India’s first women fighter pilots in training – Bhawana Kanth, Mohana Singh and Avani Chaturvedi – have been advised by the Indian Air Force to delay motherhood for at least four years after they get commissioned.
This advisory was issued to ensure that the women’s training schedule can continue without any disruptions, said IAF vice chief Air Marshal BS Dhanoa in an interview with the Hindustan Times. “Undisturbed training is required for a minimum of five years for fighter pilots to become combat ready. That’s the practice in all major air forces,” said Air Vice Marshal NK Tandon, stressing that this advisory wasn’t a no-pregnancy clause.
On Women’s Day (8 March) this year, Air Chief Marshal Arup Raha announced that the three women cadets who had all volunteered for a combat role would be inducted in the Indian Air Force on 18 June.
In 2014, the Chief Marshal attracted severe criticism when he addressed the issues of employing women in the IAF. The Times of India quoted Raha as saying, "As far as flying fighter planes is concerned, it's a very challenging job. Women are by nature not physically suited for flying fighters for long hours, especially when they are pregnant or have other health problems.''
The Defence Ministry cleared the proposal of inducting women as fighter pilots last year in October, effectively ending an 83-year-old exclusion policy.
Currently nearing the end of the second phase of their training that involves working with Kiran Mk-11 planes at Hakimpet for six months, the women cadets are gearing up for the final phase. They will be trained to manipulate British Hawk advanced jet trainers, before they can fly supersonic warplanes, in Bidar, Karnataka. They graduated from the Air Force Academy at Dundigal on 19 December, where initially six women had enlisted for the fighter stream.
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