“I AM HERE TO CONQUER THE LAND…NOT TO FALL IN LOVE WITH IT”
The border areas between India and Pakistan are their own world. Since partition in 1947 the border has seen war, smuggling (people, arms, drugs), firing, jingoistic parades, killing, suicide bombing, fireworks, tears and glory.
In September 2009, India’s first women soldiers of the Border Security Force were deployed at the India-Pakistan border in Punjab. I followed these women, from different parts of the country, castes, and backgrounds, during their last days at home to the barracks, through training camp to active duty.
Stationed on a critical border, they try to come to terms with their new responsibilities while patrolling barren lands. This transformation is intense; it is impossible to recreate or restore what they’ve left behind. Theirs is a country so vast that all lines seem to disappear, yet is home to a deathly silence so white, haunting, and exact that it simulates peace even in a land on the brink of war.
More women in India are in the army than ever before. Yet most of them are alone. Military culture isn’t tailor-made for women, and the Indian woman in the forces battles not just the enemy, but also a largely patriarchal society. Most of the women I photographed joined the forces to find escape from their dire rural livelihood.
In “To Conquer Her Land,” I have tried to humanize these complex, yet intricate, issues of poverty, psychological warfare, caste, gender and patriotism, and provide an unflinching account of how these women come face to face with the realities of living the life of a young, good soldier.
Author: Polumi Basu
Photographs: Polumi Basu