‘To Conquer Her Land’, Indian Photographer Poulomi Basu Elevates The Voices Of India’s Female Soldiers
Words by: Timi Sotire
The female body has historically been a site of conquest, with it being vulnerable to invasion from patriarchal forces and institutions. Poulomi Basu turns this oppression of the female body on its head in ‘To Conquer Her Land’ when looking at the integral role that female soldiers have in defending the Indo-Pakistani border. She showcases how these women are now taking ownership over their bodies and destinies by dedicating their lives to fight for their country. These women are no longer victims of conquest, but agents of it.
Using traditional war photography conventions, ‘To Conquer Her land’ is a photo series that highlights the journey of the first young women soldiers of the Indian Border Armed Force to the India-Pakistani border. Describing her work as “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 good soldier”, Basu follows both Hindu and Muslim women aged 17-25, tracing their experiences at their boot camp, home and eventually the frontline, exploring and documenting their transition into soldiers.
The series highlights the importance of the lived experience in documenting and archiving the struggles that women in India endure. These photographs humanise the warfare, exposing how it intersects with the complex debates surrounding the nature of family, gender, community, class and patriotism. Basu herself said that through her art, she aims to “focus on ordinary women who find themselves in extraordinary situations”. The concept of the Indian woman soldier is relatively new, and as of December 2018, only 3.8% of the Indian Armed forces were women. The mere existence of women in the Army, an institution that has historically excluded them, is inherently political. Basu successfully captures how, every day, these women are taking up space and challenging the assumptions that surround the role and position of women in Indian society.
Many of the women in the series have joined the army to leave their poor, rural backgrounds, and see revolution as the only way to change their lifestyle back home. Through the stories of these women, you see how the structural issues surrounding conflict tangle with patriarchy and are localised in the experiences of these soldiers. The women are not only battling enemy forces in their daily life, but also the forces of patriarchy. For Basu, it is important to capture and preserve the truth of combat through photography, as it is known in the old adage that “the first causality of war is truth”. By capturing this truth, the contribution made by India’s female soldiers in protecting their nation will be remembered for generations to come.