Harshini Kanhekar – Dame Inferno

9th Jun, 2017

| by writesolutions

Harshini Kanhekar’s voice reflects her passion. Her work reflects her commitment. Her legacy is an inspiration to many, who are mistaken in their beliefs that physical constraints are more powerful than the will and zeal to challenge societal norms and cast aside the barriers set by a patriarchal system.

Harshini’s dream of donning a firewoman’s uniform took her to the Fire Service College in Nagpur, a one-of-its kind institute in India. That’s how a journey paved with steely determination and self-confidence started for Harshini Kanhekar culminating in her emergence as the country’s very first woman firefighter! She has literally and figuratively struck down walls and ceilings while paving the way for significant policy changes in the fire service department.

So how did this young woman, who dreamt of joining the armed forces, learn to fight fires so fearlessly?

Ambitious from the start, Kanhekar applied to Nagpur’s National Fire Service College (NFSC) straight after completing her university education. Little did she know then that this was an all-male college. When she discovered that, instead of feeling disheartened Kanhekar tightened her belts to fight the skewed system. She was determined to fight anyone who stood in her way. Eventually rules had to be bent against her iron-will and she was taken in, initially with a degree of skepticism that later led to grudging admiration.

Today, her advice to all women is – press ahead of your time.

Initially, being the only first woman in an all-male institution meant a lot of adjustment for everyone, from fellow students to professors to visitors, were over-awed by the presence of a girl amidst them.

Often, visitors to the institute came to just look at her, or to tell her how proud they felt of her. However right from the selection to the graduation process, Harshini never felt an odd woman out!

This did not however mean that she did not have a big set of expectations to meet. Given the grueling, physically-demanding nature of her work, her coaches and batch mates often wondered, ‘Can she?’”

Once day, the then director of the college, Dr K. C. Wadhwa, even asked her if she felt confident she would eventually land a job at the campus recruitment drive. “It was kind of awesome, and it inspired me to put in extra effort so that I did not disappoint anyone,” was her reply.

On the upside, her instructors did not spare her any rigorous assignment. They did not differentiate between her and her male counterparts, simply because of her gender. She was not spared any drill, not even the punishments, when she fell short of a mark.

There was no time for any relaxation. And she did not miss a single day of training during the three-year programme. Later, she got picked by the Oil and Natural Gas Commission (ONGC) as their fire and security office.

Harshini Kanhekar struck to her dream. Harshini has helped douse several big fires in Delhi, Kolkata, and Mumbai. Her longest operation was in Delhi when a tin factory caught fire, and she along with others, had to fire fight for six hours, at a stretch. As a part of her service, she also has to rescue civilians during floods, building collapses, wildlife attacks, and river swelling.

Grounded to the core, she declares, “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.”


Radhika Sachdev

Content Strategist

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