While the Indian Navy as an institution has been around since the 17th century, until 1992, women weren’t allowed to be a part of the troops. They were instead relegated to a life of rescue missions at medical camps. But now, 24-year-old sub-lieutenant Shivangi—who only goes by her first name—has just officially become the Indian Navy’s first female pilot. She has been tasked with flying a Dornier aircraft, which is a multi-purpose light transport aircraft.
According to Commander Sridhar Warrier, the defence press relations officer for the Navy, the type of aircraft Shivangi has been put in charge of flying can "cover large distances over the sea and provide information to the ship at sea of any suspicious or interesting activity happening." She will also be involved in rescue missions and medical evacuation when required.
While Shivangi completed her basic training in 2018 at the Indian Naval Academy and was then training with the Indian naval air squadron, the INAS 550, in the city of Kochi in Kerala, she’s wanted to reach for the skies ever since she was 10 and she noticed a chopper pilot flying a politician to a public rally in her native village in the Muzaffarnagar district of Bihar. So when an officer came to the college she was pursuing her degree from in Sikkim to show students a video of life in the Indian Navy, Shivangi knew the time had come to give flight to her dreams.
“That was my first exposure to the Indian Armed Forces through the Navy. The Navy had then begun induction for women pilots. As a 10-year-old child, who nurtured a dream of becoming a pilot after seeing one, I seized the opportunity with both hands. And here I am now,” she told Hindustan Times.
She may be conquering heights now, but Shivangi comes from a fairly grounded background. While her father runs a school that was started by her grandfather so that girls in the area could be offered an education, her mother is a homemaker.
While Shivangi may have broken ground as the Indian Navy’s first female pilot, she isn’t the first woman to soar the skies with the Indian Armed Forces. In 2016, the Indian Air Force allowed women pilots to join the Forces for the first time. Then in May 2019, Flight Lieutenant Bhawana Kanth, who also hails from Bihar, became the first woman pilot to take on combat missions on a fighter jet, while in August 2019 Shaliza Dhami became the first female flight commander.
Still, Shivangi’s achievement is a considerable one when you take into account that most roles for women in the Navy were more about them using their mind to strategise the best battle tactics. "They would be going to the battlefield but they were not in the driving seat, that means they were not in the cockpit. They would be the one who would be controlling the tactics, who would be controlling the weapons, who would be the eyes and ears for the aircraft and for the pilot," Warrier told CNN. "The Navy is not yet ready to be able to take ladies onboard ships because it requires certain infrastructure changes to ship design and that takes time.”
So as Shivangi gears up for the task ahead, people are positive that this will, in turn, inspire girls across the country to aim high and never give up on their dreams, no matter how beyond their reach it may seem at the time.
Follow Shamani Joshi on Instagram.