Kerala-based retired Flight Lieutenant Sreevidya Rajan on Monday said former Indian Air Force pilot Gunjan Saxena was neither the first woman to be posted to the Udhampur helicopter base nor the first woman to fly during the Kargil battle of 1999. Rajan, who was posted with Saxena, criticised the filmmakers of the biopic Gunjan Saxena: The Kargil Girl, released last week on Netflix.
“Both of us were posted to Udhampur in 1996 but in the movie, it was shown that she was the only lady pilot posted at the unit,” Rajan wrote in a Facebook post. “Since the two of us were the first lady pilots to be posted to that helicopter unit, we were skeptical about our acceptance in the male-dominated niche area of flying.”
Rajan added that she flew missions in the area even before Saxena’s arrival at Srinagar. “In the movie, Gunjan Saxena was shown as the only lady pilot to fly in Kargil operations,” she said. “This is factually incorrect. We were posted together to Udhampur and when the Kargil conflict started, I was the first woman pilot to be sent along with the male counterparts in the first detachment of our unit which deployed at Srinagar.”
Rajan said both of them received support from the majority of the officers at the base and that she believes the filmmakers have “twisted the facts” provided by Saxena for publicity. However, she also admitted that they were received with preconceived notions and prejudices from some colleagues.
“However, there were enough officers to support us,” Rajan’s post said. “We were under strict scrutiny and certain mistakes of ours were met with corrective actions which may have been overlooked had it been done by our male counterparts. We had to work harder than our counterparts to prove ourselves to be at par with them. Some were not happy to share the professional space with us, but the majority accepted and treated us as fellow officers working towards a common goal.”
The retired officer stated that women pilots never faced any humiliating demonstrations of physical strength, as portrayed in the biopic, nor were they ill-treated or humiliated by male colleagues. “Our flying began within a few days of our arrival and was never interrupted or cancelled for petty reasons as wrongly portrayed in the movie,” Rajan said. “The squadron commander was a thorough professional. He was a very strict and tough officer who took us to task whenever there was a mistake from our side, be it male or female.”
She said that there were no separate toilet facilities or changing spaces for women at the Indian Air Force unit, but after initial problems the male officers were accommodating and helpful.
“I only wish that since it is a biopic, Gunjan should have made sure to show the facts and portray IAF in a positive light before giving her approval to air the movie,” the officer added. “Though I was the first lady pilot to fly in Kargil, I never claimed it in any forum before this due to my strong belief in gender equality. In Kargil operations, male pilots had flown extensively and faced more hardships than us. But they never got or sought any publicity. We probably were given this fame because of our gender which I do not support. In defence services, there is no disparity between male or female. We are all officers in uniform.”
The movie has created a controversy for taking creative liberties and for showing the Indian Air Force as being hostile to women officers. The producers have not yet responded to the criticism.
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