Gender stereotype exists everywhere in the world. Society follows a set of ideas that govern how both genders, especially women should dress, behave, speak, and choose a career.
But certain dreams are never suppressed by such stereotypes. There are a few brave hearts who dare to take the road less traveled and succeed in breaking all stereotypes.
One such brave heart is Harshini Kanhekar, the first woman firefighter of the country.
She created history by walking out of the gates of the National Fire Service College (NFSC), Nagpur, clad in its uniform; something the college had never seen a woman do in 46 years of its existence.
Harshini’s story of becoming a firefighter is not just inspiring but exciting too. It was in 2002 that she took admission at NFSC until then fire service was the only field where women weren’t represented. But Harshini changed the norm for good.
The Journey to NFSC
Harshini wanted to join the armed forces because she had a deep-rooted admiration for uniform and wanted to don one. She completed her pre-university from Lady Amritbai Daga (LAD) College, Nagpur and enrolled for a B Sc course in the same college.
She even joined the National Cadet Corps (NCC) where she got to explore her adventurous nature. This further fuelled her desire to get into armed forces.
Post graduating from college, she applied to various courses but ended up enrolling for an MBA program.
The course didn’t excite her much and she continued looking for options to apply for armed forces. This was the time when her friend insisted she applied for a fire engineering course.
Not aware of the course as such, Harshini’s driving force behind applying for it was the fact that if selected, she would get to wear a uniform. The paper she appeared for was no less than a UPSC exam. With just 30 seats to grab, the competition was high.
While her friend couldn’t get selected, Harshini’s hard work helped her make it through. A telegram from National Fire Service College in Nagpur confirmed her selection.
This was when Harshini got to know that she had applied to a college that was the only of its kind in Southeast Asia, run by the Home Ministry. And now she was going to create history by being the only girl to study in college.
Struggles, Challenges & a New Victory
Harshini never had a dream of becoming a firefighter. But when she got selected in the all-boys’ college, the mocking stares, comments on gender stereotype and critical opinions made Harshini take it as a challenge to complete the course and be a firefighter.
During her seven-semester ‘residential’ course, she was exempted from the rule and allowed to go home after her classes.
Harshini gave her a hundred percent to the training and never let anyone question her credibility. She got the same training as the boys, and never shied away from taking part in any task. Harshini made it a point to excel in everything and by the time her course was to get over; she did not just come out with flying colors but also won admiration from her fellow students.
Post the completion of her course; she joined the ONGC, Mehsana fire station, Gujarat in 2006.
In the year 2010, she got transferred to ONGC’s Mumbai drilling services. She even has the credit of being the first woman to handle offshore drilling services; which include boarding a helicopter, leading auditing, maintaining follow up, as well as taking full responsibility. Today she is successfully managing things as the Deputy Manager of Fire Service.
Taking her life as an example, many girls have started showing interest in the firefighting field. Her success stories from the work field opened the doors of opportunities for women; more and more women are now encouraged to be a part of the firefighting field.
Harshini has not just overcome the stereotype but has also inspired women to follow their dreams without worrying about any kind of gender prejudice.
Her life is a great inspiration for all of us and we hope that she continues growing higher!