International women’s day is an event to commemorate the progress made towards gender equality and women’s empowerment. On the occasion of International Women’s Day, it is imperative to acknowledge and appreciate the prodigious contribution of women to Indian Maritime History.
Women’s occupancy in the Indian Armed Forces initially came to fruition in the year 1888 with the formation of the Indian Military Nursing Service. The nursing staff of the Indian Army played an outstanding role during World War I. Their commitment in the wartime was so stellar that the Women’s Auxiliary Corps (India) was formed on 9 April 1942 that would expedite women’s workforce to serve in non-combat roles.
Meanwhile, the personnel employed with the R.I.N were formed into a separate wing called the naval wing in February 1944. They were called the “WRINS”- Women’s Royal Indian Naval Service. Although the women did not serve onboard ships, this did give them a role in the navy. W.R.I.N.S was a fleeting demonstration that was terminated once the war was over. It was a ground-breaking episode for the ones who served in it.
Two names that need to be mentioned for their remarkable contribution in WRIN are, first, officer Kalyani Sen the first Indian servicewomen to visit the United Kingdom for a comparative study of training and administration in the WRNS in 1945. She decided to contribute to the cause despite the prejudices. Another was the unconventional and persistent Chief Petty Officer Moina Imam. Despite the objection from her family, she managed to place her foothold firmly in WRINS. This was the first time Indian women entered the navy, and until 1992, it also was the only time they were allowed to serve in non-medical roles.
Figure 1. Chief Petty officer Moina Imam
Women in Indian Navy
Before 1992, women officials were recruited in the Navy exclusively in the medical field from the Armed Forces Medical Service. However, from July 1992, the naval force began to recruit women to the field. Presently women officers can enlist in the Navy in the branches of Air Traffic Control, Observers, Law, Logistics, Education, Naval Architecture, Pilots in Maritime Reconnaissance stream only, and the Naval Armament Inspectorate.
Here are few of 21st century’s remarkable women that are worth remembering for their remarkable role in Indian Navy.
It was only in 1999 when Sonali Banerjee became the first Indian woman maritime engineer, genuine acceptance of women in Indian maritime sector began. In 2001, Sonali left a mark on the world when she became the first Indian woman to take charge of the ship’s machine room aboard a vessel of Mobil Shipping Co. Sonali’s ground-breaking venture enlivened innumerable youngsters across India to follow their passion.
Another women was Reshma Nilofer who became the first woman marine pilot in the world after qualifying as a river pilot in 2018. Nilofer navigates ships from the sea to the Kolkata Port. She has received many awards followed by Shakti Puraskar in 2019. She still continues to perform her duties with commitment and dedication.
Speaking of dedication, History should never forget the name of Lt. Shubhangi Swaroop who made history when she became the first woman to pilot an Indian Navy aircraft in 2017. She joined the Indian Naval Academy, Ezhimala, Kannur, and became the first woman cadet to be selected into the previously men-only fighter units.
Another women who shared the same qualities as the matriarchs mentioned above is Capt. Radhika Menon who is known for her altruistic valor and undiluted endurance across the maritime industry. She became the first woman in India to captain MT Sampurna Swarajya, a merchant navy ship. She also earned the International Award for Exceptional Bravery at Sea given by the IMO, the first woman in the world to get this honour.
We are reminded of an amazing instance of sisterhood where Six young women made history by becoming the first all-women crew from India to circumnavigate the globe – the team of the INSV Tarini. Led by Lt Cdr. Vartika Joshi, the six women officers of the Indian Navy traversed the seven seas in just 254 days.
Surely the first but definitely not the last all-women crew of onboard Shipping Corporation of India (SCI) vessel MT Swarna Krishna created history in 2021. As this is the first time in the world maritime history that a ship is being sailed by all women officers. Again in an inspiring move in 2021 SLt Kumudini Tyagi and SLt Riti Singh were appointed as the first set of women airborne tacticians in India who would operate from the deck of warships. This is viewed as a milestone occasion as before this, women have not been posted on warships despite being employed in various positions in the Indian Navy. These individual women stood alone and broke barriers.
Figure 2. All women crew of MT Swarna Krishna
Image Source: The Hindu
Women in the maritime industry have always broken barriers both professional and personal. They didn’t adhere to the conventional path constructed by society for the female population. They proved time and again that women can be very successful, both at home and at work. Reading about the achievements of these awe-inspiring women makes every girl’s chest swell with pride.
- Prasad, B. (1964). The Royal Indian Navy 1939-54. Orient Longmans
2. Vitali, V. The Women’s Royal Indian Naval Service: Picturing India’s New Woman. Retrieved from: https://repository.uel.ac.uk/download/a8b0343a7b4a9d91f71283f40f498016c76e2a5a452b89f3ebab3f3e0e93ea05/3853627/article05072019_HA-VV%20-%20FINAL.pdf
3. SHM Shipcare, ‘Pioneering Indian women in the Maritime World’. Retrieved from: https://www.shmgroup.com/blog/pioneering-indian-women-in-the-maritime-world/
4. Join Indian Navy. Retrieved from: https://www.joinindiannavy.gov.in/en/page/women-in-the-navy.html
5. Singh, R. Women deployed aboard Indian Navy Warships after almost 25 years. Hindustan Times.
6. All Women Crew of MT Swarna Krishna makes history. (2021, March 07). The Hindu.
7. The Brave Journey of Women Seafarers. (2019, March 08).Raunek in Life At Sea. Retrieved from: https://www.marineinsight.com/life-at-sea/the-brave-journey-of-women-seafarers/amp/
8. Women’s Royal Indian Naval service established during WW2 . Association of Wrens and the Woman of the Royal Naval Services. Retrieved from: https://wrens.org.uk/womens-royal-indian-naval-service-established-during-ww2/#
9. In a historic first, two women chopper pilots to operate from Navy warship. ( 2020, September 21). The New Indian Express.