They might not be taking on combat positions straightaway but women guards of the Border Security Force (BSF) will soon be deployed in Punjab villages along the 553-km fenced border between India and Pakistan.
BSF officials say nearly 180 young women recruits, aged between 18 and 22 years, will be deployed along the India-Pakistan border soon after they complete this week their physical training at the BSF's Kharkan camp, 10 km from Hoshiarpur town. Some recruits will be deployed on the India-Bangladesh border later.
This is the first batch of women recruits to be deployed on the frontier by the BSF, which was last year sanctioned nearly 700 posts of women personnel for the first time.
Preparing to welcome the new recruits at border outposts (BOPs), BSF authorities are making arrangements for separate living quarters, recreation areas and ladies' toilets for them as they take to their field jobs.
BSF commandant H S Dhillion says that the new recruits will get all facilities at the BOPs.
Union Home Minister P Chidambaram will attend the passing out parade of the women recruits at the Kharkan camp later this week. The recruits, 45 women from West Bengal and rest from Punjab, have completed a 36-week training schedule at the Kharkan camp.
Perhaps the happiest lot to see the women recruits will be residents of border villages, especially those who have their agricultural land across the barbed-wire fencing that has been erected 500 metres to one kilometre inside Indian territory from the international border.
"This will make life easier for us. Going to our own fields across the fence through border gates was a major harassment, especially for women-folk. Our women will feel more confident in the presence of women BSF guards," farmer Gurdev Singh, who lives near Kahangarh BOP, told IANS.
Since going across the fence to their own fields involved frisking and other restrictions, many rural women from border areas had stopped going since the fence came up in early 1990s. The fencing was erected by India to curb militants from entering Punjab from the Pakistan side.
Farmers are allowed to go beyond the fence only for a few hours every day (from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.) to cultivate their land after strict checking.
The BSF had over the years been facing problems in frisking women accompanying farmers across the fence. Frisking is essential as a lot of smuggling, particularly of drugs, takes place at the border, BSF officials said.
So far the BSF had been taking the help of village headmen to send women near the fence gates to frisk other women going beyond the fence.
BSF's Punjab frontier Deputy Inspector General (DIG) Jagir Singh said that the women recruits will not only man border gates but will also be involved in other activities, including facilitating spectators at the Attari border during the daily retreat ceremony for closure of border gates and also to handle those crossing the border from the check-post.
Nearly 25,000 people assemble on the Indian side of the border to witness the ceremony conducted by the BSF and their counterparts, the Pakistan Rangers, at sunset. The Attari border is about 30 km from Amritsar city.
Over 8,500 women had applied for the 685 posts of women guards with the BSF in June last year. Out of these, nearly 2,500 were short-listed and underwent physical tests, screening and medical examination before being selected.
"Both my parents are in the police. The job with the BSF should be interesting," recruit Kiranbir Kaur had said after being selected.
The recruits were trained in weapons and explosives handling, physical training, drill, map reading, field craft, border management and given knowledge about all major laws including the Indian Penal Code (IPC), customs, passport and immigration.