Bhavna does not have a military background. Her father is a Chemical Engineer and mother a home maker. She considers her parents to be her support system, saying, “My parents have been my biggest strength. Whatever I am, it is because of them. My mother has been a constant motivating factor and is a rock solid support. My father gave me the freedom to choose my way and has always been right next to me, whenever I needed him. I never got ‘No’ for an answer from my parents for anything. Ever since I was a child, I wanted to be in uniform and they always encouraged me. While at college, I was an NCC cadet, just like my parents. When IAF opened its doors for women in 1992, I did not have to tell my parents. They knew I would go for it. They have always encouraged me to go ahead in all my ventures-be it mountaineering, sky diving, organizing expeditions, treks or be the team administrator and commentator for Suryakiran aerobatic team and now the Sarang helicopter display team.”
Her Childhood: Speaking about her childhood, she gets nostalgic. She says that she and her 2 younger sisters were brought up on the stories of Kiran Bedi, the super cop. “She was my mother’s class mate in the SR Government College for women, Amritsar. My mother used to narrate her friend’s acts of courage and tell us about her life. Incidentally, I also graduated from the same college and feel very proud of it. The other person who inspired us is my grandmother. She and my grandfather have fought for our freedom from the Britishers. We lost our grandfather when my mother was just one year old. My grandmother used to tell us the stories of all the sacrifices that were made for us to be able to claim this country as ours. While other kids read comics, she got us books narrating the courageous acts of children and how they contributed their bit in fighting for their self respect and for the freedom of our country. My mother always says that we must aim to give a meaning, a purpose to our life and my quest is on.” (Smiles)
Prospects for Women: She then goes on to explain about the prospects for women in the Air force, “For women, IAF is the place to be. Here you can give wings to your imagination and the organization supports you. There is a lot of respect and security. It instills a lot of confidence in you as you train at par with our male counterparts. You are entrusted with equal responsibilities. The organization gives ample opportunity to you to develop yourself not only professionally but also in the field of sports, adventure and gives you enough freedom to be creative.”
Regarding the eligibility criteria to join the Air Force, she suggests we refer to the IAF website, http://www.careerairforce.nic.in, since every branch requires a different qualification.
Alertness during war: Most countries do not follow war ethics. During war-time, it could be difficult for the soldiers to keep themselves alert and awake, even in the night-time. Bhavna explains, “Thankfully there has not been any full-fledged war since I joined the Air Force. Yes, we had Kargil and Operation Safed Sagar, where I got a glimpse of war. During peace time also, we regularly train for war. Thanks to our training, we are always ready to face any emergency. Thanks to this training and practice, at the time of need, the action required to counter the emergency comes swiftly and naturally. When you know you have a responsibility, you automatically know how you are going to take care of it. No extra effort is required.”
Work-Life Balance: Given the kind of work she is doing, it would be difficult to balance her professional and personal lives. About that she says, “A woman carries a lot of responsibility with her naturally. It is difficult to strike a balance between work and family, especially in our kind of profession since you are invariably far away from your home and parents are not always able to travel so far to be with you. But as they teach us in Academy, it’s basically mind-set. They teach us to be mentally tough and that is our strength. That strength makes us sail through. We quickly learn to adjust and adapt. Needless to say the husbands also play a vital role in the life of a female officer. It’s better if he is from services since he understands pressures of her day to day life better.”
Status of Women in Society: According to Bhavna, men and women are very different from each other and she admits that she can never be equal to a man. She adds, “In the same way a man can never be equal to me. It is incorrect to say that women are equivalent to men. That way, we ourselves are agreeing that men are superior. We are different and so are the men. We must realize the difference, respect their capabilities and be confident of ours. Women have to prove themselves everywhere, be it a housewife or a career woman, not only in Indian society but in almost all patriarchal societies of the world. In every walk of her life she has to prove herself and that is unfair. But at the same time, I firmly believe that God has endowed us women with a lot of inner strength. We must consolidate it and have faith in ourselves. We must be proud of ourselves for we add to the charm, colour and beauty of this world. There is no limit to our creativity, our energy and our strength. Once we make up our mind, we are capable of doing anything and everything possible. The world will be so empty without us and I am proud to be a woman. We are an integral part of society and it depends on us as to what status we would like to give ourselves. Society is us. We and only we have the right to decide our status. Let’s just exercise this right.”
This piece was first published in Eve’s Times magazine. Reproduced here with the permission of Swati Amar, the editor of the magazine.