Born in Bihar’s Muzaffarpur district, Sub Lieutenant Shivangi hails from an agricultural family. Her father, Hari Bhushan Singh, was a school teacher and her mother, Priyanka Singh, took care of the house. The 25-year-old is a Mechanical Engineer from Sikkim Manipal Institute of Technology.
She became a part of the Indian Air Force when she was formally inducted in 2017. Shivangi is a part of the second batch of women pilots to fly fighter planes in India, and is one of only 10 women fighter pilots in the country. And now, she would be the first woman to fly the French-made Rafale fighter jet.
According to various reports, Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman, who was involved in a dogfight as part of the India-Pakistan standoff in 2019, was her flight instructor. Shivangi used to fly the ‘Mig-21 Bison’ before training to fly the Rafales, however, the Bison was known to be demanding because of its high take-off and landing speeds, and was the oldest jet in the Indian Air Force roster.
Shivangi Singh is set to join the Golden Arrows or Squadron 17 of Ambala, which had a key role during the 1999 Kargil war. A Bollywood movie is also in the making detailing the exploits of this squadron.
Currently, Shivangi Singh is undergoing her conversion training. It is a mandatory course that a pilot has to take if they are switching from one aircraft to another.
“From the place of temple chimes, look at this girl as she shines. It’s heartening that the IAF gave Shivangi a fair chance. I am so proud I donned the IAF blues, a service that shows that you can dream and live that dream,” said Wing Commander (Retd) Anupama Joshi in an interview with the Hindustan Times. Joshi was a part of the first batch of women officers commissioned into the IAF, in 1993.
In an interview with The Hindu in 2017, Flt Lt Shivangi said that it was her childhood dream to “fly like a free bird”. She said the first women fighter pilots of the IAF – flying Officers Mohana Singh, Bhawana Kanth, and Avani Chaturvedi, who were inducted in 2016 – were her inspiration.
“In Class VIII, she became very serious about academics. She scored more than 90 percent in both Class X and XII exams. After the results were announced, people would ask Shivangi about her plans for the future. My daughter would say, ‘I want to touch the sky’,” adds her mother.
As of now, there are more than 4,000 women in the military, but frontline combat roles were a no-no until 2015. Countries like Germany, France, North Korea, United States, Israel, Australia, Canada, and the Netherlands employ women in frontline combat positions.
The Indian Army doesn’t offer the same for its women in combat units such as infantry, mechanised infantry, armoured corps, and artillery. It was the Indian Air Force which had proposed a plan to include women in the fighter stream. The Air Force, Navy and Army began inducting women as Short Service Commission officers in 1992. Before that, only women in the medical profession were allowed to join the Armed Forces.
On February 17, 2020, the Supreme Court of India said that women officers in the Indian Army can get command positions which are equal to those of male officers. It is considered as a landmark judgment which corrected the perceived gender bias against women. On behalf of the Indian Armed Forces, the government cited reasons like physiology, motherhood, and physical attributes as reasons to not pass the judgment. The court also said that a permanent commission should be available to all women, regardless of how long they have been in the service.
(Edited by Kanishk Singh)