She has the distinction of being Maharashtra's first commercial pilot from Naxal heartland, Gondia district, bordering Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh. But Captain Swati Ladre's dreams are yet to take off.
A chief flight instructor honours Swari Ladre with Two Stripes at the National Flying Training Institute in Gondia
The 28-year-old pilot, who belongs to the Dom caste, a listed category of safai karmacharis or sanitary workers, has been jobless for more than two years after obtaining her commercial pilot licence (CPL), a full 200-hours of flying quota from the National Flying Training Institute, Gondia later. This, despite several achievements to her credit, including being the first woman pilot from Gondia.
"It is disappointing. They (the government) talk of educating the girl child and uplifting backward groups, but where are the opportunities? All I wished was to break away from my family's social past. It doesn't look like that's about to happen," she says in a telephonic interview.
Ladre's grandparents were sanitary workers with the local municipality council which made discrimination a reality since she was little. "As a child, she (Swati) lost friends because of our caste. The family was ostracised, people wouldn't eat with us, some suddenly stopped calling us home. But she was determined to make a mark," says her father, Rajesh Ladre.
In an bid to have herself heard, Ladre has written to Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Maharshtra Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis, but hasn't heard back. She was hoping a nudge from them would help her complete a Type Rating training on an Airbus 320 in Mumbai.
A Type Rating is a regulating agency's certification of an airplane pilot to fly a certain aircraft type that demands additional flying hours beyond the scope of the initial licence and aircraft class training. The training comes at a cost of R20 lakh.
This, Ladre says, is impossible to amass after the family has already spent close to R30 lakh on CPL training, by borrowing money from relatives and mortgaging ancestral property with private lenders.
Ladre, who completed her CPL in 2012, obtaining the Indian DGCA approved CPL N0. 12255, has requested the government to refer her name to an airline, many of which do not hire licencees without Type Training.
"Your little support would enlighten my career and brighten my future," she wrote in a letter to PM Modi last year. "Unlike my grandparents, my parents almost overcame caste hurdles by doing odd teaching jobs... I only wanted to continue in that direction but this field is for those from a privileged background. It is extremely difficult to make a mark," she wrote.
When sunday mid-day contacted PS Meena, additional chief secretary (aviation/GAD), Maharashtra government, she assured the state would help. "We will look into this case at the earliest," he said.
Members of the Dom community, a Scheduled Caste, have long been workers at cremation grounds or are sweepers or weavers of ropes and baskets. They are also well known for their musical ability. According to Enclyclopedia Britannica, they are outside Brahminic control and have their own deities and demonology. Historials say there is reason to believe that the Gypsies, who originally came from India, are an offshoot of this caste.
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