New Delhi: On a day when the first look of Karan Johar’s upcoming film, Gunjan Saxena — The Kargil Girl, was unveiled, it is pertinent to revisit the story of one of India’s bravest women fighter pilots. The Indian Air Force (IAF) may have opened its gates for the first time for three female pilots — Avani Chaturvedi, Bhawana Kanth and Mohana Singh — and inducted them into combat role. However, women pilots have been flying into war zones long before IAF formally them on as fighter pilots.
Meet Gunjan Saxena
In 1999, when Kargil War broke out, the Indian Air Force rushed to press every officer it had in its ranks into service. And this placed an opportunity at Gunjan Saxena’s doorstep at a time when women were not allowed in combat roles in the IAF.
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Saxena, along with Srividya Rajan, were tasked with medical evacuations, supply drops and spotting Pakistani positions in the war zone.
The two were part of the 25 young women to form the first batch of women IAF trainee pilots in 1994. During the war, they flew their small Cheetah helicopters through extremely hostile mountain territory where the Pakistani Army fired bullets and anti-aircraft missiles at virtually any Indian aircraft they could spot.
Saxena escaped a missile
Once, in a direct attack, the Pakistani Army fired a rocket at Saxena’s helicopter which was positioned for a take-off at the Kargil airstrip. The missile barely missed her helicopter and crashed into the hillside right behind her. Undeterred by these, both Saxena and Rajan continued their vital operational sorties.
They dropped supplies to troops in the Dras and Batalik sectors, evacuated injured Indian Army soldiers, and reported enemy positions to the Indian army.
‘Evacuating injured soldiers was ultimate feeling’
In an interview to NDTV, Saxena said, “One of our main roles there was casualty evacuation. I think it is the ultimate feeling that you can ever have as a helicopter pilot. I would say it’s a very satisfying feeling when you save a life because that is what you’re there for.”
Commenting on the recent decision to induct women in combat roles in the IAF, Saxena said, “I think inducting women in the fighter stream is a very, very big and positive step on part of the Air Force. Being a pioneer, I would say, it feels great and I would only say that I hope these women who’ve come into the fighter stream now give their 100 percent and really, really touch the sky with glory.”
When the Shaurya Chakra came along
For an exemplary display of courage during Kargil War, Saxena became the first woman recipient of Shaurya Chakra, a gallantry award presented for valour, courageous action or self-sacrifice while not engaged in direct action with the enemy. Her tenure as a short service commissioned officer ended after seven years.
The Kargil Girl
The film stars Janhvi Kapoor in the lead role and is being directed by Sharan Sharma. It also stars Pankaj Tripathi, Vineet Kumar Singh and Angad Bedi in important roles. While Pankaj plays Janhvi’s onscreen father, Angad essays the role of her brother. It is set to hit theatres on March 13, 2020.