Women and work

Rare photographs of the women who joined the Indian army in World War II

Unlike their European counterparts who participated in the first world war, Indian women were allowed to sign up only in 1942.

As the World War I sucked in millions of young men into killing fields across Europe, it also turned into an opportunity for women on the Continent to leave their homes and begin to work. The same did not begin to happen for Indian women until World War II.

In May 1942, the British formed the Women’s Auxiliary Corps (India) for female volunteers to contribute to the war cause. This was the first time Indian women entered the army, and until 1992, it also was the only time they were allowed to serve in non-medical roles.

As with their counterparts in the United States and Europe, women were not allowed to serve in combat roles. Instead, they worked behind the front lines as typists, switchboard operators and drivers, and could be posted anywhere the Indian Army went. The corps was disbanded in 1947 with Independence.

But women were not just in the auxiliary corps. Civilian women were also allowed to serve as nurses and were employed in light manufacturing jobs in the extensive factories on Indian soil that fed the machines of war.

Here are a few of these early remarkable women.


Bridge in the nurses' mess. Hundreds of Indian nurses have volunteered and are seeing active service alongside Indian doctors in the Middle East. 1941-1943. Photo credit: Library of Congress



Woman power in India. Indian women cleaning and oiling spare parts for tanks supplied under lend-lease. April 1943. Photo credit: Library of Congress



Women workers in a booming Mumbai textile mill. Thirty five percent of India's great cotton textiles production, amounting to some 5,000,000,000 yards a year, went into war materials for India and the alllies. 1941-1943. Photo credit: Library of Congress



The Quetta Platoon, Women's Auxiliary Corps (India), in civilian dress, 1942. Photo credit: National Army Museum, UK



Members of the Women's Auxiliary Corps (India) in service dress, 1943. Photo credit: National Army Museum, UK



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Relying on the power of habits to solve India’s mammoth sanitation problem

Adopting three simple habits can help maximise the benefits of existing sanitation infrastructure.

India’s sanitation problem is well documented – the country was recently declared as having the highest number of people living without basic sanitation facilities. Sanitation encompasses all conditions relating to public health - especially sewage disposal and access to clean drinking water. Due to associated losses in productivity caused by sickness, increased healthcare costs and increased mortality, India recorded a loss of 5.2% of its GDP to poor sanitation in 2015. As tremendous as the economic losses are, the on-ground, human consequences of poor sanitation are grim - about one in 10 deaths, according to the World Bank.

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According to the World Bank, hygiene promotion is essential to realise the potential of infrastructure investments in sanitation. Behavioural intervention is most successful when it targets few behaviours with the most potential for impact. An area of public health where behavioural training has made an impact is WASH - water, sanitation and hygiene - a key issue of UN Sustainable Development Goal 6. Compliance to WASH practices has the potential to reduce illness and death, poverty and improve overall socio-economic development. The UN has even marked observance days for each - World Water Day for water (22 March), World Toilet Day for sanitation (19 November) and Global Handwashing Day for hygiene (15 October).

At its simplest, the benefits of WASH can be availed through three simple habits that safeguard against disease - washing hands before eating, drinking clean water and using a clean toilet. Handwashing and use of toilets are some of the most important behavioural interventions that keep diarrhoeal diseases from spreading, while clean drinking water is essential to prevent water-borne diseases and adverse health effects of toxic contaminants. In India, Hindustan Unilever Limited launched the Swachh Aadat Swachh Bharat initiative, a WASH behaviour change programme, to complement the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan. Through its on-ground behaviour change model, SASB seeks to promote the three basic WASH habits to create long-lasting personal hygiene compliance among the populations it serves.

This touching film made as a part of SASB’s awareness campaign shows how lack of knowledge of basic hygiene practices means children miss out on developmental milestones due to preventable diseases.

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SASB created the Swachhata curriculum, a textbook to encourage adoption of personal hygiene among school going children. It makes use of conceptual learning to teach primary school students about cleanliness, germs and clean habits in an engaging manner. Swachh Basti is an extensive urban outreach programme for sensitising urban slum residents about WASH habits through demos, skits and etc. in partnership with key local stakeholders such as doctors, anganwadi workers and support groups. In Ghatkopar, Mumbai, HUL built the first-of-its-kind Suvidha Centre - an urban water, hygiene and sanitation community centre. It provides toilets, handwashing and shower facilities, safe drinking water and state-of-the-art laundry operations at an affordable cost to about 1,500 residents of the area.

HUL’s factory workers also act as Swachhata Doots, or messengers of change who teach the three habits of WASH in their own villages. This mobile-led rural behaviour change communication model also provides a volunteering opportunity to those who are busy but wish to make a difference. A toolkit especially designed for this purpose helps volunteers approach, explain and teach people in their immediate vicinity - their drivers, cooks, domestic helps etc. - about the three simple habits for better hygiene. This helps cast the net of awareness wider as regular interaction is conducive to habit formation. To learn more about their volunteering programme, click here. To learn more about the Swachh Aadat Swachh Bharat initiative, click here.

This article was produced by the Scroll marketing team on behalf of Hindustan Unilever and not by the Scroll editorial team.