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Women officers sail into history

Surgeon Commander Diviya Gautam desperately hopes that the Indian Navy will someday allow doctors like her to sail on warships.

india Updated: Sep 06, 2006 04:00 IST

Surgeon Commander Diviya Gautam desperately hopes that the Indian Navy will someday allow doctors like her to sail on warships, a privilege which was extended to women officers in 1998 but withdrawn two years later.

Diviya, who has just returned after being deployed on United States Naval Ship (USNS) 'Mercy' for over 100 days, says, "Equal opportunities should be created for women in the service. I see no reason why we should not be sailing on warships." Diviya's latest experience has perhaps rekindled her desire to explore the farthest frontiers of sea and serve the navy without gender coming in the way. Posted in Mumbai, she has created history of sorts by becoming the first Indian woman officer to sail on a US ship. An IAF lady doctor also entered record books by sailing on the same ship.

"Of the 900-strong crew onboard Mercy, more than 200 were women. They were performing the whole gamut of roles as doctors, deck staff and even providing force protection," says Diviya, who takes pride in a short stint on INS Jyoti in 1998. She was part of a 10-member naval medical team which sailed on Mercy from May 23 to September 1, assisting the Americans to render medical assistance across the Southeast Asian region, including The Philippines, Indonesia and the troubled East Timor.

The squad, led by Surgeon Commander CN Chaudhari, has earned the rare distinction of being the first and the largest medical team to partner the US in such a mission. The 1,000-bed Mercy, with a displacement of almost 70,000 tonnes, is one of the only two such hospital ships serving the US Military Seabed Command.

Chaudhari and Co were joined by a medical team of the IAF for two months and history was created yet again. The IAF crew included Squadron Leader Bharti Mahapatra, who became the woman officer from air force to sail on an Americal ship. The team would reach the shore on boats or choppers, select patients and bring them on board the floating hospital, which conducted over 1,000 surgeries and witnessed over 2 lakh patient contacts.