Gunjan Saxena got it wrong, say women officers of IAF

The Asian Age.  | Priyanka Chandani

Entertainment, Bollywood

The film's gender-discrimination narrative leaves the Indian Air Force fuming

Janhvi Kapoor as Gunjan Saxena

The Indian Air Force (IAF) is not happy with the way it has been portrayed in the film Gunjan Saxena: The Kargil Girl. It's a story about Flt Lt. Gunjan Saxena, who became the first female Indian Air Force (IAF) officer to fly a plane in a combat zone during the 1999 Kargil war.

The film attempts to show the odds the protagonist of the film faces in becoming a pilot, but also during the war scenes in the film. For starters, the film shows men in the defence forces as useless and mean.

This has not gone down well with the IAF. While the filmmakers have used their creative license to glorify the central character, the IAF’s spokesperson didn't mince words in stating that this was not true to the IAF.

“Our main concern is the incorrect portrayal of gender bias in the IAF. It is a well-known fact that the Indian Air Force has the largest number of women officers serving actively. The IAF was the first to open all its branches to women officers, including combat roles in 2015.This wouldn’t have been possible without an unbiased policy. Everything in the defence forces is done on merit alone,” said the spokesperson.

The IAF has sent a note stating their disappointment to producers Dharma Productions, the Central Board of Film Certification (CBFC) and Netflix. “Dharma Productions sent us the final copy for our perusal and we had some concerns, which were communicated. We requested  minor alterations but they haven’t been done. So we wrote a formal letter,” the spokesperson said.

Uniform everything, not gender

Women in the Indian defence services deny there is any bias against them. According to Padmavathy Bandopadhyay, who was the first woman officer to become Air Marshal of the IAF, "There is nothing like man and woman (in the IAF). When we wear the uniform, we all are officers. You have to prove yourself and then nobody questions one’s capabilities. It is the same with everyone. And just like every other officer, women officers too have to prove themselves to achieve their positions in the force.”

Flying Officer Aman Nidhi, who became the first woman IAF pilot to fly the Mi-17 combat helicopter along with Flt Lt. Parul Bharadwaj and Flt Lt. Hina Jaiswal, also states that the defence forces are above reservation on the basis of gender.

“We have proved to the nation that there is nothing that women can’t do. The training does not discriminate between men and women in forces and my contribution will be equal to my male counterparts’, nothing less,” clarifies Nidhi. “Here, we don’t have a reservation system, only merit works.”

Similarly, Sub-Lieutenant Shivangi, who became the first woman pilot in the Indian Navy to steer a fixed-wing Dornier maritime reconnaissance aircraft, also points out the absurdity of gender discrimination in the forces.

“If there is a challenge, it is the same for everyone,” says the young woman officer. “I know there is nothing that women can’t do. My challenges are the same, as any man would face.”

Giving flight to wrong ideas

Officers in the forces claim that stereotypes such as masculinity and sexism have no role to play in the forces. While reiterating that every officer has to prove his/her mettle to fit into a given position, an Indian Army lieutenant Rashmi Shastri (name changed on request) says,

“It’s a wrong impression that people have about the defence forces. Women have been in the forces for long now, and they are just as good or bad as any other male officer.”

Flt Lt. Hina Jaiswal also tells us how even the background, in addition to gender, doesn’t matter when it comes to serving the nation or going on a mission.

“We all get trained to fight together and we see each other suffer, struggle and learn from it. This is a basic requirement of being in and doing well in the forces, and it doesn’t matter where we come from and what our backgrounds and gender are,” she stresses.

With all the heated debate around Sushant Singh Rajput’s death, Gunjan Saxena, which stars Janhvi Kapoor, was already trolled for promoting nepotism. However, the film’s portrayal of sexism in the IAF seems to have only worked as a final nail in its coffin.