Forty nine years ago, four women, including Indhira de Silva, made history by being the first Sri Lankan females to join the airforce, paving the way for countless young women to bravely follow in their footsteps. In a special interview with the Daily Mirror Life, Indhira recalls her experiences during her years in the Sri Lankan air force.
What was your life like growing up?
Life was good growing up. Every single school holiday we were away mostly to the wildlife parks. We became wildlife enthusiasts and could identify all the endemic and migratory birds. My father always had G.M Henry’s “Guide to the Birds of Ceylon” close at hand. Thanks to our parents we traveled the length and breadth of Sri Lanka and were able to appreciate its beauty, natural resources and of course meet and interact with people from all areas, cultures and ethnicities and learn about different customs. The Sri Lanka I grew up in and as I experienced it was decent and dignified. There were no toxic divisions within our circles even though we came from different ethnic and religious backgrounds. We made genuine friendships and those friends I made nearly half a century ago I’m still friends with now.
We are 4 girls and 2 boys and my parents were conservative and strict disciplinarians. Getting permission to go out, especially to mixed parties, was a song and a dance. That kind of discipline was perhaps due to my father being in the Police Force and my mother being a teacher in the same school I attended. Nonetheless, when I had children of my own, I appreciated this upbringing.
What were your aspirations as a child?
I loved to travel, see new places and meet different kinds of people. I wanted to do something in relation to that. We were taught growing up to be good responsible citizens first live with honor and integrity and then to follow our passions. Even though gender bias was and still is a systemic problem, at home and at school we were privileged not to see gender as an immediate barrier to following our chosen path. As I was the eldest in the family my parents were still quite young, and they were outgoing and adventurous. I grew up seeing my mom go to work each morning, I saw her ride horses, I saw her reading Shakespeare, writing and telling stories, reciting poetry and living her life, managing her household and pursuing her career. So, I was privileged and lucky enough to think that was the norm.
What made you want to join the air force?
Especially considering the fact that there were no females who had joined the Sri Lankan air force before you? I always wanted to do something different, something out of the ordinary. Since there were no females in the Sri Lanka Air Force at the time, that was precisely why it became a challenge and the reason I wanted to join. I admit at the time in the early 70s it was a daring thing to do. Colombo society may have quietly gasped. But we had been taught that gender was no barrier, and my parents supported my decision as well. Apart from that, it was an exciting prospect to be able to fly for your country. I wore the air force uniform proudly. Now we would have two family members in uniform. My father and myself. I was proud to serve my Country, Sri Lanka, which I love.
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