Recently, in the week that Avani Chaturvedi became India’s first woman pilot to fly a fighter jet, the virtual world went viral over a clip from a Jamuna Nagar slum in Delhi. It showed a lone Haryanvi woman, in green Salwar-Kameez, roaring and rushing in like a lioness, saving her unconscious husband from five armed goons. The 19 seconds mobile phone capture showed the braveheart with only a lathi in her hands. But she used it with such force that the attackers just turned their tails and vamoosed.
After that Dangal-Baaz display who would still dare to brand women as the weaker sex? Those who answer in the affirmative had better be warned: Nirmala Sitharaman, India’s first Woman Defence Minister, will use both logic and logistics to sort you folks out! And her arguments have impeccable pedigree: read, for instance, what the Roman historian Marcellinus had to say about meeting Celtic women on the battlefield: “A whole troop of foreigners would not be able to withstand a single Celt in a fight if he called his wife for assistance.”
One look at the woman warrior was enough to make her enemies cower: “Stronger than her man by far, and with flashing eyes, least of all when she swells her neck, gnashes her teeth and poising her huge white arms, begins to rain blows mingled with kicks, like shots discharged by twisted cords of a catapult.”
Now, with apologies to Captain Kirk of Star Trek fame, 24 years young Avani may indeed have flown in her MiG-21 Bison Fighter “where no Indian (wo)man has dared before”.
From a global perspective, however, she is not the first; nor will she be the last: Avani Chaturvedi’s feat has only brought India on par with countries such as Britain, the United States, Israel, and Pakistan where women fly fighter jets. Olga Yamshchikova became the first Soviet fighter pilot who destroyed enemy aircraft (flown by men) in World War II; which also saw action in the German skies from the feared Night Witches squadron.
But what makes Avani’s example more appealing perhaps is that she was inspired by her brother, who is also an officer in the Indian Army. As the IAF spokesperson emphasised, Avani’s success demonstrates the Indian Air Force’s enduring commitment to “Nari Shakti”. This is a concept which has the unconquerable Goddess Durga Herself as Patroness-in-Chief of
warfare in the Indian
So strong is this martial branding of the feminine that all our macho male power paragons bow down to the Mother before fighting: Arjuna grovels before Durga-Kalika before starting the Mother of All Battles as does King Yudhishtira. Even Rama has to propitiate Durga while Ravana and Meghanad run to Mahamaya and Nikumbhalila before the last battle.
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