How Harshini Kanhekar, India’s First Woman Fire Fighter Is Burning Stereotypes!

Harshini Kanhekar, the first woman firefighter, was 'the only girl in NFSC' who made headlines- her professors and peers didn't exempt her from her gender.

Harshini Kanhekar plays with fire; she ignites fire- she is fire. Harshini Kanhekar’s life has been playing with fire, literally, for the past two decades.

Meet Harshini Kanhekar, India’s first female firefighter! Her life inspires us to keep our heads high and thrive in this male-dominating country.

Until two decades back, the firefighters’ department was the only department with all men. That changed when Harshini decided to adorn the uniform- when she wanted to become a firefighter.

Harshini reminisced about the time she finally got accepted into the NFSC (National Fire Service College)- she talked about how her father called to give her the good news as he held onto the telegram in his hand.

Her parents’ support doubles my respect for the parents that support their daughters who want to work in hostile environments.

How Harshini Kanhekar became the first female firefighter in India

Have you ever thought about why fire incidents in movies or TV included only strong men running around, saving people?

No, right?

Neither did I. But, I am sure Harshini did- she saw herself, running around- saving people.

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It’s powerful when a woman knows what she wants. Harshini knew what she wanted, and it makes me a hundred times proud to be India’s daughter to know that Harshini Kanhekar was just like me, a dreamer- dreaming to thrive in this world.

College life, for Harshini, was a blend of flexibility and rigidity.

Even now, being in a room full of men seems scary to me. I cannot imagine how Harshini must’ve felt being in a room full of men continuously watching her, wishing for one mistake to taunt and being dubious of her capabilities angered her. But, Harshini didn’t budge- they ignited her desperation for the badge and the honour a firefighter got.

You know she was ‘the only girl in NFSC’ who made the headlines- her professors and peers didn’t exempt her from her gender. It makes me insurmountably happy to know her professors weren’t sexists and treated her like her peers.

The constant dilemma between getting the attention that would urge more women to work and wishing for normality among her peers must’ve been exhausting for her.

 Harshini’s seven-semester course needed the students to live on campus, but for Harshini, the rule bent- allowing her to go home.

Harshini Kanhekar & her training to become the first woman firefighter in India

Harshini worked with heavy water and suction hoses and performed mock drills with dummies. The training was tough- I can only imagine, but what appals me is that she must’ve trained despite being on her period, being in pain and despite the social pressure.

Harshini’s first assignment was a cylinder blast in Shirdi when she was in college. She performed such tasks while she was just a student- learning ways of life and firefighting at the same time.

Before joining ONGC in 2006 (and eventually becoming the Sr. fire officer), she dealt with several fires across Mumbai, Kolkata and Delhi- where her six-hour prime operation in a tin factory came to place.

Firefighter Harshini is much more than what she does

Harshini is not just a firefighter- she’s more than that. I never knew firefighters were supposed to work away, outside of their workplace for duty because Harshini has rescued civilians during floods, building collapses, river swellings and wildlife attacks.

For me, Harshini is a girl from Nagpur whose parents, especially her father- supported her unconditionally and who had it in her to defy all odds against the male-dominating job.

For me, Harshini would be someone I would mention while talking about strong females of the contemporary world. Because being in a room full of mocking men is scary, and Harshini gives me the confidence and the strength to keep my head up and go for it!

Today, Harshini is an inspiration to women all over the country. I love that she proves that there is nothing womanly or manly about any job.

Image source: still from Harshini Kahnhekar film by Saha Communications, YouTube

 

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About the Author

Pranjali Hasotkar

I am a journalism student with a penchant for writing about women and social issues. I am an intersectional feminist and an aspiring journalist. I identify as she/her. read more...

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