TO CONQUER HER LAND

“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.

The line of defense taking their stance. Kharkan,September 2009.

The line of defense taking their stance. Kharkan,September 2009.

Dust at the first line of control marking where Punjab ends and where Jammu and Kashmir begins. October 2011.

Dust at the first line of control marking where Punjab ends and where Jammu and Kashmir begins. October 2011.

An infiltrator trying to cross over the Pakistan illegally, lying dead on the fences. He was found with a plastic bag and a piece of paper with some writing on it. No identification was found. The main reason why people cross over is to join the militancy in Pakistan, or for the smuggling of drugs, or people. In this particular case the reasons are unknown. Attari Border, January 2011.

An infiltrator trying to cross over the Pakistan illegally, lying dead on the fences. He was found with a plastic bag and a piece of paper with some writing on it. No identification was found. The main reason why people cross over is to join the militancy in Pakistan, or for the smuggling of drugs, or people. In this particular case the reasons are unknown. Attari Border, January 2011.

Shabbo Kumari at the Indo-Pak border of Attari, Punjab. October 2009

Shabbo Kumari at the Indo-Pak border of Attari, Punjab. October 2009

A family portrait only a few hours before Gurpreet Kaur Walia left for the border. Kharkan Chowk Village, Punjab. September 2009.

A family portrait only a few hours before Gurpreet Kaur Walia left for the border. Kharkan Chowk Village, Punjab. September 2009.

Rana Kaur, before roll call. Bootcamp in Khatka, August 2009.

Rana Kaur, before roll call. Bootcamp in Khatka, August 2009.

Alpha coy of 118 women at dawn wait for their training to begin. Khatka Camp, Punjab. June 2009.

Alpha coy of 118 women at dawn wait for their training to begin. Khatka Camp, Punjab. June 2009.

Sona Singh and Kamal Dar of the Border Security Armed Force in their barracks. Kharkan, Punjab, July 2009.

Sona Singh and Kamal Dar of the Border Security Armed Force in their barracks. Kharkan, Punjab, July 2009.

Photo-frame of Sheila Vishwakarma, a Kashmiri Pundit at her home in Bazpur Uttaranchal. September 2009.

Photo-frame of Sheila Vishwakarma, a Kashmiri Pundit at her home in Bazpur Uttaranchal. September 2009.

Invisible soldiers standing under the moonlight. Boot camp in Kharkan, August 2009.

Invisible soldiers standing under the moonlight. Boot camp in Kharkan, August 2009.

 Author: Polumi Basu
Photographs: Polumi Basu


Motherland is a bi-monthly magazine with a focus on contemporary and emerging Indian cultures.

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