly maritime reconnaissance aircraft. Three other women cadets passed with her in the first batch of women pilots from the Indian Naval Academy, Ezhimala in Kerala. The Indian Navy had first inducted women officers in 1991 and they are adding to the diversity for the forces.
Assistant Commandant Monica Seth joined the Indian Coast Guard on June 5, 1998 as the first woman pilot. She flew on missions during the Kargil conflict in Jammu and Kashmir in 1999 and for Gujarat earthquake relief in January 2001.
Officers and men from the services have routinely made their mark in sports. The 2019 edition of LBR mentions Flight Lieutenant Shikha Pandey as the first Indian Air Force officer to be selected for the national women’s cricket team. Commissioned as an air traffic control officer on June 30, 2012, the all-rounder has made her mark in ODIs. She made her test and ODI debut in 2014.
While women are breaking fresh ground in various wings within the services, the first all-woman crew from India’s forces circumnavigated the world in 254 days on board the INSV Tarini, the first India all-woman crew to do so. Lieutenant Commanders Vartika Joshi, Pratibha Jamwal, P. Swathi and Lieutenants S. Vijaya Devi, B. Aishwarya and Payal Gupta set sail on September 10, 2017 and completed their journey on May 21, 2018.
India’s defence services are also helping training officers and men of other nations. According to Limca Book of Records, from December 4, 2017 the Indian Army also trained a
batch of 20 Afghan women military officers at the academy in Chennai. This has been in addition to training nearly 4,000 Afghan military personnel.
The change had been set in motion several years ago. It may have taken a while coming but is now gathering pace. As women take up more important roles in India's defence services, it surely gives us yet another reason to keep our flag flying high.