Today, on July 26 India is celebrating the 20th anniversary of Operation Vijay or Kargil Vijay Diwas as it is now known. It is a glorious day in the history of India because it marked the end of war between the two nuclear power neighbours. It was known as the Kargil War 1999 and Vijay Diwas is celebrated in India to commemorate the sacrifices of the brave soldiers who fought for the integrity of the nation. The Army celebrates it with the theme of ‘Remember, Rejoice and Renew.’

Amongst the roaring victory of India in the Kargil War, the IAF had added another feather to their cap in the name of (then) Flight Officer Gunjan Saxena. She made history as she flew into a combat zone during the War, a feat which had not been allowed for or achieved by a lady officer in the IAF.

Among the several soldiers who sacrificed their lives for the nation, Gunjan Saxena was the only woman officer remembered for her valour in the Kargil War.

Gunjan Saxena- the only women officer to play crucial role in the Kargil War 1999

The Kargil War took a toll on the Indian Forces and their resources. The IAF too, was banking on each and every pilot they had. War times imply desperate times, which in turn need desperate measures. So while female pilots had not yet been employed in a war zone, the situation demanded for a change in the situation. Hence, the women pilots were called in for duties involving tasks of medical evacuation, dropping of supplies, and reconnaissance. Now came the time for her to fly, quite literally. She was entrusted with crucial duties in the combat zone.

In about ten sorties over the next week after training and enlisting of duties, Flight Officer Gunjan Saxena flew her chopper to air- drop vital supplies to Indian troops at high points in the Dras and Batalik sectors. In these journeys, she also picked up the wounded/dead bodies from steep and unruly mountain ranges. She meticulously informed her seniors of the enemy positions and status which added to better strategies and ultimately contributed to the overall victory of the force’s operations.

Matter of life and death

In a terrifying incident during one of her sorties, the Pakistani Army fired a rocket at Gunjan’s helicopter which was ready for take- off at the Kargil air- strip. The chopper just barely managed to escape the attack as the missile missed it and crashed into a hill behind it in a deafening explosion.

For her bravery on the battlefield, she was bestowed with the Shaurya Chakra — an Indian military decoration awarded for valour and sacrifice while not directly engaging with the enemy.

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Took the opportunity when it came

Gunjan Saxena grabbed the golden opportunity of joining the first-ever batch of female IAF trainee pilots, while pursuing her graduation from Hans Raj College, University of Delhi. Though the formal initiation of women into IAF battalion stared in 2016, Gunjan Saxena along with Srividya Ranjan made history by taking part in the battlefield which was a male domain till then.

“I think inducting women in the fighter stream is a very, very big and a positive step on part of the Air Force. Being a pioneer…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.”

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In an interview to the Outlook India 2016, Gunjan Saxena said, “I think inducting women in the fighter stream is a very, very big and a positive step on part of the Air Force. Being a pioneer…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.”

Importance of Gunjan Saxena in today’s India

 Women like Gunjan Saxena, and her stories of bravery and freedom infuse confidence and pride in Indian women today. Unlike the other role models who were usually men, women can have female role models too. Gunjan Saxena’s story of valour not only shows us that women are equally capable as men in serving the nation, but she also instills hope in women aspirants who look forward to join the uniformed services.

Gunjan now

Her tenure with the IAF was a short one which ended a few years after the Kargil War. This was because the concept of permanent commission was not valid back then. She is a proud and happy mom and homemaker now.

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Rudrani Kumari, an intern at SheThePeople.TV

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