The group of female superwomen posted at the LoC under the Assam Riffles announces the “women of Steel”. 10,200 feet above sea level and with icy cold winds carrying the sound of shelling from below, it’s a completely different experience from the valleys and lower terrains of Nagaland and Meghalaya for these riflewomen who have been posted to guard the Sadhna Pass which is a strategic and treacherous mountain route in Jammu and Kashmir that has Lines of Control running on three sides. These women are the first platoon of female soldiers deployed near an LoC.
Led by Captain Gursimran Kaur from the Army Service Corps, these soldiers are deputed by the Assam Rifles which is India’s oldest paramilitary force and is responsible for checking the smuggling of arms, ammunition and narcotics across the border. The women, keep a strict eye on each passing vehicle that heads towards Srinagar and Kupwara through the Sadhna Post.
This pass lies 150 km northwest of Srinagar and connects Tangdhar-Teetwal areas of North Kashmir to the Valley. It’s cut off for the winter months i.e. from November to March and is cleared by the army for short durations. In winters, the temperatures drop to -25 degree Celsius and receive a snowfall of 20 to 30 feet. The icy cold winds have given the name “Nathi Chapa Gali” to this pass which means the Pass that leaves a person with a numb nose.
In recent times, this terrain and its proximity to the line of control has become a route for smugglers to pass drugs, especially brown sugar, and weapons across the border. Over the past year, approximately 40 kgs of brown sugar have been confiscated at this check post which is worth Rs. 250 crores. The newest haul was on July 26 where a consignment of narcotics and “war-like stores (ammunitions)” were confiscated from a vehicle.
As per intelligence inputs by the officials, the most worrying trend here is the use of women and children as couriers to smuggle weapons and drugs. In the presence of male soldiers only, they generally avoided frisking at the check post. The women’s platoon is being hoped to fill the vacuum in the surveillance. The officers said that they had very few options for a women platoon as the J&K’s Police unit of women was one but they weren’t trained to operate in harsh conditions. The force currently plans to induct 100 female soldiers who are undergoing training and would take time to be ready. Hence, the administration resorted to the Assam Rifles.
The officials are hopeful that the riflewomen would completely rule out the possibility of smuggling in the area which is close to the LoC that witnesses occasional ceasefire violations.
The riflewomen wear a bullet-proof vest weighing 4.5 kgs over an olive green camouflage uniform and a 1.5 kg helmet. They stand in groups of five from early morning till late evening with rifles pointing to the ground. Their male counterparts search the vehicles minutely that cross the pass as they scan the women and children thoroughly along with the bags or sacks of rice and flour that are put on an X-Ray machine and are passed through a metal detector.