An announcement by Air Chief Marshal Arup Raha on International Women's Day will pave the way for hundreds of Indian women in years to come to realize their ambition in male-dominated work spaces. The first batch of women fighter pilots, three cadets who are currently in training, will be inducted in the Indian Air Force on June 18.
Raha said three women trainee officers have volunteered for combat role.
"We inducted women as pilots in 1991, but on only helicopter and transport (planes). I must thank the Defence Minister for having approved the IAF's proposal to induct women as fighter pilots. Very soon...on June 18, the Air Force will get women fighter pilots.
"As of now three women trainees have volunteered to join the fighter stream. They are under the second phase of their training. Once they complete their training...they are on par with their male colleagues and the passing out parade is scheduled on June 18," Raha said.
He was speaking at a seminar on 'Women in Armed Medical Corps' organised to mark International Women's Day, which was also attended by Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar. The Defence Ministry had cleared the proposal of inducting women as fighter pilots in October last year.
Parrikar lauded Raha's insistence to push forward the proposal to induct women as fighter pilots in the Indian Air Force.
"Though I approved and support the proposal, it was he who was consistently pushing the file to the MoD (Ministry of Defence) level. I congratulate you for initiating the seminar which will go a long way in deciding the role of women in uniform and not only in the Armed Medical Corps," Parrikar said.
Three women trainees have volunteered to join the fighter stream, they are under training: IAF Chief Arup Raha pic.twitter.com/faHHtMMePM— ANI (@ANI_news) March 8, 2016
They are doing reasonably well.Passing out parade is scheduled on 18th June. We feel all 3 will get commissioned in fighter stream-IAF Chief— ANI (@ANI_news) March 8, 2016
In October 2015, at a function celebrating the Indian Air Force's (IAF) 83rd anniversary, Raha had announced that the IAF was planning to induct women as fighter pilots.
Asserting that all the three trainees should get commissioned on that day and become the first women officers in the fighter stream, Raha told ANI that subsequently they would go to the advanced jet training, and later proceed to the regular squads.
"I must thank the Defence Minister for having approved IAF's proposal to induct women as fighter pilots, and this year, the Indian Air Force will get its first woman fighter pilot," Raha said.
Raha had suffered severe criticism in March 2014, when he had issues with employing women in the IAF. According to The Times of India, Raha had said, "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.''
Even former Defence Minister AK Antony had said, "As a society, we are not ready for our women in combat roles. What if they are taken as PoWs (prisoner of war)?" But now, the Air Chief Marshal seems elated by the developments in the IAF.
As of 2015, the headcount of women in the armed forces was just over 3,300, including 1,300 in the air force, according to the Hindustan Times.
India's air force currently has women serving in seven areas — administration, logistics, meteorology, navigation, education, aeronautical engineering and accounts.
Apart from India, women fly fighter jets in several nations across the globe, including countries like the United States, France and Israel. (Inputs from PTI)
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