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30 Sep, 2009 05:39

Sexual equality comes to India’s borders

In India, the first-ever female troops have been deployed to control the border with Pakistan. The young women are being heralded as symbols of a strong female role model for modern India.

India's border with Pakistan has been defended by men for 62 years, but not any longer. The women guards, skilled in combat training and firearms, are being inducted for the first time into the country’s Border Security Force, or BSF.

Twenty-three-year old Ritu competed in judo and wrestling at the national level, and always wanted to join the defense forces. Why? Because, she says, “military discipline and attitude are much better than civilian life.”

“Civilians live only for themselves, but the military lives for the entire country,” Ritu says.

The women guards have been welcomed by villagers. In 1988, India built an electric fence 500 meters inside its border to keep out Pakistani infiltrators. For the past 20 years, local women would not cross the fence to their fields as the BSF men would have to frisk them. Now with female guards, they can. The farmers, too, are happy.

“Our women folk can work in the fields now. So the labor costs have come down. What we used to spend earlier on hiring farm labor, we can now spend on our children,” says farmer Banta Singh.

Over 8,000 women applied to join the BSF, of which only 600 have been selected. Sandeep Bamrah is nearing the end of her training, and is already excited about the challenging assignment ahead.

“In the beginning we used to be scared of the weapons, but we’ve been trained in all sorts of weapons and firearms .When we started off, we found the rifle too heavy. Some of the girls couldn’t even lift it, but after practicing with it regularly all of us have performed well,” Sandeep says.

The women are already being seen as role models, which will go a long way in changing attitudes in India towards what jobs women are capable of doing.

“This is a very important event for the Border Security Force. The girls who have been recruited and trained are as good as the boys,” believes inspector General Himmat Singh.