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Breaking Barriers: The Story of Harshini Kanhekar

India as a nation is rather strange! Where on the one hand India, primarily a Hindu-dominated nation, worships goddesses in general; the society, in stark comparison, is strangely patriarchal where women are considered to be the weaker sex and are not really “allowed” or rather refrained from entering some of the work segments even in the twenty-first century!

While most of the women folk in the nation are pretty much keen on carrying on with the tag of being the weaker gender, there are some of the women who feel that they are more than what men think them to be made of! This is at these times when we generally meet the likes of Harshini Kanhekar, who is not only an inspiration to the women in India but also to the women counterparts all across the globe who feel that physical constraints are more powerful than the will and zeal to break the norms and barriers built up by the society.

Who is Harshini Kanhekar?

Harshini Kanhekar’s name might have been on news channels a few years back due to the fact that she had the zeal and courage to break through the male bastion occupation and became the first-ever woman firefighter in the nation.

A firefighter, yes, we are talking about the people who save the normal ones in cases of fire outbreaks and disasters. Well, quite naturally, you might be thinking how a woman can take up the strenuous activities of drilling for hours at a stretch, handle and lift heavy equipment used in rescue operations and have the knowledge of an extremely vast array of subjects, including the likes of heavy vehicles, paramedics, town planning and rescue techniques, water supply and applied psychology among others. But this is all that Harshini Kanhekar’s life revolves around each and every day.

This strong-willed and strong woman firefighter, Harshini Kanhekar, never had it easy when she first dreamt of getting into a profession where a uniform was a necessity and nothing as strong could stop her way to break the year-old traditions in getting to a part of the domain once acquired and institutionalized only by the men folks.

A hero to many in her own rights, Harshini joined the firefighter services in India at the mere age of 26; where after passing the course, she got selected and designated as a fire engineer at the Oil and Natural Gas Commission (ONGC). While her name will always be etched into the history of the fire engineering course and department of the National Fire Service College (NFSC), one of the best fire training institutes in the entire Asian region which functions directly under the Ministry of Home Affairs, Government of India, located in Nagpur located in the state of Maharashtra as she became the first female Indian to enroll herself into the course in the year 2002 and for successfully passing it as well.

A Journey to Inspire

While getting through the esteemed and premier institute as the National Fire Service College to finish her engineering degree, she initially wanted to get into the Armed Forces of the nation as during her graduation days of B.Sc., Harshini was a great student who was equally good at sports and other kinds of extracurricular activities including the likes of gliding, aero-modeling, microlight flying along with being a BCC Air Wing’s cadet.

Where she was extremely drawn to the uniform and wanted to serve the nation via any means; it was then the NFSC happened, and she was just too excited at the prospect of joining such a premier institute which was established way back in the year 1956!

When she first went through the gates of the college to submit her form, she had no idea that it was a men’s college, and it was even said that it was not her territory. While with every raising eyebrow that she experienced while passing the lovely heritage building of the NFSC, her zeal to be a part of this institute grew manifold.

While in various series of interviews that this young girl had to face post her admission into the college, in one of them, she was recorded saying, “I did not know I was going to be the first and only female student when I applied for the course. Being the first woman in an all-male institution meant a lot of adjustment for everyone. When it came to the medical test, it was found that there were no existing criteria for women. So, they just took my height and weight and checked me for color blindness”.

While she was trying hard to keep up with the expectation levels of everyone around her, including her parents, this young woman hero of India had to keep up with the constant wonder and attention from her fellow students to the professions who would constantly seem to question, “Can she?”

The Training that She Underwent

While she is all praise for her professors and fellow batch mates who, as per her, helped her achieve the things that she actually did, she confessed in one of the interviews, “But the good part was that my instructors scrupulously treated me exactly as they treated all the other students. I was not spared any pain, not even the rigorous punishments that come with training. And on my part, I never asked for any relaxation. I have not been absent for a single day during the entire three-year course” While her grit and determination helped her achieve the height and the adulation she is getting at the moment, she is rather the right kind of inspiration and motivation that is required the young generation of India who has to believe in the term, “Nothing is impossible”.

While the only thing any individual should remember, irrespective of gender, is to do what they love, Harshini, the true fighter woman of the nation today, said, “I don’t think there is anything ‘manly’ or ‘womanly’ about a job. I am fortunate to have hit the number one spot, but frankly, all I am interested in is the fact that I am doing something I love.”

Stand for your right; stand for what you love; everything else will follow. Maybe this is what this young woman of India follows and urges us all to follow suit. Carry on, girl; you make us extremely proud of you!

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