Long before the first women fighter pilots were commissioned into the Indian Air Force, Flight Lieutenants Gunjan Saxena and Srividya Rajan scripted history when they ventured into a war zone, becoming the first Indian women in combat.
Inspired by the story, Bollywood is making a film on Gunjan Saxena's journey. The film, titled "Gunjan Saxena: The Kargil Girl," is scheduled to release on March 13 next year. The first posters of the film were shared by actor Janhvi Kapoor, who plays the protagonist in the film, today.
In 1999, at the height of the Kargil War, the two pilots flew the Cheetah helicopters through an area where Pakistani soldiers fired bullets and missiles at virtually any Indian helicopter or aircraft that they could spot. One of their missions was reconnaissance for which they often flew very close to Pakistani positions. Cheetah Helicopter is used by the Air Force for operations over a very wide range of altitude conditions. The pilots were also tasked with casualty evacuations.
Speaking to NDTV in 2016, after three flying officers were commissioned as India's first three women fighter pilots, Gunjan Saxena had said missions where she evacuated injured Indian Army soldiers were her biggest motivation during Kargil. "I think it is the ultimate feeling that you can ever have as a helicopter pilot. That was one of our main roles there - casualty evacuation. I would say it's a very satisfying feeling when you save a life because that is what you're there for," she had said.
Flight Lieutenant Gunjan Saxena served as a short service commissioned officer and didn't quite have the opportunities that women in Air Force have today. Her tenure ended after seven years, but women in the air force can now get a permanent commission.
In 2016, Gunjan had told NDTV that the decision to induct women as fighter pilots was a "positive step on part of the Air Force". She also said: "Being a pioneer, I would say, it feels great and I would only say that I hope these women who've come into the fighter stream now give their 100 per cent and really, really touch the sky with glory."