GUNJAN SAXENA, The problem isn’t my weakness, it’s your fear. You’re scared that if this ‘Madam’ becomes a ‘Sir’, then we’ll have to salute her.”
This dialogue from the Netflix biographical film Gunjan Saxena: The Kargil Girl brings out the rooted sexism in Indian society and bashes the concept of masculine superiority. However, was this the actual case?
This story was supposed to chronicle the life and struggles of former flight Lieutenant Gunjan Saxena who went on the smash patriarchy and become the first female combat pilot of the Indian Air Force. However, the movie ended up being a version of Gunjan’s life that was excessively dramatized. This inspiring real-life story raised a lot of questions about sexism in the Air Force and brought out the different treatment meted out to male and female officers. It showed how Gunjan didn’t just have to struggle to survive in a profession and institute dominated by men but also was shamed for her sensitivity and emotions.
The question that arose post the release of this film is- was the sexism really that bad? Let’s hear what the former IAF Pilot Gunjan had to say about this-
“I think I was always lucky to have people around me who supported me and who rooted for me. Be it my family or the Indian Air Force at both places, I got support to pursue my dream and it’s a privilege. If you are the first one to be doing something, along with the privilege comes a whole lot of responsibility.”
As opposed to the film, Gunjan Saxena and her contemporary Sreevidya Rajan came at Udhampur together and they were batch-mates in the fourth batch of female officers who were inducted into the IAF from the year 1992. She mentioned that just like the film, washrooms and changing rooms for women weren’t available when they arrived. She said that a makeshift changing room was built for them with walls on two sides and two almirahs placed in L-shape and a small opening to serve as the gate. To ensure the privacy, Gunjan and her female mates took turns in standing at the door to guard the gap as the others changed inside.
She also shared that there were apprehensions regarding the acceptance of women as pilots in the branch of flying. The female officers had to prove their potential first and this is because flying as a profession was absolutely unforgiving and no one can actually claim for equal opportunities without proving their mettle. “I am not the only one who had to do it,” said Gunjan and added, “Even male officers had to do it. So yes, a little bit of apprehension, little bit of teething troubles, yes they were there, no one can deny it.
But at the same time, it is the same organization that gave me these opportunities to prove my potential.” In this respect, we cannot leave behind IAF Officer Wing Commander Anupama Joshi who questioned gender discrimination in the armed forces and paved the way for females by getting a permanent commission for women.