“The machine will not know whether a man is flying it or a woman is flying it.” This is what Gunjan Saxena, the first Indian Air Force woman pilot who served in the 1999 Kargil conflict, and who had a biopic made on her for breaking the glass ceiling, has to say about flying an aircraft.
Her biopic Gunjan Saxena: The Kargil Girl, which premiered on Netflix Wednesday, has received warm reviews, with everyone from the film’s cast — including Janhvi Kapoor, Pankaj Tripathi, and Angad Bedi — and the viewers lauding the bravery of a woman who realises her dream to fly, inspiring many others to aspire for the same.
So, who is Gunjan Saxena?
Flight lieutenant Gunjan Saxena was the first Indian Air Force woman officer who went to war. She made history during the Kargil war in 1999 when, as a flying officer, she flew a Cheetah aircraft into the combat zone and rescued several soldiers.
Born in Lucknow in 1975, Gunjan arrived in Delhi to study Physics from Hansraj College. After pursuing her graduation, Gunjan joined the Delhi Flying Club at Safdarjung for aviation training and in 1994, joined the Indian Air Force along with 24 other women–the first batch of women for training in the IAF.
The daughter of an Army officer, Gunjan was summoned by the IAF when the conflict between India and Pakistan escalated in 1999. Her first posting was in Udhampur, as part of the 132 Forward Area Control (FAC). Then only 25, Gunjan was asked to fly in Srinagar and she agreed, before making history as the only woman pilot in combat.
In her book ‘Kargil: Untold Stories from the War’, author Rachna Bisht Rawat describes how Gunjan flew over the battleground, covering the Kargil–Tololing–Batalik area, often flying over “mountainous terrain where Indian and Pakistani soldiers are firing at each other” to ferry wounded soldiers.
A woman in control of a fighter jet did ruffle some feathers but it wasn’t long before her presence was welcome and male pilots treated with her with respect and bonhomie, the book says.
During Kargil, the IAF pilot had a close shave when an enemy missile missed her aircraft and crashed behind it. She, however, continued with her duties.
On her life story making it to the silver screen, Gunjan said she did not understand why someone wanted to shoot a biopic on her life. “I wasn’t really convinced as to why someone would want to do a movie on my life. You have lived your life so you don’t find it exciting. It’s exciting only when someone else looks at it,” she said.
🚫An earlier version said Gunjan Saxena was awarded the Shaurya Chakra. This is wrong and the line has been removed. 🚫
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