#Leadership

“Women Officers Would Be A Great Asset To The Army,” Sumann Sharma

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A former instructor with the Indian Military Academy, Sumann Sharma hails from a defence services background, with her late father being a retired naval officer and her elder brother still a serving Army Colonel. She grew up in military installations and spent her childhood in defence cantonment areas. Needless to say, she was always fascinated by the military way of life and defence equipment hardware, especially fighter planes always caught her attention.

The first woman ever to do a Sukhoi and MiG-35 sorties before the President of India, Sharma was also twice qualified by the Services Selection Board to be an officer in the Indian Army. She has even cleared the Navy Mission Services Selection Board (SSB) for National Geographic Channel. Does she think there is still a glass ceiling in the army to a certain extent for women? If so, how can we begin to combat it and push back?

“I have been an instructor in the Indian Military Academy, and that time, as is still the case, women were never considered for combat roles, which is why they still do not train in the Indian Military Academy (Dehradun) and the National Defence Academy (Pune)”

She says, “In the Indian Army, yes, because, while in the IAF doors have been opened for women to fly combat aircraft, in the Indian Army, there are still reservations about women combatants. I have been an instructor in the Indian Military Academy, and that time, as is still the case, women were never considered for combat roles, which is why they still do not train in the Indian Military Academy (Dehradun) and the National Defence Academy (Pune). They just go to the Officers Training Academy in Chennai and get commissioned into non-combat arms. They have been given permanent commission, in certain arms, but no combat role.

I think, the way to come to terms with this and make changes is first to change mindsets, because military, in general, is a male-dominated profession, and Army, in particular, is a physically-driven service, unlike the Navy and the IAF, so mindsets have to be changed right from the bottom of the ladder, and then going by other sister services like the IAF, the Army should also open its doors for women combatants, maybe by experimenting like giving certain roles to women for a certain period  of time, and then see if it works.”

During her days at the Indian Military Academy, as a junior employee, she was often given official duties by other senior officers, which were meant for them. Not that she complained, but she took it as a learning experience. She then went on to leading cadets in the Hexagonal tournaments, then for English debates in the LBS Indian Administrative Academy Mussoorie. Later, after joining defence journalism, several accolades like the GR8 Women Achievers Award-2010, Council for Media and Satellite Broadcasting (CMSB) 2013 and ‘Journalist Of The Year Award-2013’, Bangalore, followed. She has also been nominated for the International Aerospace Media Awards, Paris, for five years in a row now.

 And on the aviation front, she was the first Indian woman to co-pilot the American F-16, the Russian MiG-35 fighter in Bangalore at Aero India-2009 and Sukhoi-30MKI fighter in Moscow in 2009. Also, the first Indian woman to co-pilot an operational Eurofighter Typhoon of the Spanish Airforce recently, in Sevilla Santa-Justa, Spain, 2017.

“As a defence journalist, I have been writing, analysing and covering defence, security, aerospace, and aviation-related events and stories since 2005, I travel nationally and internally for my work, cover national and international airshows. I  also exclusively interviewed former President APJ Abdul Kalam, onboard the ship, during the President’s Fleet Review in 2006,” says Sharma.  She has also reported on the likes of the VVIP helicopter scam, former Army Chief VK Singh’s age controversy, 197 helicopters for Indian Army controversy and China’s war plans for India.

Having been into sports and fitness since her childhood, Sharma also like practising Yoga and Kathak alongside reading books related to defence and security, travelling, watching movies and practicing spirituality.

“I think women officers would be a great asset to the Army, considering the fact that they are very hardworking.”

She feels that the Indian Army is a great organisation and young women should be motivated to join it for exposure – “I think women officers would be a great asset to the Army, considering the fact that they are very hardworking. The Indian Army should consider opening doors for women in combat roles as well, as I am sure women will do well there also like they have done in other branches and departments.”

Five years down the line, Sharma sees herself writing books on subjects she’s passionate about, doing some more fighter flights, and even perhaps apply for going to space. She says, “I would also like to spread awareness among uneducated women about girl child education and basic rights of women, and help them achieve their dreams.”