An integral women cadre was instituted in the Assam Rifles (AR) in 2013. Since then, Riflewomen (Rfw), as they are designated, are working hand in hand with their Riflemen (Rm) comrades on every front, braving the inhospitable and harsh terrain and all operational challenges in remote locations of the North East.
The employment of Riflewomen in Kashmir has fulfilled a longstanding requirement of women combatants in many situations of CI/CT operations in Kashmir Valley.
After validating their professional acumen in the counter insurgency/ counter terrorist (CI/CT) environment of the North East, it was decided that AR Riflewomen were to be deployed in Kashmir under the operational control of the Indian Army. This is indeed a matter of great pride for the entire fraternity of Assam Rifles.
Notwithstanding all inhibitions related to their employment philosophy, AR Riflewomen underwent challenging four weeks of training at the Corps Battle School, Khreuh (J&K), before getting deployed in the intense CI/CT environment in Kashmir Valley.
The employment of Riflewomen in Kashmir has fulfilled a longstanding requirement of women combatants in many situations of CI/CT operations in Kashmir Valley. Often, women among the local population need to be dealt with. While women have been used by some terrorist groups as terrorists, but in the Valley, terrorists have used women as couriers for illicit smuggling or moving of arms and ammunition or for supportive over-ground activities. There are instances when women of the civil population have to be frisked or interacted with for investigation, or when women need medical treatment.
Availability of women as security forces personnel has been a major hurdle for the Army in combating terrorism, as policewomen of J&K Police or central armed police forces are not always available. Terrorist outfits have been taking advantage of this shortfall of women police personnel and human rights issues by using local women as scapegoats.
The inclusion of women soldiers under command of the Army in the Valley is a most welcome step. Whenever and wherever they are deployed they will be definite assets in overcoming problems associated with dealing with women of the local populace and particularly in situations where frisking of women or questioning them for information is concerned. Frisking of women becomes necessary in an environment where they have been used/forces by terrorists to transport weapons.
Riflewomen: A viable counter-insurgency option
While terrorist groups in the North East have been known to include women in actual fighting and other supportive roles, in Jammu and Kashmir, the Dukhtaraan-e-Millat (DeM) is an all-women outfit which can be categorised as soft-terrorist, in the sense that it uses extra-legal means, including threats, to impose its doctrines but has not taken to arms so far. During the 1990’s, DeM was active in organising protests against Kashmiri women who did not adhere to wearing the burqa (veil) as ‘decreed’ by it.
In May 1993, the DeM issued warnings to the women in Srinagar not to venture outside their houses without wearing the burqa. It also organised protests against the alleged display of objectionable literature in Jammu and Kashmir. Another issue that the outfit periodically raised is alleged excess of security forces conducting counter-insurgency operations in the State. It regularly cooperated with the All Party Hurriyat Conference in organising protest demonstrations on this issue and was also active in radicalisation of youth.
Availability of women as security forces personnel has been a major hurdle for the Army in combating terrorism, as policewomen of J&K Police or central armed police forces are not always available.
So far, there are only a few Riflewomen integral to a battalion of Assam Rifles deployed in the Valley, but deputed to Army for being included in CI/CT operations. However, with their professional and humane approach, they have made a positive impact on the local populace wherever they have been deployed. Their deployment in the Valley is a good beginning but there need to be many more of them in number and deployed all over the affected areas of Jammu and Kashmir. All battalions of AR in the North East which have women personnel on their rolls have certainly benefited.
While there have been women officers in the Army, Navy and Air Force since 1992, the Army recently began entry of women soldiers in its Corps of Military Police.