At a time when all eyes were on Avani Chaturvedi, Mohana Singh and Bhawana Kanth as they were commissioned into the Indian Air Force as the country’s first women fighter pilots, Sneha Kathayat and three other young officers like her had already stormed a male bastion in India’s defence forces. They had been trained to pilot Air Cushion Vehicles (ACVs) or hovercrafts that are used by the Indian Coast Guard in combat roles off the coasts of Gujarat and Bengal.
Assistant Commandant Kathayat had dreamt big when she joined the ICG on July 3, 2011. She was not one to be satisfied with an administrative job on shore and when the opportunity arose she jumped to it.
Now, as the first woman hovercraft pilot in the country, she is posted at Haldia and regularly patrols India’s maritime boundary with Bangladesh and areas close to the Sunderbans, searching for smugglers, poachers and other anti-national elements.
What Kathayat and the three others have done goes beyond personal achievements. They have paved the way for a more active role for women in the ICG. She thanks the force for giving her the opportunity to do what she had always dreamt of. “It is a big responsibility to be in charge of a hovercraft that is geared for combat. I love this job and thank the ICG for giving me this opportunity,” Kathayat said.
According to K R Nautiyal, commander and IG, ICG (region northeast), women in the force are performing all tasks assigned to men. These include operations, shore-based jobs and logistics. Nearly 8% of officers in the ICG are women and there are 21 under his command.
“The force is proud of the woman officers. On many occasions, they have surpa-ssed the men. Our woman officers have also participated in missions abroad. We were the first to have an all-woman crew land a helicopter on a ship. We were also the first to operate an all-woman Dornier crew. A decision was taken last year to remove restrictions on women in combat roles. We are trying them out as ACVpilots initially. Very soon, they will be serving on ships deployed at sea for longer periods,” Nautiyal said.