As the nation observes Kargil Vijay Diwas, a day dedicated to honoring the valor and sacrifice of Indian soldiers during the 1999 Kargil War, it is imperative to shine a spotlight on the remarkable contribution of women warriors who etched their names in history by demonstrating exceptional courage and determination on the battlefront. Amidst the hostile terrain and grave threats, these extraordinary women proved that gender is no barrier when it comes to defending the nation's honor and sovereignty.
One of the most celebrated women from the Kargil War is Flight Lieutenant Gunjan Saxena, who served as one of the first female Indian Air Force (IAF) officers in a combat zone. Flying her Cheetah helicopter on daring rescue missions, Flight Lieutenant Saxena was instrumental in evacuating injured soldiers from inaccessible locations, often under intense enemy fire.
Another trailblazing figure is Captain Ruchi Sharma, an officer in the Indian Army's Signals Corps. Captain Sharma went on to be called as "India's first female operational paratrooper."
During the Kargil conflict, Captain Sharma was entrusted with the crucial task of maintaining communication lines, ensuring seamless connectivity for the troops deployed in the rugged terrains. Despite facing numerous challenges and the constant threat of enemy attacks, she carried out her duties with unmatched dedication and efficiency.
In an interview to Femina magazine she remembers that during training they were made to jog for 40 km with a 10 kg load. Her first jump was in 1997. About her first jump she says, "The first jump is like your first love"; in an Indian Express article she is quoted saying, "I was screaming my parents' names, telling them that I love them,” and adding, "but when I landed, my 'ustad' burst my bubble saying the enemy will know my position if I screamed so much everytime I jumped." Sharma went on to earn the maroon beret and serve in areas such as Ladakh. In 1999, she won the "General Oberoi Trophy" for "Best Women Adventurer" from her corps, and later on went on to be awarded the "Presidents Gold Medal".
Captain Sharma's leadership and resilience were a source of motivation for her fellow soldiers, and her contributions remain etched in the annals of military history. She retired from the Indian Army in 2003 and is now an educationist.
In the field of intelligence and logistics, Major Priya Jhingan emerged as a pioneering figure during the Kargil War. As one of the first women to join the Indian Army's Judge Advocate General (JAG) Department, she played a pivotal role in providing legal counsel and support to the forces deployed in the conflict zone.
Her expertise in navigating the complex legal landscape and her unwavering commitment to justice earned her immense respect from her peers and seniors alike.
After ten years of distinguished service at Judge Advocate General Department where she conducted numerous Court Martial, Major Priya was released in 2003 as per the contract of service Major. Priya has always been a strong advocate for women being given equal roles as men in the Indian Army . She defended the women in Indian Army as a right over the controversial suicide of Lieutenant Sushmita Chakravarty in which the then Vice-Chief of Army Staff, Lt Gen S Pattabhiraman had to apologize for an insensitive remark about women in the army. Post release from the Indian Army, she always advocated permanent commission and giving command of units to women officers in Indian Army. Her views were published in The Times of India on 17 Feb 2020 and taken note of by decision makers. The Supreme Court of India passed a ruling granting equal opportunities to women to command units in the Indian Army in February 2020, 17 years after she was released from the Army.
In Feb 2018, Major Priya Jhingan was felicitated by the President of India, Shri Ram Nath Kovind, for being the pioneer of women in the Indian Army amongst 112 other prominent women in various fields in India.
Hailing from Kerala, Sreevidya Rajan was another IAF pilot to fly in the war-zone during Kargil War.
Sreevidya was posted at Udhampur in Jammu-Kashmir sector. In an interview with onmanorama.com, Sreevidya revealed her experience at Kargil. "An extreme climate prevailed there and I received special training for flying there. A total of 22 pilots were there, including Gunjan Saxena and myself. Soon, the Kargil War of 1999 broke out and IAF too joined the combat. As the nearest helicopter unit was ours, we were sent to Srinagar for battle duty. Having flown in Udhampur since 1996, we were familiar with the area. However, we had no idea that we would be the first women pilots to engage in combat duty in India," she explains.
At Srinagar, Sreevidya was poised, feeling neither fear nor mental tension. "I was tasked with rushing injured Soldiers from the battlefield in Kargil to the Army Base Hospital at Srinagar and only the mission remained in my mind. Apart from casualty evacuation, we also carried out communication sorties and air maintenance. I spent two weeks on duty there and Gunjan Saxena came along with the next batch," says the veteran.
Beyond the officers in the limelight, countless other women served in various capacities during the Kargil War, showcasing their versatility and determination. From nursing wounded soldiers to providing crucial intelligence and logistical support, their contributions were invaluable in ensuring the success of military operations
The Kargil War served as a turning point in the recognition of women's potential and capabilities within the Indian armed forces. It spurred the authorities to take significant steps towards gender inclusivity, leading to the formal induction of women into combat roles across the military. Today, more and more women are breaking barriers and serving on the frontlines, proving that they are not just equal to the task but are also essential in maintaining the nation's security.
As we honor the sacrifices made during the Kargil War, let us also celebrate the progress made in promoting gender equality within the armed forces. The bravery and dedication of these women warriors continue to inspire and instill a sense of pride among the citizens of India. Their legacy serves as a beacon of hope for a more inclusive and empowered future, where every individual is given equal opportunities to serve and protect the nation.
On this Kargil Vijay Diwas, let us pay tribute to these extraordinary women who fearlessly and selflessly chose to defend the motherland, leaving an indelible mark in the hearts of their fellow countrymen and women. Their extraordinary feats shall forever remind us that the spirit of bravery knows no gender, and the nation stands tall when united in purpose and determination.