To Conquer Her Land

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The border between India and Pakistan is a world unto itself. Since Partition, it has seen war, smuggling of people, arms and drugs, skirmishes, jingoistic parades, fireworks, lonely tears and a few moments of glory.

In September 2009, India’s first female Border Security Force (BSF) personnel were deployed at the India-Pakistan border in Punjab. I followed the women — from different parts of the country, castes and backgrounds — from their last days at home, to the barracks, through training camps and to active duty, documenting their transformation from women to soldiers. Stationed on a critical border, patrolling barren lands, they have come to terms with new responsibilities. The transformation is intense; it is impossible to recreate or restore what they have left behind.

Today, more women in India are joining the armed forces than ever before. Yet, many are painfully alone. The military services have not been particularly tailor-made for women. Indian women in the forces are battling a largely patriarchal society too. The BSF is a paramilitary force; while some women join simply as a way to earn money, others enlist to escape the constraints of family life.

In To Conquer Her Land, I have tried to humanise these complex yet intricate issues of poverty, conflict, psychological warfare, youth, gender, love, patriotism and an unfamiliar level of stress. An account of how these women come face to face with the truth of conflict and the realities of living the life of a young good soldier.

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