Hyderabad : Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar on Saturday called for “gender parity in armed forces” as he witnessed the commissioning of the country’s first batch of women fighter pilots in the Indian Air Force (IAF).
Three women fighter pilots – Avani Chaturvedi, Mohana Singh and Bhawna Kanth – graduated from Air Force Academy Hyderabad.
“We consider that there should be total gender parity in the armed forces. Now while I say this there are technical and administrative difficulties, which we are likely to face in certain areas. So, step-by-step, we will see that this parity is achieved,” said Parrikar.
Parrikar said that it was a red-letter day for IAF.
The induction of women combat pilots comes after the government approved in October 2015 plans by IAF for women pilots to fly warplanes from June 2017 on a three-year experimental basis.
Most countries employ women in various roles in their armed forces, but only a handful, including Australia, Germany, Israel and the United States, have allowed them to take on combat roles.
India, which has one of the largest armies in the world, had resisted such a move so far, citing concern over women’s vulnerability if captured and over their physical and mental ability to cope with the stress of frontline deployments.
Meanwhile, the flight cadets, all in their mid-twenties, were upbeat about their graduation as they interacted with reporters, flanked by their proud parents.
“Obviously, we are feeling quite fortunate for being the first ones. Anyone could have got that opportunity but we got it and we are happy about it,” said Mohana Singh.
“Before going solo in the aircraft we have been trained a lot with our instructors, we have been cleared by the examiner. So we feel confident; we feel good, definitely; because flying solo in aircraft gives you a special feeling,” said Avani Chaturvedi.
The cadets will now head to IAF’s centre in Bidar city of southern Karnataka state for the third phase of their training. They will train on Hawk advanced jet trainers and graduate to flying supersonic warplanes.
India began recruiting women to non-medical positions in the armed forces in 1992, yet only 2.5 percent of its more than one million personnel are women – most of them administrators, intelligence officers, doctors, nurses or dentists.
India allowing women to take up combat roles in all sections of its army, navy and air force, signals a major move towards gender parity in one of the world’s most male-dominated professions.
Women’s rights activists have welcomed the move but maintain that bringing real gender parity into the armed forces will be a slow process. (ANI)