Flying a Dornier aircraft at 9,000 feet at a speed of 150 nautical miles, braving inclement weather at times, is not a task for the faint-hearted. Apart from skills, it needs firm hands, a calculative and sharp mind and a brave heart to manoeuvre the aircraft to safety.
Meet Lieutenant Shivangi of the Indian Navy, who is currently posted with the Dornier squadron of the Eastern Naval Command (ENC) at INS Dega and playing a key role in the combat region of the navy.
A B.Tech (Mechanical) graduate, Lieutenant Shivangi got into the aviation wing of the Indian Navy through the University Entry Scheme. After having worked in Porbandar in the all-women Dornier Squadron, she is now with the ENC.
“I wanted to become a pilot after I saw a helicopter landing at a village near Muzaffarpur in Bihar in my childhood. After getting through the Service Selection Board (SSB), here I am,” she tells The Hindu ahead of International Women’s Day.
Having joined the service in 2018, Lieutenant Shivangi has clocked substantial flying hours and faced quite a few challenges on duty. “Every sortie, be it for Search and Rescue (SAR) or surveillance and reconnaissance, is a challenge. But the most satisfying one so far was when we flew a critically injured sailor from Porbandar to Mumbai in just two-and-a-half-hours,” she says.
Not only Lieutenant Shivangi (Staff Pilot), all the seven women officers who met The Hindu at INS Dega have stories to share.
Lt. Commander Shivani Chauhan, operations logistics officer at INS Dega, is a first-timer in the armed forces from her family. “I joined the forces after getting motivated by the Republic Day’s Parade, which I have been watching since my childhood,” she says.
Her job is critical in the combat role as every aircraft that flies from INS Dega needs to meet the standard of ‘Air Worthiness’.
According to her, the training period at the Naval Academy with her male counterparts had changed her life forever. “This was where I became mentally and physically tough and learnt what teamwork means. The keyword is to stick around if you want to realise your dreams and do not quit as the training is tough and enduring,” she says.
The story of Lieutenant Swathi is a tad different. She had experience on both sides of the job. A B. Tech graduate in ECE, she had worked for a corporate company in Bengaluru for about a year.
“Working in a 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. environment and peering over computers for hours, I realised that it is not my cup of tea. I decided to join the armed forces. I am in the frontline of combat now, serving the Indian Navy as Naval Air Observation Officer,” she says.
Her role is equally challenging as the pilot. “Our team spots missing sailors or fishermen who go overboard, enemy ships, submarines and aircraft in the sea, close to the international borders,” says Lieutenant Swathi.
While, Shivangi, Shivani, Swathi, Lt. Commander Nisha Rawat, the Meteorological Officer at INS Dega, and Lt. Parisha Santoshi, Air Traffic Controller at INS Dega, are on the aviation side, Lt. Commander Asha Sharma and Lt. Cdr. K.S. Sanjana are on the forefront in the sea.
Asha is the Logistic Officer, while Sanjana is the Hull Maintenance Officer onboard INS Shakti, a fleet supply vessel of the ENC.
Asha joined as logistic officer after the Union government opened up the combat role for women onboard ships in 2018, while Sanjana took up her assignment in 2022. Both play a critical role in combat. They say that the camaraderie with their male colleagues have been beyond expectation.
“We are treated with respect on par with our male colleagues. The Indian Navy is now building ships to accommodate more women both as officers and Agniveers, which is a welcome sign of empowerment. After joining the armed forces, we are treated with more respect and honour in the society and home too,” they say.
The women officers also speak about the changes in the armed forces. The opportunities are many now, with the government opening up the Agniveer scheme. Very soon women will command a ship and fly a fighter aircraft, they say.
Giving a message to the younger generation, they say that serving the armed forces is not a profession, but a way of life.