As a photographer my work currently focuses on projects in my own country that explores the role of marginalized rural women in India in armed conflict and in spaces that are mostly male dominated and their struggles and triumphs within them.
The border between India and Pakistan is like its own world. Since partition this border has seen war, smuggling - people, arms, drugs, firing, jingoistic parades, killing, suicide bombing, fireworks, lonely tears and little moments of glory.
In September 2009, India’s first women soldiers were deployed at the India-Pakistan border from Punjab to near the first line of control in Kashmir. I followed these women, from different parts of the country, castes, and backgrounds, cutting across gender and religion during their last days at home to the barracks, through training camp to active duty.
Stationed on a critical border, they try to come to terms with their new responsibilities while patrolling barren lands. This transformation is intense; it is impossible to recreate or restore what they’ve left behind. Theirs is a country so vast that all lines seem to disappear, yet contains a deathly silence so white, haunting, and exact that it can create peace even in a land on the brink of war.
More women in India are in the armed forces than ever before. Yet most of them are painfully alone. Military culture, which can be intimidating, has not been particularly tailor-made for women. The Indian woman in the forces is not only battling against the enemy, but also against a largely patriarchal society. Most of the women I photographed joined the forces to fight their present state of affairs as well as to find an escape from their dire rural livelihood. For these women, putting on a uniform was like coming out of their own skin. They saw it as a way of gaining some form of independence.
In “To Conquer Her Land,” over the last 3 years I am trying to humanize these complex yet intricate issues of poverty, conflict, psychological warfare, caste, youth, gender, love, peace, the concept of home, an undefined idea of patriotism, strength of mind, and a level of stress previously unknown to them. Finally to be able to create 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.