Fighting for equal rights for women in the armed forces has been a long struggle. The Indian Air Force (IAF) has about 1,500 women, among which many have aspired to fly fighter jets. Women have largely been underrepresented in the IAF, but Flight Lieutenant Bhawana Kanth has finally broken all barriers and become the first woman pilot to qualify to undertake combat missions.
In 2015, the Ministry of Defence (MoD) approved the induction of women officers into the fighter stream. The IAF was one of the first armed forces to put women in combat roles. Praising women officers for their performance in the past, the MoD in a statement said, "Inducting women into the fighter stream would provide them with an equal opportunity to prove their mettle in combat roles."
"We have women pilots flying transport aircraft and helicopters. We are now planning to induct them into the fighter stream to meet the aspirations of young women in India," said the air chief at Hindon air force station on the IAF's 83rd anniversary.
On Wednesday, Bhawana completed the operational syllabus for carrying out combat missions on Mig-21 Bison aircraft, during the day. Bhawana, along with Mohana Singh and Avni Chaturvedi, was inducted into the fighter stream of the IAF in 2017. She flew her first solo on a MiG-21 Bison in March 2018 from Ambala Air Force Station. For context, Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman was also flying a MiG-21 Bison when he shot down Pakistan Air Force's fighter jet during an air strike on February 27.
To celebrate the 'women power', the IAF's official handle posted a congratulatory tweet for Bhawana: "Flt Lt Bhawana Kanth adds another feather to her cap by completing Day Operational syllabus on MiG-21 Bison aircraft. She is the first woman fighter pilot to be qualified to undertake missions by day on a fighter aircraft. #WomenPower"
IAF Spokesperson Group Captain Anupam Banerjee said that Bhawana achieved this feat through her dedication, hard work and perseverance: "She is the first woman fighter pilot to be qualified to undertake missions by day on a fighter aircraft. " And once Bhawana completes her night training, she will be allowed to undertake night flying operations.
Bhawana hails from Bihar and her father is an electrical engineer and mother a homemaker. She was always keen to join the National Defence Academy, but couldn't as women weren't inducted in the programme. She went on to do her engineering in Medical Electronics and was recruited by Tata Consultancy Services in 2014.
However, she didn't give up on her dream to fly. Bhawana went on to take the UPSC Combined Defence Services competitive examination and was eventually selected to be commissioned into the Air Force.
Bhawana has achieved a remarkable feat as the IAF has kept women out for long. With her inspiring, high-flying start, she has given strength and hope to all women who dream whenever they see a fighter plane zoom through the sky.
More power to you, Bhawana!
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