In September 2009, India’s first women soldiers were deployed at the India-Pakistan border in Punjab and Jammu & Kashmir. 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 contains a deathly silence so white, haunting, and exact that it can create 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 painfully alone, as they make up less than 1 percent of the country’s 1.2 million-strong armed forces. Military culture, which can be intimidating, has not been particularly tailor-made for women. The Indian woman in the army is not only battling against the enemy, but also against a largely patriarchal society. Most of the women I photographed joined the forces to fight their present state of affairs as well as to find an escape from their dire rural livelihood.
In “To Conquer Her Land,” I tried 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 mind, and a level of stress previously unknown to them. I have barely started my journey documenting the human impact of what an uncertain political, economic, and social situation can evoke.
Poulomi Basu is a freelance photographer born in India. She completed her Masters in Photojournalism and Documentary Photography at the London College of Communication in 2009 with a Distinction. Her work can be seen in The Sunday Times Magazine, Elle, and International Herald Tribune, among other publications. She was a selected Magenta Flash Forward Emerging Photographers 2010 winner. She currently lives and works between London and Mumbai.