‘I Didn’t Face A Single Instance Of Sexism In Air Force’

Madhur Handa Dubey, among the first women batch to join Indian Air Force ATC, is happy to see lady officers like Mawya Sudan taking up the role of a fighter pilot now. She recounts her days in uniform

I was raised by an officer and a gentleman. My father served in the Indian Army for many years and thus we knew how to be treated right. My mother was a Professor in Khalsa College, Patiala, when militancy was at its peak. I saw the same fearlessness in her eyes that I saw in my father’s. I inherited that courage and it finally found expression in the Indian skies. For 11 long years: from 1996-2007.

I was pursuing my PhD in Zoology when the government decided to induct more women in the Services. They opened up the ATC (Air Traffic Control) Branch to women in mid-nineties and I took the SSB Exams.

When I cleared my exams, I saw proud tears in my father’s eyes. He had wanted a son only if to see him serving the nation in uniform. So when I, his second child, cleared the exam, his happiness knew no bounds that someone in the family would carry his legacy forward.

I was among the three women who had been selected from a pool of 123 candidates. The rigorous selection process, the tough interview rounds and the discipline was a heady mix. So it was a huge morale booster for me when I cleared the interview round. Finally after a few days I cleared the medical round too.

We were the first batch of women who were inducted in the department. There were nine men and 34 women who would help control the Indian skies.

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During training we matched the men neck and neck in all the activities and we were never treated sub-par by anyone. We were praised at every single step of the way if we did good work, just like the men. Our safety was fully taken care of. I try hard to recall but I can’t remember a single instance of gender discrimination or sexism at my workplace.

This doesn’t mean that I am decrying or negating the experiences of other women who might have gone through it, for example Gunjan Saxena. I find her story valid, but I find my own story just as valid too. I think stories of discrimination, sexism etc should never be clubbed together. Each woman’s story in each sector is valid. Corporate settings can be grounds for as much discrimination as the forces.

After hanging up my uniform I started working in corporate settings and my experience has been good here as well.

In Air Force, there were times when fighter pilots told me that they found my voice soothing and it helped them keep their calm even more during highly-tense situations. My husband, who is currently serving as a test pilot in the Air Force would attest to that. Women are definitely an added welcome to the forces. The high point of my career was when I handled the movement of the fighter planes during Operation Parakram (2001-2002). I am so proud of having served my nation all these years without fail.

I got married while I was in the Air Force and had my children too while on duty. But I kept working till my due date both the times and no one had to cover my shift during mornings or late nights. The only change I wish is they had better infrastructure. I had to climb seven-eight flights of stairs during my pregnancy to get to my office. It would have been nice to have a lift.

As more and more women are being inducted into combat roles (the number of women officers has increased three-fold in the last 6 years), I feel very happy. A lot of my relatives and friends’ kids have joined the services and many more are planning to do so. With youngsters like Mawya Sudan from Jammu & Kashmir leading the way, we can be sure that the skies are truly opening up.

As Told To Yog Maya Singh

#PulwamaRevenge – ‘Much To Answer’

WhatsApp was the medium through which I received the news of the Pulwama terror attack that martyred more than 40 of our CRPF jawans. Thank God for small mercies! I don’t think I would have been able to bear the visuals had I seen the news suddenly come up on TV. It was a ghastly sight and left a deep scar, much like the 2008 Mumbai attacks. The attack has brought up many baffling, unanswered questions.

The most important being why were 2,500 CRPF men travelling together? Weren’t they sitting ducks in a conflict zone like Kashmir? This has to be an inside job and the government must figure out how the intelligence failure occurred.

I must say I was happy about the surgical strike at the Jaish e Mohammed camps at Balakot, but not the war cry on TV news channels and social media platform thereafter. War is not the solution. The hot-headed ones in our country forget that our war is not against Pakistan, but that our war is against the scourge of terrorism. Similarly, the war cheerleaders in Pakistan also need to understand that terror has somehow become synonymous with Pakistan as far as it world image is concerned. Why make it worse by rattling sabers?

People who are busy warmongering seemed to have signed a death warrant of sorts. Wasn’t Wg Cdr Abhinandan’s bloodied face enough to show what a war really meant? Captain Nachiketa, Captain Saurabh Kalia and Fighter Pilot Ajay Ahuja’s stories too haven’t been forgotten.

Having said that, I quite like the BJP’s decisiveness and prompt and timely action in this matter. And no, I don’t think important issues are being sidelined in the name of fighting terrorism. Agar zinda hi nahi rahenge, to baki issues ka kya karenge? — We need to be alive in the first place to talk about other issues.

There might be lack of quality jobs, but that doesn’t mean that there are no jobs. At least the middle-class has quite a few options and people need to take their local leaders to task also for job creation. These local leaders then need to meet with their senior leaders to find solutions for real issues. The government does need to take care of the lower-income group though. The government is endowed with a Cabinet so that all sections/segments of society can function smoothly. And the Cabinet should be put to proper use. I voted for Narendra Modi in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections. But this time around, I think I have matured and have developed a deeper understanding of issues. I am going to keep a sharp eye on the government and see whether it delivers on all fronts, only then will I decide whether to vote for BJP or not. The individual candidate representing the area I live in, his work/credentials, would also determine which way my vote goes.


We Strike, Don't Count Casualties: Air Chief

Amid questions over the Balakot air strike, Indian Air Force (IAF) chief Air Chief Marshal B S Dhanoa on Monday said the fighter planes had hit the target given to them but he cannot give the number of casualties suffered as it is for the government to do so.

“IAF is not in a position to clarify the number of casualties. The government will clarify that. We don’t count human casualties, we count what targets we have hit or not. We hit our target,” he told reporters in New Delhi.

The Air Chief Marshal was responding when asked whether he could give the number of casualties suffered in the February 26 air raids by the IAF on a Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM) camp in Balakot.

“The air force doesn’t calculate the casualty numbers, the government does that… We can’t count how many people died. It depends on how many people were there. That is why the Army is there,” Dhanoa said.

He went on to add, “The target has been clearly amplified by the Foreign Secretary (Vijay Gokhale) in his statement. If we plan to hit the target, we hit the target. Otherwise, why would he (Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan) have responded? If we dropped bombs in the jungles, why would he respond?”

The comments assume significance as there have been questions over the exact number of casualties suffered in the air strike.

India carried out the air strike 12 days after the Jaish terror attack in Pulwama in which 40 CRPF personnel lost their lives. JeM had claimed the responsibility of the attack.

Hours after the air raid, the Foreign Secretary had told the media that the IAF fighters hit the largest militant camp of JeM in Balakot in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province of Pakistan and “a large number of JeM terrorists, trainers, senior commanders were eliminated” in it.



#PulwamaRevenge – ‘Son’s Death Avenged’

bhandara’ (a community feast) if he clears it. This time too, before going to Kashmir, he had said he would organise another bhandara on his next visit home. No one was expecting a funeral. Amit nurtured the dream of joining the paramilitary forces since he was 18. He gave numerous exams and failed at them miserably. But he never gave up. My wife and I were frustrated. My wife wanted him to take up a different vocation. Each of his brothers had chosen a different vocation — electrician, photographer, accountant, teacher. Amit had four good options but he chose the uniform services above all. He was a brave soul fascinated with military discipline. His mother died before she could see his son smartly dressed in his uniform. I cannot imagine how she would have reacted to the news of her son’s martyrdom. No parent should be subjected to this grief. But despite the deep vacuum Amit left in the family, I have no qualms in admitting that I am proud of my son and I will not hesitate to send my other four sons on the line of duty if it necessitates. Amit had reported to work, a week before the fatal incident. Just a day before the attack, I spoke to him and he had assured that he will be back soon. He was 29 and we were on the verge of finalising his marriage. I am thankful to the government for the help that has been extended to us. Last morning when I heard about the Air Force attack on Jaish camps deep inside Pakistan, I felt like crying. We feel my son’s martyrdom had shaken the government out of slumber. I can sleep as a man in peace. Amit’s supreme sacrifice has inspired several youngsters from our village and other neighboring areas.  People here are demanding that a recruitment camp should be organised in the village, and we promise that we will produce the best of jawans for the service of our country. I am old, but I too am ready to go to the border and sacrifice my life for my nation. My son’s dream has taught so many others to dare to dream and fight for the nation.]]>