“In our country ’shakti’, which means power, is the manifestation of female energy. This shakti defines our strength,”– President of India, Pranab Mukherjee
In March 2015, the nation witnessed a rather emotional ‘first’ that not many know about- Lieutenant Kiran Shekhawat of the Indian Navy became the first woman naval officer to be martyred in the line of duty after an Indian Navy Dornier crashed for the first time since their induction in the 1990s. Lt. Shekhawat, aircraft observer aboard the aircraft out on a routine surveillance sortie, was missing for a few days after the plane crashed off the coast of Goa. Her body was later recovered along with that of another officer. She is survived by her husband and fellow naval officer Lt. Vivek Chhoker.
Born in a naval family, Lt. Shekhawat underwent training from the Indian Naval Academy (INA), Ezhimala and was commissioned on July 5, 2010 into the prestigious Indian Naval Air Squadron (INAS) 310, nicknamed Cobras. Posted across various stations in the five years of service she was an expert in intelligence warfare. Prior to her death, she had been a part of the first all-women marching contingent of the Indian Navy during the Republic Day parade and was also in training to be a flight navigator. She was cremated with full military honours in her village on March 30, 2015. Her journey, albeit brief, is inspirational to men and women alike, especially to those who typically categorise certain professions as ‘masculine’ and off-limits to women.
With a deep passion for flying, Kiran is likely to have been happy when in October 2015 the government approved the proposal for female pilots to fly warplanes from June 2017 onwards. Following that, in February 2016, President Pranab Mukherjee, Supreme Commander of Armed Forces in India, declared a shift in military policy towards recruiting women in combat roles across all forces in future. Most women officers and personnel in the armed forces have hitherto been designated to fill roles in administration or as doctors, nurses and medical professionals. With this India joins the relative minority of countries that have such a policy of parity.
Salute to all our soldiers, and a special shoutout to the bravehearts- the lady officers and personnel.