Image Above: ©Poulomi Basu, from the series To Conquer her Land. Courtesy of Half King Photography Series.
For five years Poulomi Basu has photographed the development of India’s first female troops resulting in a series of photographs now on display at The Half King Photography Series.
The title of the exhibit, “To Conquer Her Land”, is fitting since women in India have been struggling with conquering not only a place in the military field but in all instances of a society where traditional gender roles are still very much in place (something that media has brought attention to in recent years). Basu’s photos portray women who in a patriarchal society have chosen to enter and conquer one of the most masculine professions. Although women are still not allowed in combat in India, they are finally able to join the armed forces.
©Poulomi Basu, from the series To Conquer her Land. Courtesy of Half King Photography Series.
©Poulomi Basu, A parachute flares lights up the night-time firing training exercise boot camp Kharkan, October 2009. Courtesy of Half King Photography Series.
©Poulomi Basu, Storm at the border in Udhampur. Indo-Pak Border Jammu & Kashmir, October 2009. Courtesy of Half King Photography Series.
The photos portray the female soldiers posing with guns, training at night and dressed in uniforms in front of barbwire fences. We are used to seeing the military portrayed in this way, the only difference now is that it is women instead of men that are showing off what is traditionally regarded as masculine strength. This highlights the inequality between the genders since it pinpoints the unusual site of seeing women in these situations.
©Poulomi Basu, Two soldiers girls enjoying an intimate moment behind the mosquito net at the night-time. There are many women forging lesbian relationships in the camp, however, under a strict ‘don't’ ask’ and ‘don’t tell’ policy. Kharkan camp. Kharkan, August, 2009. Courtesy of Half King Photography Series.
©Poulomi Basu, Shabbo Kumari at the border Indo-Pak of Attari, Punjab. October 2011. Courtesy of Half King Photography Series.
©Poulomi Basu, Dancing in the border barracks, Attari, January 2011. Courtesy of Half King Photography Series.
©Poulomi Basu, Line of defense taking their stance. Kharkan September 2009. Courtesy of Half King Photography Series.
©Poulomi Basu, Invisible soldiers standing under the moonlight. Boot camp in Kharkan, August 2009. Courtesy of Half King Photography Series.
Basu’s photos have been compared to Tim Hetherington’s portrayals of American soldiers in downtime during their posting in Afghanistan. But where Hetherington shows a macho culture, Basu transcends gender by showing a different kind of strength than we are used to seeing in military settings. One of the most striking photos in the exhibition shows two women dressed in their uniforms, resting on a bed in an embrace. This photo portrays love, tenderness and sisterhood as something strong. With this Basu reveals an alternative dimension to the macho culture of the military profession. These photos challenge traditional gender roles and form a new identity for the military.
©Poulomi Basu, Sona Singh and Kamal Dar of the Border Security Armed Force in their barracks, Kharkan, Punjab, July 2009. Courtesy of Half King Photography Series.
by Helena Calmfors
All Images are Courtesy of Half King Photography Series, New York