‘One injury can threaten career’: Meet the women paratroopers of IAF

The six women paratroopers kicked off the air display on Saturday at Aero India with a sky diving.
‘One injury can threaten career’: Meet the women paratroopers of IAF
‘One injury can threaten career’: Meet the women paratroopers of IAF
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It was not just the seminar on Women in Aviation that celebrated women in the Defence sector at the Aero India show in Bengaluru. The team of six women paratroopers of Indian Air Force, who kicked off the air display on Saturday with sky diving, was a true inspiration to many women.

Known as The Air Devil Team, it comprises Wing Commander Asha Jyotirmayi, Wing Commander Sangita Paulraj, Squadron Leader Seema Sheoran, Flight Lieutenant Remya and Flying Officer Tuhina Gaur. Pushing boundaries, facing apprehensions and took taking life-threatening risks is an everyday affair for these women paratroopers.  

Flying Officer Tuhina Gaur was 22 years old when she decided to join the Indian Air Force. An engineering graduate and a former employee of Accenture, Tuhina's life changed soon after her father's demise.

"My father was an accounts officer in the Indian Air Force and he wanted me to join the forces but I had decided to do engineering. I completed my Bachelors in Technology and worked for eight months in Accenture until he passed away in 2016. It was my father's dream that I join the Indian Air Force and I wanted to achieve it for him. I applied and I got in," Tuhina told TNM.

Toughing it out for the last few years, Tuhina has come a long way and is now one among the six-member team of women paratroopers. "Initially, I was learning flying and when an opportunity came, I decided to take it. There were a lot of concerns about whether I could do it. They warned me that I would never be able to fly if I injured myself. But I told them that this is what I want to do and I went for it," Tuhina says.

Just like Tuhina, Wing Commander Sangita Paulraj, a Bengalurean, a member of the team, is a former psychologist who worked for a multinational company until she decided to join the forces, upon her father's suggestion. With 10 years in the IAF, Sangita says that she wants to inspire more women to join the forces. A

"When I was working as a psychologist, I thought that the government sector was not for me. My father changed my mind; and so I applied and got selected. It has been 10 years since I joined the IAF and am proud of my achievement and also a proud Bengalurean. There are a lot of hardships but it is definitely the space where women can thrive," Sangita says.

'Every jump is a first jump'

"The first jump was the scariest. Although we were trained to jump, and taught the position in which we had to land,” Tuhina says.

“That first moment, when I jumped, the moment when I was in the sky, just before I opened my parachute - that was the scariest for me. But it was also the most thrilling moment. That feeling is inexplicable and I loved it," she adds.

Tuhina says that the first lesson paratroopers are taught is - every jump is your first jump, as every time, the paratrooper faces the same amount of risks, no matter the experience. "There is a particular way to land and if you do not land in that position, then you may break your ankle. If you injure yourself, then your flying position will come down. We need to be in the A1 G1 category to be a part of the paratroopers. This means our medical certificate must say that we are physically well developed, have normal hearing and binocular visual acuity, and are capable of enduring severe physical and mental stress for prolonged periods and for service flying in any part of the world. If we don't have this, our chances are low. Hence, injuring yourself is the worst punishment," Tuhina says.

Wing Commander Sangita believes that the risk factors are a part and parcel of her job. "For me, personally, it never seemed difficult. I always took all the challenges in stride and have an excellent mentor - Wing Commander Asha Jyotirmayi. She had over 20 years of experience and is an inspiration. It is not only the thrill and the adrenaline rush but the fact that I can break barriers that drives me forward," Sangita added.

The challenges for women in armed forces

"Will you be able to do it? Will you be able to tough it out like the others? These were some of the frequent questions asked us, although it is the reality for women in all sectors. It should not deter any woman to achieve what she wants though," says Wing Commander Asha Jyotirmayi, the leader of the six-member team of women paratroopers.

As one of the oldest women serving in the IAF, Wing Commander Asha does not deny that her job is tough. "I don't have a problem with my job being challenging or difficult. Women are expected to take care of family, give time to friends and also do their job with as much dedication as any other. Yes, it is tough, but I have been doing it for 20 years. My friends and family have supported me. One must walk the talk, and that is important," she adds.

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