As a young curious kid, Indraani Singh often used to ask her father, “When I am going to school, why aren’t the other kids on the street going to school?” Her father used to say that he only has enough resources to educate her and her brothers and when she grows up, she can do the needful and educate the less-fortunate. This incident from childhood stuck with the Delhi-based Captain Indraani and she founded an NGO, Literacy India in 1996.
While the NGO happened at a much later stage in Indraani’s life, the first major achievement for her was when she became a pilot at a time when it wasn’t thought of women to fly planes. “Even while flying I realised that now I have become a commander now what next? And then I looked at the normal path of a commander- they move on to new aircraft, then they become instructors/examiners, then they become managers, then deputy directors and then directors etc. Everybody is treading on the same path, what’s new in it?,” expressed Indraani to SheThePeople.TV.
“What’s the innovation in it? How are my accomplishments helping others? And as dad said, ‘it was only helping me’ I needed to do something about it,” Indraani went on to narrate.
When she became a first officer, she was living in Kolkata. One fine morning she saw nuns on the road cleaning the hair of destitute children. She was moved. She bought a rickshaw for an under-privileged person who could earn a living by pulling the rickshaw. Then she helped her house-help to put her children in school.
“Little bit in my capacity, whatever I could, I did,” shares Indraani.
But she hadn’t forgotten her eventual goal – that of empowering more people. When she got her commandership in 1995 -Indraani was declared the world’s first woman commander to fly Airbus 300 - an opportunity literally knocked at her door. She recollects, “My doorbell rang and the person standing in front of me asked, ‘will you sponsor the education of the next-door maid’s daughter to go to school and I said here is Rs.5000 right now.”
But within minutes Indraani thought to herself “why only one kid, why not more? “
“Little bit in my capacity, whatever I could, I did”
In the year after that she started Literacy India but she felt something missing in just sending children to schools, she wasn’t sure if they were getting the right education or even getting a job for that matter so she ventured into skilling everyone. In 2000, when technology had just set in, she bought an MS DOS computer.
“I thought if the French can do it, why can’t we? And since then I had kids running around the one system I had got.” With an aim to use technology for learning. There are now about 18 computer centre which are also literacy centres. These centres teach their own literacy course called Gyan Tantra. Indraani has also shared with programs with about 120 government schools.
In 2005 she started Indha craft which is an initiative that empowers rural women. She believes that after educating a person, it is ideal to give that person employment.
On being asked, how she tackles orthodox thought-process when she asks rural people to send their daughters to school, she answers, “My being a pilot, I use it to my advantage, when I go to villages I flaunt my profession because the glamour of a pilot’s job is so high that people actually give you their time.”
In 1995, Indraani became the world’s first Indian woman commander to fly Airbus 300
“I went to tribal villages and I found that people over there have no exposure of the outside world and when they get to know that I am a pilot sitting with them and when I tell them that education is important for their children- they take it as a higher message and that is the reason for the trust’s success,” Indraani added.
For Indraani, her job’s popularity and the fascination related to it has stopped her from quitting flying.
“I realise if I continue flying, those people know that I am very much in the job. And so flying has become important for those people also to feel that I am significant enough to be given their time to listen to me,” shares Indraani.