NEW DELHI ( 2008-04-04 18:49:44 ) :
India is enrolling women for the first time in a combat role, overturning a mindset in the country's security establishment that women are no good at defending frontiers or fighting wars.
The largely conservative country's 1.3-million strong army has less than 1000 women, all of them in non-combat jobs such as engineering and nursing.
But India's Border Security Force (BSF) says it wants to change with the times and recognise the many roles Indian women play today -- from software engineers and space scientists to sportswomen and business czars.
"So far we were not recruiting ladies, maybe because of the nature of our duty, and the thought was that ladies are not suitable," Ashish Kumar Mitra, BSF's director general, told Reuters in an interview late on Thursday.
To begin with, BSF will recruit 750 women guards primarily for frisking duties, checking human trafficking and drug smuggling.
Once seasoned, they will be deployed along the country's borders with Pakistan to the west, and Bangladesh in the east, which New Delhi says are the most common entry points for militants plotting attacks against the country.
Mitra said the BSF was turning to women after it found that male guards were unable to effectively frisk women drug peddlers.
Last year, the BSF arrested over 700 women for smuggling narcotics and human trafficking along both the border with Pakistan and Bangladesh.
Hundreds of women also get away because male guards are not allowed to carry out body search of women.
Like their male colleagues, women guards would be posted on patrolling duties and would be armed with automatic rifles.
"So far as the charter of duties is concerned, they would be expected to do the normal job of men," Mitra said.
"The arms training will be the same as those given to men, and the equipment given will be the same," Mitra said.
The women guards will be deployed in the northwestern state of Punjab, bordering Pakistan, and the eastern state of West Bengal which shares its boundary with Bangladesh.
Mitra says the BSF, which has about 200,000 guards, could eventually raise exclusive women's battalions.
"In course of time, we plan to recruit more as they are capable of doing as good a job as men."