Gunjan Saxena

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Gunjan Saxena
Native name
Gunjan
Born1975 (age 45–46)[1]
Allegiance India
Service/branch Indian Air Force
Years of service1996–2004
RankBritish RAF OF-2.svg Flight Lieutenant
Battles/warsKargil War

Flight Lieutenant Gunjan Saxena (born 1975)[1] is an Indian Air Force (IAF) officer and former helicopter pilot. She joined the IAF in 1994 and is a 1999 Kargil War veteran.[2][3][4] She is the only woman to be part of the Kargil War,[4][5] making her the first woman IAF officer to go to war (also listed as "first woman to fly in a combat zone").[6][7] She is the first of two women along with Flight Lieutenant Srividya Rajan from the IAF to enter a war zone flying Cheetah helicopters.[4][5] One of her main roles during the Kargil War was to evacuate the wounded from Kargil, transport supplies and assist in surveillance.[2] She would go on to be part of operations to evacuate over 900 troops, both injured and deceased, from Kargil. In 2004, after serving as a pilot for eight years, her career as a helicopter pilot ended; permanent commissions for women were not available during her time.[4][7]

The 2020 Bollywood film Gunjan Saxena: The Kargil Girl is inspired by her life.[2]

Early life[edit]

Saxena was born into an Army family.[5] Her father, Lt Col Anup Kumar Saxena and brother Lt. Col. Anshuman both served in the Indian Army.[4] Saxena graduated with a Bachelor of Science degrees in Physics from Hansraj College, University of Delhi in New Delhi.

Indian Air Force service[edit]

Saxena was one of six women who joined the Indian Air Force (IAF) as pilots in 1996. This was the fourth batch of women air force trainees for the IAF.[4] Among the six female trainees was Flt. Lt. Srividya Rajan who would also go on to fly a Cheetah in a combat zone.[8][2] Saxena's first posting was in Udhampur, as part of the 132 Forward Area Control (FAC), where she had to face many gender-based challenges.[3][7] However, she recalls that the male pilots accepted the situation faster than she expected.[2]

Gunjan Saxena flew an HAL Cheetah

Flying Officer Saxena was 24 years old when she flew during the Kargil War and was stationed in Srinagar.[3][7] In the Kargil War, as part of Operation Vijay, apart from evacuating the wounded[a], she helped transport supplies to troops in the forward areas of Dras and Batalik. She also was assigned surveillance roles such as mapping enemy positions.[4] She had to deal with makeshift landing grounds, heights of 13,000 to 18,000 feet and enemy fire.[3] She was one of the ten pilots, and the only female pilot, based in Srinagar that flew hundreds of sorties during the war, evacuating over 900 casualties, wounded and killed[3][7] Saxena was the only woman in the Indian Armed Forces who flew into war zones in the Kargil War.[7] In 2004, her career as a helicopter pilot ended after serving for seven years.[4] Permanent commissions were not available during her time in service.[7]

Personal life[edit]

Saxena's father Anup Saxena was a Lieutenant Colonel in Indian Army. Saxena's husband is Wing Commander Gautam Narain is also an Indian Air Force pilot. He is the pilot of IAF Mi-17 Helicopter. He also served as an instructor at the National Defence Academy, which is the first tri-service academy in the world. The couple have one daughter Pragya, who was born in 2004.[4]

In popular culture[edit]

A chapter in the book Kargil Untold Stories From The War by Rachna Bisht Rawat focuses on Gunjan Saxena.[3]

The 2020 Bollywood film Gunjan Saxena: The Kargil Girl is inspired by her life.[2] Saxena is portrayed by Janhvi Kapoor while the film has been produced by Dharma Productions and Zee Studios. Saxena's's father and brother are played by Pankaj Tripathi and Angad Bedi respectively in other popular roles.[9]

Media inaccuracies[edit]

After the film Gunjan Saxena: The Kargil Girl released, there was a lot of confusion related to some facts about Saxena. In an article in NDTV she clarifies some of them:[10]

I was lucky and blessed to have so many firsts to my name in my years with the IAF. To list a few -- first in the order of merit during my basic training and also in helicopter training, the first woman to fly in a combat zone (mentioned in the Limca Book of Records), the first 'BG' (a coveted flying category) among women helicopter pilots and the first woman officer to undergo the jungle and snow survival course. There are other small achievements, but those are not of much significance to my story right now.

— Gunjan Saxena, NDTV

Neither I nor the filmmakers ever claimed I was a "Shaurya Chakra" awardee. After Kargil, I received the "Shaurya Veer" award from a civilian organisation in Uttar Pradesh. A certain section of the internet news possibly turned "Veer" into "Chakra". This has been clarified many times during my media interactions for the film's promotions.

— Gunjan Saxena, NDTV

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ Indian official figures for Indians killed in the Kargil War is 527.

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b "Watched 'Gunjan Saxena: The Kargil Girl'? Here's the story of the woman it is based on". Indian Express. Retrieved 20 August 2020.
  2. ^ a b c d e f Bhadani, Priyanka (26 July 2020). "Gunjan Saxena never thought in her wildest dreams she would inspire a film". The Week. Retrieved 1 August 2020.
  3. ^ a b c d e f Menon, Smitha (16 June 2020). "The story of Gunjan Saxena, one of India's first women in combat". Condé Nast Traveller India. Retrieved 1 August 2020.
  4. ^ a b c d e f g h i Javaid, Arfa (10 June 2020). "Gunjan Saxena Biography: Early Life, Education, Career, Awards and Unknown Facts". Jagranjosh.com. Retrieved 1 August 2020.
  5. ^ a b c Talwar, Shikha (9 June 2020). "This is the real story of Saxena, the Kargil girl who has inspired Janhvi Kapoor's next film". GQ India. Retrieved 1 August 2020.
  6. ^ "All you need to know about Gunjan Saxena, the first two woman IAF officer to go to war". The Indian Express. 29 August 2019. Retrieved 6 August 2020. Gunjan Saxena, the first woman IAF officer to go to war
  7. ^ a b c d e f g Rawat, Rachna Bisht (17 July 2019). "Meet Flying Officer Gunjan Saxena, India's only woman warrior in the Kargil war". Scroll.in. Retrieved 1 August 2020. She has attained the glory of being in the two woman involved in the Kargil War.
  8. ^ Rathod, Kalwyna (26 June 2020). "Gunjan Saxena and Srividya Rajan: Our First Female Warriors of Kargil". femina.in. Retrieved 1 August 2020.
  9. ^ "Angad Bedi joins the star cast of Gunjan Saxena's biopic, Kargil Girl". Bollywood Hungama. 25 February 2019. Retrieved 1 August 2020.
  10. ^ Saxena, Gunjan (17 August 2020). "Blog: "Won't Let Anyone Take Away My Achievements": Gunjan Saxena On Movie Row". NDTV. Retrieved 18 August 2020.