The 181-year-old Assam Rifles, India’s oldest paramilitary force, is no longer a male bastion.
On Wednesday, the Assam Rifles (AR) inducted 100 women among 212 recruits who were put through a year-long training programme and graduated in the passing-out parade at the Assam Rifles Training Centre and School in Nagaland’s Shokhuvi.
The AR, under dual control of the home and defence ministries, broke tradition last March to admit 127 women for training at its school in Dimapur town. They were selected through recruitment rallies conducted across the country. Of the 100, 27 trainees didn’t clear the programme either on medical grounds or failed to clear basic tests.
“Three lady army officers were specially posted to the Dimapur school in March 2014 to plan, raise and institutionalise a separate training company for women recruits,” Lt Col Rahul Josan, AR spokesperson, told Hindustan Times.
The company was named Lushai Company after a British era hill province that later became a district of undivided Assam and eventually the state of Mizoram.
Lushai Hills is intrinsic to AR’s history; the force’s first battalion, 1 Assam Rifles, was deployed there for more than a century from 1898 to 2003.
“The newly-inducted women soldiers will be posted to various battalions of the force and be used for frisking and interrogation of women when needed, dispersing female mobs, controlling crowd and tackling agitations involving women,” Lt Gen HJS Sachdev, AR director general, said.
They will also be employed for relief and rescue operations and play a crucial role in avoiding human rights violation and projecting a clean image of the force, he added.
“I am proud that our nation is moving forward in accepting (that) women can do the same job that men can,” Major Zorampari Oinam Joshi, officer in-charge of the first batch of women recruits, said.
Initially constituted to protect British tea planters’ estates from tribal raiders, the AR was called Cachar Levy when it was formed in 1835. It was later called Assam Frontier Police in 1883, which changed to Assam Military Police in 1891, Eastern Bengal and Assam Military Force in 1913 and finally Assam Rifles in 1917.
The AR is the only Indian paramilitary force that has taken part in both the World Wars. Since independence, its 46 battalions have been involved in counter-insurgency operations and vigil along the India-Myanmar border.