Away from their families and urban comfort, women personnel of the BSF rough it out at border posts along with their male colleagues

A young woman carrying a loaded gun and patrolling the borders with Pakistan for six and a half hours at a stretch in the thick of the night without a breather sounds unbelievable, but is true. Women personnel in the Border Security Force (BSF) are doing almost every duty at par with their male counterparts today — no matter how physically strenuous it is.

Thirty-two-year-old Sangeeta Chaturvedi , who was deployed at a border post near Amritsar, says that initially she was a little apprehensive when she was put on night patrol but it did not take her long to adjust to these demanding duties. “If there is shortage of staff or any exigency, we end up doing duties for more than 10 hours,” she says.

“One has to be alert and vigilant all the time and there is no question of lowering your guard even for a moment while patrolling,” she adds. She admits that there are problems being a woman but she has learnt to take those in her stride.

Constable Sevanti Karmakar is deployed at a post along the Bangladesh border. She has mostly been on observation post (OP), guard and checking duty. Sevanti says during her five-year experience, she was able to detect several cases of smuggling of weaponry, gold and other articles. There have been instances of human trafficking, especially of young girls who are smuggled from across the border to India; the women BSF personnel handle them all.

It is not just the strenuous duties and erratic work hours, staying in barracks for long periods at border posts, away from mainstream life and their families, with restricted movements is also tough. But the women say that they get used to it gradually.

Before their induction into the force, they undergo rigorous training that includes handling weaponry, grenades, mines and patrolling for hours without taking rest.

Deployment of women at the borders began with recruitment at the constable level in 2008 and the first batch consisted of over 600 women. Today their strength has swelled to a little over 2,000. In 2010, recruitment of women at Sub-Inspector level began with the induction of a small batch of over half a dozen women; today there are over 30 women Sub-Inspectors. As far as clerical duties go, women have been in the BSF since the 1990s.

Now for the first time, BSF will have women officers. The first batch of 14 women officers is expected to be cleared by the UPSC in about a month’s time and they would be posted in six to seven months’ time. Women in the BSF would then get a chance to begin with the post of company commander and rise up to higher ranks of DIG/ IG/ ADG, says Ashok Kumar, IPS, IG.

It was at the All India Women Police Conference in 2005 that a decision was taken to raise the number of women in police forces to10 per cent to begin with.

Women personnel in border posts face logistic problems, like the lack of separate barracks and toilets, says Mr. Kumar. Also there has to be a minimum number of women for deployment at a border post. He says that BSF needs deployment of women at the borders for handling women population in villages there and for frisking purposes at check points, in addition to performing other duties.

Sangeeta joined the BSF after her husband, who worked in the same force, died of cancer. She has twin sons. Although for now her sons are with her as she is on an attachment at the headquarters in Delhi, once she is again deployed on the borders she will have to put them in a boarding school. “Being a single parent, it is difficult but one learns to deal with all kinds of circumstances,” says 32-year-old Sangeeta.

Constable Poonam Devi, who also lost her husband who was serving in the same force, is single parenting her only daughter and expressed similar sentiments.

The BSF provides medical, educational (including residential school) and other facilities not far away from the borders at battalion headquarter camps for the families. This not only takes away some of the worry of single parents like Sangeeta and Poonam but also couples like the Karmakars where both husband and wife are serving at border posts.

The women personnel, however, spoke of getting cooperation and support both from the department and their male colleagues.

Sacrificing their family life and giving up urban comfort, these gutsy women are living up to the BSF’s ethos of “Any task, anytime, anywhere” in equal terms with their male counterparts.