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Beauty and the beast: Indian women enter ITBP to guard Indo-China border

The Indian woman has come a long way from the confines of her kitchen. And now she is unstoppable.

Last week, a 500-member strong women squad was commissioned into the Indo-Tibetan Border Police (ITBP) to guard the Indo-China border. As the spirited women completed their ‘passing out parade’ in Haryana’s Panchkula, their family members swelled with pride. Their daughters will soon be in a position to stare down their Chinese counterparts in harsh climate conditions and treacherous terrains.

A freshly commissioned woman shares her joy with her father in the ITBP 'passing out parade' in Panchkula
A freshly commissioned woman shares her joy with her father in the ITBP ‘passing out parade’ in Panchkula

The women will be deployed in 20 different posts along the border. The contingent, all ranked as constables, were inducted into the border-guarding force after undergoing tough training in battle craft and mountain survival for 11 months. The squad will get into the field by March 2016 after they have completed lessons on acclimatisation and field training. Once the training is done, they will be posted along the Indo-China Line of Actual Control (LAC) at heights ranging from  8,000-17,000 feet, including the ‘Mana pass’ border post, the last village on the Indian side in Uttarakhand.

Majority of the ITBP personnel on the Indo-China border are deployed in the high reaches of the Himalayas, where temperatures drop to below -40 degrees Celsius. That the ITBP believes its women brigade is capable of making it at those difficult posts is quite a feat in itself. Before last week’s induction, women had the worst representation in ITBP, at just over 2% – 1,661 women in the 90,000-member strong force.

The Bumla Pass in Arunachal Pradesh, at the Indo-China border is located at 16,500 ft. ITBP personnel are deployed in such locations where temperatures drop to below -40 degrees Celsius

This move sends strong signals to the armed forces as well. The Indian Army, a strongly male-dominated league, has not been very enthusiastic about recruiting women for front-line assault. Till 1992, women were not allowed to join the Army outside the medical stream. The Army began inducting women for permanent commission in 2008, after the government came out with a new policy. Around 340 female officers have opted for permanent commission in the last eight years, allowing them to serve till the age of 54. But warships, tanks and combat positions in infantry are still no-go zones for women.

In such a scenario, ITBP’s move comes as a welcome change. Before this, the Indian Air Force opened its gates, allowing women to fly combat aircraft. The move was approved by the Narendra Modi government in October last year, and IAF currently has seven women undergoing flying training at the Air Force Academy near Hyderabad. They stand a chance of becoming the country’s first women fighter pilots in June this year.

Seven IAF officers will get a chance to become India’s first women fighter pilots in June this year

It’s the Indian Navy that is yet to accept women on its ships. The official website of the Indian Navy says that it is “very gender sensitive and gives equal opportunities to women.” Although the navy has women officers working off-shore, they are not ready to let women board their ships. The reason is “lack of necessary facilities for women to live onboard for long durations and contribute in war fighting effort.”

Meanwhile, the ITBP believes that its commando training enables personnel to undertake responsibilities, without any gender bias. The border force plans to build infrastructure for child care so that its women contingent doesn’t face career hurdles. Creating soft posts for women who are expecting a baby, or attending to a child, will definitely boost their morale.