Poulomi Basu (India/UK): To Conquer Her Land
Gallery offline – updating soon
The border areas between India and Pakistan are like their own world. Since partition in 1947, the border has seen war, smuggling (people, arms, drugs), firing, jingoistic parades, killing, suicide bombing, fireworks, lonely tears and moments of glory.
On September 2009, India’s first ever batch of women soldiers were deployed at the country’s first line of defence, at the India-Pakistan border in Punjab and Jammu & Kashmir.
After months of doing research and gaining access I started my project in June 2009 with these women. I spent time with some of these young women at their boot camp, homes and eventually at the zero line exploring and documenting their transformation from a woman to a soldier. Somewhere during my journey I began to comprehend the acute realities of this job. They may be soldiers now, the protectors of the land, but the harshness of the desolate border and this way of life takes its toll. Stationed on a critical border, they patrol the barren lands and try to come to terms with their new responsibilities.
This transformation is so intense, a new home that is so close to nature that it is almost impossible to recreate or restore what they’ve left behind. One land that is so vast that all lines seem to disappear, yet a deathly silence that is so white, haunting and exact that it can create peace even in the land in the brink of war.
I feel I have barely started my journey with them. A journey documenting the human impact of what an uncertain political, economic and social situation can evoke. In a country where the role of a woman is confined mostly to the hearth, I felt the urge to explore the dual mobility of rural Indian women in the sphere of conflict and the psyche which transforms her from a woman to a soldier.
I am interested in documenting what brought these women to join the forces and travel to one of world’s most precarious lands from their safe rural refuge? Society popularly holds mobility as a necessary prerequisite, along with emotional and economic independence. But this mobility has been largely curtailed for large parts of the female population, where the popular position of women is still venerated, yet essentially passive, denying them much vocal presence. Some of these rural women are perceived as a burden and hence trafficked into prostitution, several are abused or forced into young marriages or have no amenities to continue education.
The Indian defence forces attitude towards women civilians has always been a matter of suspect. The military culture which is in itself intimidating has not been particularly tailor-made for women in the army. The Indian woman in the army is not only battling it against the army and the enemy but also against a largely patriarchal society. Most of these women I have photographed joined these forces to fight their present state of affairs and to find a mere escape from their dire rural livelihood. I am trying to bring to life the challenges & struggles of these quintessential ordinary Indian women in this project.
More women are in the army now in India than ever before. Yet they face a dual challenge. They are part of a combat battalion in a conflict zone but most of them are painfully alone as only less than 1% of the total population of the country’s 1.2 million armed forces constitute women.
In To Conquer Her Land I want to make a photo book along with extracts taken from the diaries the women are keeping as a form of expression to talk about their lives, and in their hopeless pursuit in trying to make a better life and their hopeless pursuit in trying to make a better life. I am trying to humanize these complex yet intricate issues of poverty, conflict, psychological warfare, caste, youth, gender, love, peace, the concept of home, an undefined idea of patriotism, strength of the mind, and a new born stress that was previously unknown. I will be following these women geographically; from different parts of the country, different castes and backgrounds; from their barracks to their last few days at home, from the training camps to active duty at the Border.
These are the stories I want to tell. Compelling stories that are uplifting, illuminating and intrepid yet stuck in limbo, dwelling in stillness. I want to produce an unflinching account of how these women come face to face with the truth of conflict and the realities of living the life of a young soldier.