The Border Security Force (BSF) has created history by deploying a platoon of lady constables on a floating Border Outpost (BOP) in the Sunderbans sector of the Indo-Bangladesh border.
The BOP, one of the six deployed in the riverine areas of the international border, are large floating vessels that resemble sophistical barges. They are equipped with modern facilities and have been designed and custom-built for the BSF’s water wing by Cochin Shipyards Limited.
This floating BOP, named ‘BOP Ganga’, is deployed 50 kilometres off Dhamakhali village in Bengal’s North 24 Paraganas district.
The vessel, manned by the eleven-member team of ladies in uniform, patrols a long stretch of the Kalindi and Damsa rivers (distributaries of the Hooghly) and also stretches of the Raimangal River, through which the boundary between the two countries runs.
This 46-metre-long floating BOP is equipped with high-tech communication and surveillance equipment and has four fast patrol boats in its stowage. These boats are deployed for search and seizure operations.
The platoon is headed by a lady of the rank of sub-inspector and all the personnel are equipped with INSAS rifles. The floating BOP has stocks of essentials, including food, to last the mahila praharis (women soldiers) more than a week on the waters.
A senior officer of the BSF’s South Bengal Frontier which oversees this stretch of the Indo-Bangladesh border told Swarajya that women personnel of the force are crucial for intercepting the many woman smugglers who operate in the vast Sunderband delta.
Union Home Minister Amit Shah inaugurated six floating BOPs during his visit to Bengal in May this year. Three more floating BOPs will be commissioned soon.
The BSF is mandated to check smuggling and also poaching in the vast Sunderbans National Park, that is home to the Royal Bengal Tiger and many other species, including endangered species, of flora and fauna.
Sunderbans is criss-crossed with rivers, canals and creeks that form a complex web with islands — both habited and inhabited — formed by alluvial deposits of the rivers between them.
Since it is impossible to erect any physical barrier on the riverine border or man the entire stretch of the border 24x7, transgressions of the border by smugglers, human traffickers, infiltrators and fishermen is very common.
“Maintaining vigil on this border is very difficult and presents a formidable challenge. Apart from smuggling and poaching, we also have to keep a watch on fishermen from Bangladesh who come into our waters and attack our (Indian) fishermen and steal their catch. Since many poachers and smugglers are women who had been operating with impunity because our male jawans cannot search them, our mahila praharis have been tackling these women criminals very effectively,” said the senior BSF officer.
The mahila praharis have also been helping fisher-folk in distress. During the frequent storms and turbulence in the rivers that are so close to the Bay of Bengal, fisher-folk need to be rescued and the floating all-woman BOP has helped and rendered assistance to many such fisher-folk in distress.
The BSF started recruiting women into the force in 2008 mainly to deploy them along the land borders with Bangladesh and Pakistan.
“The fencing along the Indo-Bangladesh border came up 150 yards (137.16 metres) inside Indian territory away from the ‘zero line’ as per international norms. So many farmlands belonging to our own people and even Indian villages were cut off by the fence. Women going to those farmlands that were cut off or to the villages had to be frisked and searched every time they crossed the border to prevent smuggling. That task could not be performed by male jawans. So women were inducted into the force,” said another BSF officer.
Of the eleven mahila praharis aboard BOP Ganga, three were fresh recruits and it was their first posting after they completed their rigorous training.
The rest have, on an average, eight to ten years of experience and had served on other parts of the international border in Bengal as well as Punjab and Rajasthan.
The going gets tough for personnel deployed on the floating BOPs during the monsoons when the Sunderbans gets hit by violent thunderstorms.
“Not only do we have to face turbulence when our vessel gets tossed around, we also have to rescue fisherfolk on boats that overturn or get damaged. The going gets very tough then,” said a lady constable on Ganga BOP.
But the mahila praharis have weathered many storms and have given a fine account of themselves, say senior BSF officers.
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