Monday, April 19, 2021

After almost 25 years, women deployed aboard Indian warships

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The Indian Navy has deployed four women officers on warships after a hiatus of almost 25 years, with the service focusing on steadily opening more roles to them, people familiar with the development said on Monday.

India’s only aircraft carrier INS Vikramaditya and fleet tanker INS Shakti are the warships that have been assigned their first women crews since the late-1990s, said one of the officials cited above, asking not to be named. In a short-lived experiment, women from the navy’s logistics and medical branches were deployed on fleet tanker INS Jyoti in 1997.

“Two women officers each have been assigned duties aboard INS Vikramaditya and INS Shakti. The numbers will only increase in the coming years with future warships having separate berthing facilities for women,” said a second official.

While the aircraft carrier now has a woman air traffic controller and a logistics officer, the tanker’s crew includes a woman doctor and a logistics officer, he said.

While Lieutenant Commander Priyanka Chaudhary and Lieutenant Sivi Bhardwaj are carrying out duties aboard INS Vikramaditya, Lieutenant Commander Tanisha Chakraborty and Surgeon Lieutenant Hannah Jane Thavapandian are serving aboard INS Shakti.

“More roles being opened to women in the military is a natural progression. We are inching towards having women serve in every branch of the armed forces,” said Wing Commander Anupama Joshi (retd), from the first batch of women officers commissioned into the IAF in the early 1990s.

Excluding the medical wing in which women have served for decades, the navy accounts for 704 women officers who form 6.5% of the overall officer cadre. To mark Women’s Day, the navy on Monday released a video shot aboard INS Shakti with messages from the two women officers posted on the tanker.

“They say women can’t have it all. But I would say dare to be different. The Indian Navy gave me the opportunity to be different and to dare,” said Lieutenant Commander Tanisha Chakraborty, a logistics officer aboard INS Shakti.

The navy has progressively opened more roles to women over recent years.

Last September, the navy announced that two women officers selected for the helicopter stream were set to become the first women in the navy’s history to operate from flight decks of warships and stay on board the vessels.

The two lady officers – Sub-Lieutenants Kumudini Tyagi and Riti Singh – were among the 17 officers who were awarded wings on graduating as observers at a ceremony held in Kochi. As observers, the two women have been trained for a variety of roles including navigation, flying procedures, tactics employed in air warfare, anti-submarine warfare and airborne avionic systems. They are likely to be posted on warships by the year-end, said the second officials.

They will serve on board maritime reconnaissance and anti-submarine warfare helicopters of the navy – currently Sea King choppers and later on MH-60R helicopters being bought from the United States.

In 2019, Sub-Lieutenant Shivangi carved a place for herself in naval aviation history by becoming the first woman pilot in the navy.

The headcount of women in the military has increased almost three-fold over the last six years, with more avenues being opened to them at a steady pace, latest government figures show.

There are 9,118 women currently serving in the army, navy and air force, with the services giving them more opportunities to boost career progression, the government told Parliament last month.

One of the turning points for women in the military came in 2015 when the IAF decided to induct them into the fighter stream. Tanks and combat positions in infantry are still no-go zones for women, who were allowed to join the armed forces outside the medical stream for the first time in 1992.

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