16 Days Campaign Theme series: Peace or war, what difference does it make?, by Kirthi Gita Jayakumar

Kirthi Gita Jayakumar

Peace or war, what difference does it make?

That gender-violence is a weapon of war, and common on every warfront is a fact. But what is obscure, and perhaps little considered, is that it is as rooted in peacetime as it is in wartime. The thin red line separating the two does not exist: gender violence is ubiquitous, existing in a “continuum” of sorts, between peacetime and wartime. In both situations, the occurrence of gender-violence is significant of the dominance and aggression that men assert over women, and of the fact that the bodies of women are focal points for aggressive discrimination based on sex. Where the difference lies, however, is in the proportion. In peacetime, bodies remain ‘individual’, as scattered or episodic instances of violence take place. In wartime, the scale and proportion extends beyond this limit, where bodies become ‘social bodies’, with the number of events taking place tolling much higher.

Wartime gender discrimination and violence is proof of a prevalent undercurrent of socio-cultural dynamics that speak of gender discrimination in peacetime. This is precisely the reason for the effectiveness of gender violence in war. If there were no prevalent concepts in peacetime of honour, shame, sexuality, sacredness of virginity and modesty, gender violence cannot function so effectively in war.

The surrounding element of cultural salience in peacetime surrounding a woman’s honour is a reflection of the connotations that sexuality has in peacetime. The dynamics of male dominance stem from the notions surrounding the protection of female honour, which in turn, is inherent in many traditional cultures. Most countries that have remained thriving hotbeds of impunity with gender-violence in wartime are those that are peppered with a sanctimonious perception of women as sex objects in peacetime. By “sex objects”, the connotation intends to convey that women are representatives of the code of honour of their families and the code of honour of their blood and lineage. This in turn leads to the augmented sanctity attached to the virginity, chastity, honour and virtue of a woman. Women themselves are brought up with the preconditioning that their honour and shame are non-negotiable elements for their acceptance in society. A woman is deemed the representation of the honour of the three-tiered hierarchy that commands her life: her husband, her family, and the community or province she represents.

Given the importance of and emphasis upon a woman’s chastity, monogamy and fertility in peacetime, it is understandable why women become the critical targets of enemy combatants in a state of war. An act of violence against women is a means for combatants to show their control over the “sexual property” in a conflict.

Sexual violence in peacetime is often construed as crimes against the individual – while in war the very same offences gain greater magnitude. The continued subsistence of a culture of silence in peacetime is a springboard for the unhindered occurrence of violence against women in war. In effect, therefore, bodies don’t turn battlegrounds, but remain. The lack of peace at home and at the grassroots snowballs into the lack of peace in the nation, and the lack of peace across the world.

Kirthi Jayakumar is a lawyer (International Law & Human Rights). (The only link is: www.kirthijayakumar.blogspot.com)

16 Days Campaign Theme series: Women peace-builders, by Sumona DasGupta

Sumona DasGupta

Women Peace builders: Where are they in Kashmir?

The experiences of women in Jammu and Kashmir in the years after an armed insurrection broke out in 1989 are as varied as the landscape of the state. It is not just a fact that men and women experienced the conflict differently post 1989,  but also that women themselves experienced it differently depending on whether they were located in Jammu, the valley or Ladakh; whether they were Muslim, Hindu, Sikh, Buddhist; whether they were from the settled or pastoral communities; whether they lived along the lines of control and the international border or the more interior regions; whether they lived in urban, rural, camp or cluster colonies; whether they belonged to the higher castes or the lower/ scheduled castes; whether they were part of urban elite or the rural poor.  These in fact are only indicative of the many faultlines that separate the life experiences of women in Jammu and Kashmir from each other—and there are many more.

Life experiences of women particularly in the valley were also conditioned by whether their sons, husbands joined one of the many militant groups or not, whether they surrendered to the state in due course and whether they themselves were involved in the armed movement in a covert way.  While some Kashmiri women have in the past acted as couriers and messengers and others have voluntarily or under coercive pressure sheltered those in the militant ranks, they have not picked up the gun or been bombers or suicide squad members unlike some of their other south Asian counterparts. At the start of the insurgency there is no doubt that many women along with men supported the movement for azadi in the valley though the extent of their support for an armed movement waned with time as they increasingly found themselves hemmed between  two armed patriarchies—one of the state and the other of militant groups—both of which had scant regard for their rights. They resisted both these armed patriarchies occasionally but the commonality of shared resistance was too short lived, isolated and sporadic to generate shared bonds that could be a resource for peacebuilding later.

As often happens in situations of overt militarization primordial and essentialist markers of identities and the exclusive life experiences generated within particular identity clusters seem to triumph over socially constructed identities and shared gendered experiences. In an atmosphere of competing nationalisms and sub regionalisms shared experiences as women matter less than their particular community and kinship based experiences which seem too overwhelming to admit of anything else.  And hence the ethnic differences and past competing loyalties of disappeared husbands and sons continue to separate the Kashmiri speaking women of lower Dardpora in Kupwara  and their Gujjar counterparts in Upper Dardpora in Kupwara district along the line of control in Kashmir valley despite the shared experience of being half widows trying to eke out a living in hugely difficult circumstances.   The experience of women cultivators having to live with stray bullets, mines and fenced out fields in Suchetgarh one of the last villages along Jammu’s international border is woven so integrally into their everyday struggles for life and livelihood that it is difficult to imagine them connecting empathetically with those even in other more “sheltered”  parts of Jammu let alone the valley.  The reality of being a Jammu Rajput Muslim woman with close blood relatives across a line of control in a village along zero line in Poonch of Jammu subdivision does not necessarily establish a sympathetic bond between her and the women in the valley whose espousal of the azadi “cause” is seen to make their journey to visit relatives in Pakistan administered Kashmir that much more difficult. The women of the valley who have suffered enormous hardships due to the everyday manifestations of militarization – bombs, bullets, cordon and search operations, midnight knocks, state repression, militant killings – have not been able to connect to their counterparts in Jammu or Ladakh subdivision whose daily travails have been of a different nature.  Ironically women in Jammu and Ladakh  feel aggrieved that the valley has got undue attention at their cost precisely because of the overt violence. Those women forced to live in virtual exile in miserable camps – Pandits as well as  those displaced from Doda, Rajouri and Poonch due to the violent conflict do not see their interests being represented by women’s voices from the valley or for that matter from the settled communities in Jammu subdivision itself.

To build empathetic spaces across conflict spaces that have generated so many  difficult faultlines across landscapes and mindscapes,  requires as I have argued elsewhere, not just cross border dialogues across the line of control but also a dialogue among women across the three subdivisions of the Indian administered part of the state. Women’s solidarities have to be actively built and nurtured and cannot be taken as a given. When the everydayness of the conflict is so overwhelming, when the voices calling for religious or/and subregional solidarities are so shrill, being able to think and connect to the experiences of others who have experienced the conflict differently even if they are women, is not easy.  Yet because women have suffered differently in an armed conflict that is not of their own making there appears to be an expectation that they will automatically become resources for peacebuilding. The fact that they may want to but feel conflicted and torn in a polarized and militarized space is something that needs to be taken into account. The absence of the shared common political goal need not be an insurmountable barrier but the absence of shared and sustained dialogue spaces is. It is only when an indigenous movement led by women seek out paths for dialogue and rainbow coalitions that accepts that the differences in their experiences need not obstruct them seeking a just peace collectively that takes their interests and needs into account that a new chapter will be opened.

Dr.Sumona DasGupta is a researcher based in New Delhi and currently Senior Research Consultant with Society for Participatory Research in Asia (PRIA).

16 Days Campaign Theme series: Gender Violence as a Threat to International Security, by Soumita Basu

Soumita Basu

Sexual and Gender Based Violence
as a “Threat to International Peace and Security”

Concerns regarding “protection” of women at times of armed conflicts are not new. The Geneva Conventions and Protocols are an important case in point. However, as Judith Gardam and Hilary Charlesworth note, the emphasis in these documents is on honour, based on sexual attributes such as chastity and modesty of women, which determine their value from the perspective of men (in contrast, offences against men take into account their mind and bodily attributes).  The vocabulary of sexual and gender based violence (SGBV) – in international policy frameworks – that has developed in the last decade or so represent a more evolved thinking, and reflect positions on sexual violence taken in the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court (1998) and the UN Security Council Resolution  (SCR) 1325 on Women and Peace and Security  (and its follow-up resolutions) (2000).

The Rome Statute codified, among others, sexual and gender violence as war crimes and crimes against humanity. SCR 1325, which introduces for the first time a gender perspective in the work of the Security Council, follows in the footsteps of the Rome Statute. Its protection mandate is placed within a policy context that has a multidimensional representation of women – as political actors, peacemakers and combatants as well as victims – thus, altering the understanding of women’s victimhood to an extent.

Since the passage of SCR 1325, the resolution has dominated the policy discourse on addressing SGBV vis-à-vis armed conflicts. Indeed, of all its provisions, including issues of women’s participation and conflict prevention, the protection mandate has emerged as a clear frontrunner. Three of the four follow-up resolutions on Women, Peace and Security – SCRs 1820, 1888 and 1960 – focus on SGBV, and were tabled at the Security Council by its most powerful member state, the United States. These have paved the way for the UN to strengthen its commitment on this issue, with the establishment of the post of Secretary General’s Special Representative on Sexual Violence in Conflict in 2010, and initiation of efforts to tackle impunity for SGBV such as through “naming and shaming” lists of offenders.

The UN Security Council has the primary responsibility for the maintenance of international peace and security. In spite of the adoption of resolutions such as SCR 1325 and others on “protection of civilians in armed conflicts”, “children and armed conflicts” and “HIV/AIDS” since 1999, the understanding of peace and security that permeates Security Council proceedings is essentially narrow, i.e. primarily geared to manage (and not necessarily resolve) armed conflicts. With the introduction of gender into the Council’s purview through SCR 1325, SGBV has been recognized as a threat to international peace and security. This has a number of serious implications for the violence against women agenda. Not only has it been incorporated into the militaristic culture of the Security Council, but as Sara Meger, among others, has pointed out, focusing on sexual violence as a weapon of war – as the Council does – has imposed limitations as it does not take account of “various other forms of gender-based violence and violence against women that occurs both in the context of war, and in the so-called times of ‘peace’”. Even at such a high cost, has SGBV been seriously addressed through resolutions such as SCR 1325? The answer is no, or at least, not yet.

As Kathryn Bolkovac’s account of her experience as a human rights investigator associated with the UN peacekeeping mission in Bosnia demonstrates, there is little political will within the UN to combat gender based violence. Indeed, there have been allegations of sexual exploitation and abuse by UN peacekeepers themselves, most recently reported from the Democratic Republic of Congo and Haiti. The rhetoric of “zero impunity” for offenders has not been translated into practice. Gender affairs units of the UN missions rarely have adequate resources or political reach to realize strategies that can address SGBV. And, peacekeepers who may be committed to protection, do not receive clearly drawn out mandates or effective training necessary for preventing or responding to such threats.

In spite of damning evidence against the effectiveness of the Security Council resolutions on women, peace and security, placing SGBV in the context of international peace and security (or indeed vice versa) is an important development. Even as the Council and the UN, with their institutional constraints, move forward – and sometimes backwards – on this agenda, SCR 1325 and its follow-up resolutions have become useful tools for gender advocates to call for and devise action against sexual and gender based violence.

Soumita Basu is Assistant Professor of International Relations at the South Asian University, New Delhi.

16 Days Campaign Theme series: Disarm!, by Binalakshmi Nepram

Binalakshmi Nepram


In an address to the United Nations two years back, I had stated,”In my home region of Manipur alone, I find weapons from 13 countries fuelling a bloody conflict.Several countries present in this room will have never heard of my state, Manipur. But the very fact that weapons produced in your countries have found their way to our towns and villages are a valid reason to find out how they came and what can be done to prevent the flow of arms”

Throughout my childhood I saw weapons both of state and non-state actors taking control of our lives, our futures and I thought all this is a normal part of growing up. I lost my 12 year old niece in the violence. And later my family was subjected to a death warrant and displaced for almost half a year due to the conflict.

Every day in our work we come across men, women and children who have endured a deep psychological crisis to overcome the impact of unregulated arms trade on their lives.

Disarm Domestic Violence was the first international campaign to protect women from gun violence in the home. It was launched by International Action Network(IANSA) on Small Arms based in London,UK when the realisation dawned that “the greatest risk of gun violence to women around the world is not on the streets, or the battlefield, but in their own homes. Women are three times more likely to die violently if there is a gun in the house”. The main goal of this campaign, according to IANSA is to ensure that anyone with a history of domestic abuse is denied access to a firearm, and has their license revoked.

The monetary value of international authorised exports of arms is relatively small in global terms, amounting to around US$ 51.1 billion per year – representing less than half of the value of the global coffee market.But this completely belies the international significance of the arms trade. The arms industry manufactures products and provides services, which maim and kill.

One would expect, therefore, a strong degree of control commensurate with this responsibility – governments and industry working together to ensure that these weapons are used and sold responsibly.

Yet the arms trade is like no other, operating outside the jurisdiction of the World Trade Organization, the parameters of the UN Conference on Trade and Development, and the bounds of the arms non-proliferation regime. The control is left to individual governments, which may be unwilling or unable to ensure responsible practices.

Recent research has identified 1,135 companies manufacturing arms and ammunition in at least 98 countries; and these numbers are increasing only.

The profusion of arms-producing companies and nations presents a clear challenge to those who advocate strong controls.

One country alone cannot tackle the problem and it is time that we recognise this. Governments thus need to work together to be more accountable to their citizens in their provision of protection from armed violence.

Governments and civil society need to work together to improve safety at the community level and to help men, women and children who have survived the violence. In Manipur, we started women’s gun survivor network to help women survivors of armed violence.We must turn off the irresponsible supply of arms… and drain the pool of existing uncontrolled weapons.

All governments must take responsible and concerted action to control the proliferation, possession, and misuse of arms, in line with international law.

The time for action is now. I call upon countries to take leadership in the important process. To end with words of Mahatma Gandhi: “Peace will not come out of a clash of arms but out of justice lived and done by unarmed nations in the face of odds.”

Binalakshmi Nepram is the  founder of the Manipur Women Gun Survivors Network and Secretary General, Control Arms Foundation of India.

16 Days Campaign Theme series: Bearing Witness: Travels in the Northeast, by Preeti Gill

Preeti Gill

Bearing Witness: Travels in the Northeast

The first time that I traveled to the Northeast was in search of writers for an issue of The Book Review –a New Delhi based journal that I worked for at the time. And as I read and interviewed writers from the region, I heard stories that astounded me. Here was a region about which I knew very little and about which I had read even less, I had not one friend from my university years who belonged to this region and I was totally ignorant of what their lives were like. Ignorant of their history, of what had been happening in this remote corner of my country while I was growing up in Bhopal and Delhi and Mussoorie oblivious to the trauma and the sufferings that so many communities there were facing.

Some years later, on my first visit to Kohima, when I’d gone to work on project that was trying to document the impact of conflict on women in Nagaland, I was asked if I had any Naga friends and I said no. I was told then that I would soon make many friends—this has turned out to be true, happily for me. But as I traveled through the hinterland and met people I realized that almost everyone had stories to tell of personal loss and bereavement, of violence and trauma. I had not read of these or heard them earlier so had there been a deliberate silencing of their voices? A certain and complete marginalization of their history?  And yet as we know documentation often works as a political intervention. Analysts say war and civil conflict can be devastating to social and cultural forms because they impinge at the level of the whole society and every person who has survived conflict is aware of the wide ranging ramifications that this environment of violence and insecurity has on them. It takes people and society a long time to come to terms with what has happened and is happening around them.  As one young woman whom I met in Dimapur recounted, she was hidden away in the hollow of a tree for three days by her mother, who was fleeing from her village that was being bombed by the Indian air force. The child lay alone in the dark, hungry and frightened until her mother thought it safe enough to go back and retrieve her. This incident still haunts her and as soon as she was able she decided to join the Naga National army of which her father too was a part. It was only much later that she learnt to come to terms with these terrible memories and turned to the church. I felt completely humbled to be told these stories of private grief and I felt a commitment then as I do now, to bring these stories out to the world because I believe that they work as political intervention, as a way to build bridges between communities and help to open up a little known region and an alienated people. It’s been many years since that first visit—I have traveled in many of the states of the ‘northeast’ through the past 17 or 18 years but something of that commitment has been translated to the publishing of a lot of women writers from the region through the Zubaan Northeast Writers list.

To say that women have faced violence in situations of conflict is to state the obvious but what it means in terms of the short-term and long term impacts is something that is still being studied and analyzed. While the most obvious impact is physical or sexual violence, the psychological scarring as a result of prolonged exposure to brutality and the limitations placed on women in a patriarchal society have even greater consequences for their well- being. And this in turn impacts the whole society; it deeply wounds the whole community and destroys much more than individual lives. Women find themselves at the receiving end of violence on three fronts, from the state, the militants and a corresponding escalation of violence within their own homes. The effects of violent acts like rape, sexual abuse and physical assault and maltreatment has led to a profound psychological and emotional trauma and a very high incidence of what is known as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Women have to cope with the realities of daily life– they are responsible as mothers of the children, the hurt and the wounded, who are innocent victims to conflicts not of their creation. They are the wives of injured, disabled or missing men, the soldiers of warring factions and the state. They suffer as civilians with their freedoms curtailed and shackled. They are assaulted, beaten, humiliated, raped and murdered during conflicts. The loss that women face in times of conflict is not just emotional, or physical in terms of losing a loved one but also transfers into the economic and social spheres.

Most women experience a decline in social legitimacy and find themselves relegated to the fringes of society with no one to care for them or to speak on their behalf. Since they form the bulk of the unemployed and the uneducated, women find themselves ill-equipped to take on the burden of the household and as a result become utterly poverty stricken. Young widows are forced to head households even though in a patriarchal feudal set-up they have little or no access to land and property. Interviews have shown that during and in the aftermath of violence and conflict there is an increase in female headed households as many men were killed in encounters or raids or have simply ‘disappeared’. In most tribal societies, the economic burden is generally considered the sole responsibility of women and for this reason; perhaps, women get very little help from their own men folk or from the state in the reconstruction of lives after conflict.

Food scarcity, destruction of infrastructure and basic facilities like water, roads, bridges, hospitals, shelters and farmlands have an impact on the entire social structure of the community. Studies have shown that when there is food scarcity, it is the women who suffer most since they are likely to reduce their own intake of food out of concern for their families. The devastation of the natural environment, too, has serious repercussions since in times of conflict with the men engaged elsewhere, the women take on the role of food providers and caretakers, the responsibility of finding alternative sources of food and water and rebuilding falls on them. Often it is they who single-handedly bear the burden of growing food or finding food.

What this meant was a complete turning on its head of the established circumstances, the known life and exchanging it for the unknown, the uncertain, the insecure, and the dangerous. What did this mean to women who were forced to leave the familiar known environments, the villages and towns? How did this experience affect them and their children? What sort of memories do these children of families constantly on the run, have of their childhoods? Did this dislocation mean a destruction of the very fabric of normal life? Of traditional structures?

In conflict zones, women’s spaces become restricted and their mobility severely hampered. They are unable to work long hours in their fields, being forced to go in groups for fear of assault from armed security personnel or other armed groups. Fewer hours in the field mean that their food security gets affected. Most of the country’s development schemes and programmes have made little inroads into these remote hill areas and although the Centre has poured millions of rupees for the state’s development, there is little evidence of its gainful use.

Women’s bodies have become the site of battle with innumerable instances of atrocities and brutality hitting newspaper headlines every now and again. It is a well documented fact that while men who are wounded or disabled or who suffer in war time are given compensation and jobs and treated as heroes, this is not the case with women, who are victims of war and conflict. Women who lose their ‘honour’ find it extremely difficult to lead normal lives and live down the stigma.  In such a scenario then the code of social conduct that once ensured ‘normality’ and what was once understood as ‘normal’ behaviour is now suddenly turned on its head. There are no rules any more–there is a total breakdown of socially sanctioned behaviour and of structures. The role of the state becomes blurred. No longer is it perceived as the protector of the weak and the vulnerable, the arbitrator of right and wrong. Instead the state too has turned adversary and violator. It is important to note here, perhaps, that when the state abdicates its responsibilities alternate groups ‘take over’ the space.

These stories are also something that I want to pass on to my daughters, to younger people in the  so called “mainland” so that they do not grow up as ignorant as I did. To bear witness, has been an extremely painful and troubling experience. Listening to these women and reading their testimonies has been painful and sad because in most cases absolutely nothing has been done to help them, they have had no access to the legal system or even the administrative system. And this to my mind is something that we must face up to–for the unaddressed injustices as well as physical harm and trauma that people in these regions have suffered is something that must be faced by state, non state and civil society groups. The lack of justice has bred a sense of impunity among both state and non state actors. Most of the women I met on my travels and those that spoke about their troubled past were not aware of the mechanisms of the state, whom to approach for help, whom to lodge a complaint with, what their rights were and they had no idea of the state’s role as a protector—and that to my mind is as terrible an indictment as any of our democratic polity.

Preeti Gill, Commissioning editor at Zubaan, a small independent women’s’ publishing house in New Delhi is the editor of “The Peripheral Centre: Voices From India’s Northeast.”

16 Days Campaign Theme series: Women’s Bodies as Men’s Playgrounds, by Akanksha Mehta

Akanksha Mehta

Women’s Bodies as Men’s Playgrounds:
Rape and Sexual Violence in Discourses of Violence and Conflict

Political violence is intricately linked to a surge in gender-based violence. Conflicts in Bosnia, Rwanda, Liberia etc. have all seen the use of mass rape and sexual assault as a weapon. Moreover, approximately four-fifths of war refugees are women and children, many of whom face sexual violence in refugee camps.[1] More recently, since the beginning of the war in 2003, Iraq has seen a rise in domestic violence, rape, female trafficking, and economically coerced prostitution.[2] Feminist scholars have rightly identified wartime sexual violence as symptomatic of the gendered nature of nationalism and violence.[3] Discourses of both nationalism and violence revolve around women’s bodies, appropriating rape and sexual violence as discursive and often propagandist tools, neglecting the actual role, struggle, victimization, and agency of the women involved.

In ethno-nationalist conflict, negotiations of ethnic identity are often carried out within discourses that use rape and sexual violence as ethno-markers. Boundaries based on cultural/ethnic/religious differences are further affirmed by the portrayal of one group’s proclivity to rape. For instance, in the discourse of the Hindu nationalist movement in India, the ‘Muslim’ man is identified as a ‘lustful rapist (polygamist)’ and the ‘Muslim’ woman is either seen as an ‘unchaste prostitute’ or a victim of ‘patriarchal Islam.’ This construction not only justifies physical violence against the Muslim community as means to protect the chaste Hindu women, but has also been used to justify rapes of ‘Muslim’ women as corrective and ‘purifying.’ In the 1998 Kosovo conflict, Serbian discourse constructed Albanian men as perpetrators of rape, interrupting economic and social channels that previously saw working-class Serbian women regularly interacting with Albanian men and deepening the ethnic divide in Kosovo. In both cases, women’s bodies transform into playgrounds of masculine conflicts that condemn the women to the discursive realm, ignoring the several ways in which they ‘live’ the conflict and its physical, emotional, and economic consequences.

Sexual violence and rape also play a crucial role in discourses of insurgency and counter-insurgency. In the 1990s, in conflict-ridden Kashmir, rape and sexual assault by the Indian security forces was appropriated into propagandist militant discourse that used raped bodies as public bodies- encouraging women to give testimonies of rape and appropriating these narratives to further its agenda. However, little was down on the ground to de-stigmatize rape and prevent social ostracizing of raped women. On the other hand, ‘saving’ women from sexual violence leashed by militants became a justification for the state’s heavy militarization of the region. Furthermore, in India’s current Maoist movement, counter-insurgency narratives construct female Maoist cadres as either ‘immoral’ and  ‘sexually unclean and polluted’[4] or victims of sexual violence by male Maoists. These narratives not only justify incidents of sexual violence against Maoist women by paramilitary forces but also justify counter-insurgency’s larger ‘civilizing’ mission.

Discourses of conflict and violence establish an instrumental relationship between rapists, raped women, and the political entities surrounding them. The notion of the ‘dishonored’ woman and the woman who must be ‘protected’ from ‘dishonor’ remains central to this relationship. While women and their bodies are deeply embedded in these discourses and propaganda battles, concepts such as honor and dishonor remain politically unchallenged in these narratives, reaffirming and reinforcing patriarchal structures. It is therefore essential that beneath these discourses that portray women as detached self-sacrificing mothers, daughters, wives, and victims, we uncover women’s roles as agents, nationalists, insurgents, breadwinners, refugees, as well as their struggles as sufferers of gender-based violence- during and after conflict. Narratives and experiences of women in times of war and violence are not only crucial to understanding conflict but also to understanding systems of patriarchy that breed gender-based violence.

Akanksha Mehta is a Ph.D. candidate at the Centre for Gender Studies, School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), London. Her research is on gender, political violence, and nationalism. She can be found at www.twitter.com/SahibanInExile

[1] Hauchler, Ingomar and Kennedy, Paul. 1994. Global Trends. New York: Continuum Publishers.

[2] See Iraq: The Human Cost – http://mit.edu/humancostiraq/

[3] Enloe, Cynthia. 1993. The Morning After: Sexual Politics at the End of the Cold War. Berkeley: University of California Press.

[4]The official website of Bastar district, Chhattisgarh (http://bastar.nic.in/) previously mentioned the following- “The Gonds tribals of Bastar have their own ‘Ghotul’ system in which the unmarried young mature boys and girls live together in separately made huts and copulate. During this time they enjoy themselves by participating in dancing, music, local story telling etc. in a drunken mood….” Retrieved on 20 October 2010. The website is “under renovation” since early 2012.

16 Days Campaign Theme series: Women’s bodies and (en)gendered political violence, by Swati Parashar

Swati Parashar

Women’s bodies and (en) gendered political violence in South Asia

The feminist axiom that ‘personal is political’ comes to mind while studying cases of political violence that include terrorism, armed insurgencies and communal riots. Women are part of the political violence landscape in three significant ways: as victims and survivors, as perpetrators; and as cultural bearers of ethnic, religious and national identities. In a short piece like this it is not possible to engage all questions around women, gender and political violence. I would like to focus on two important aspects – women and girls whose bodies continue to serve as battle ground and whose complex experiences of violence are reduced to ‘bare life’ stories of victimhood where women are further disempowered and kept away from peace processes and conflict resolution.

This piece is being written in the backdrop of the terrifying ordeal of the Pakistani teenager, Malala Yousufzai, from Swat who was shot by Taliban militants for praising the American ‘enemy’ and of propagating ‘secular’ values by advocating education for girls. Bizarre accusations, one would think. Malala recovers miraculously in the quiet surroundings of a hospital in the UK while her ordeal bears testimony to the fact that all militant projects and political violence are waging a ‘war on women’. A fourteen year old, school-going, teenage girl becomes a ‘threat’ to a militant group’s (Tehrik-e-Taliban in this case) ideology and their masculinity that is usually validated by erasing women out of public spaces, by issuing religious diktats of violence against women and by bombing and killing girls in schools and women in market places and shrines. Not long before this case a 14 year old girl affected by down’s syndrome, Rimsha Masih, was perceived as threat by extremists and fundamentalists. She was accused of burning pages of the Koran and charged under the notorious blasphemy laws in Pakistan. She was subsequently acquitted of the charges after an Imam was accused of falsely planting burnt Koran pages into the pile of papers she had burnt. Her life continues to be threatened and a normal childhood is denied to her.

There are many Malalas and Rimshas in the world today. Militant groups in Afghanistan perpetrate violence and abuse against women with ease, despite aid dollars pouring in and government pledges to fight terrorism and extremism. Extremist groups in Pakistan target women and girls (Muslims and non-Muslims) indiscriminately. The situation is no different in India, where Maoist women cadres are targeted by their own comrades who rape and abuse them. The state does no better when security forces kill ‘Maoist’ women and carry them like animals for barbeque. The rape and torture of women in custody is also common (Soni Sori’s case is a brutal reminder here) and dehumanising women who are considered as the ‘other’ is the norm. In Sri Lanka, former women cadres of the LTTE have not been spared either, as they are abused, raped and marginalised while the government propaganda machinery talks about its benevolent rehabilitation efforts. It is, therefore, not without significance that large numbers of women continue to be soft targets in acts of political violence (by state and non-state actors) and this factor needs to be exposed and highlighted consistently.

The fallout of this violence against women is their absence in formal peace talks and conflict resolution processes. This is based on the widely held belief that men participate in armed resistance and thus ‘sacrifice’ their lives and freedom for their ethnic, political or religious group. Women, on the other hand, perform multiple roles in wars and political violence, including as armed guerrilla fighters, militants and support systems. However, their experiences are only documented in public memory as ‘worst sufferers and victims’. Lack of social and political recognition of their participation in armed resistance (for example in Kashmir, Sri Lanka etc.)* has resulted in their exclusion from all peace talks. The message from such situations is that stakeholders in peace must have served and sacrificed in the war and it is usually men who are recognised in their war roles. Increasingly, feminist scholarship and activism has challenged this notion of what women ‘do’ in wars and articulated that women’s voices are critical in not just engendering and sustaining a conflict but also in its resolution.

There is another aspect to this exclusion of women in resolutions of political violence and conflict. ‘Peace’ deals are waged on women’s bodies as we witnessed in the case of the Nizam- e -Adl resolution negotiated between the Taliban and the Government of Pakistan in February 2009. Under the “peace for Sharia” deal the Taliban agreed to stop its armed campaign in the Swat region and surrender its arms in exchange for the legal enforcement of the Sharia laws. Sharia courts would interpret civil rights according to Islamic strictures and women would be veiled and pushed into a life of invisibility, violence and abuse. This deal subsequently collapsed because the Taliban refused to disarm but it highlighted how wars – and also peace – are waged on women’s bodies. In many parts of Afghanistan, women and girls continue to be exchanged as part of the practice of baad or informal conflict resolution. The violence against women continues even if there are policies and laws to prevent it.

As someone who studies political violence and insurgent wars, I conclude with the conviction that political violence has deep implications on the personal lives of people and is particularly played out on women’s bodies. Feminist discourses, in recent times, have been increasingly divided over the universal application of human rights, gender equality and respect for local cultures and traditions (this debate did not end with the Shah Bano case in India!). We would be doing great disservice to our own feminist activism and scholarship if we argue that violence against women is acceptable in any culture and tradition. Political violence thrives on ideologies that ‘other’ women and justify violence against them. The way forward lies not just in exposing these cultures of violence but in articulating our fundamental feminist commitment that critiques and questions traditions and cultural and religious practices that marginalise women and inflict violence on them. I am always reminded of the poet Sahir Ludhianvi’s powerful words;

Zulm ki baat hi kya, zulm ki auqaat hi kya
Zulm bas zulm hai, aaghaaz se anjaam talak

(What is about oppression? What is with its impression?
Oppression is, all of it, but oppression. From beginning to end.)

Dr. Swati Parashar is a lecturer in International Studies at the Faculty of Arts, University of Wollongong, Australia. Her research, publications and teaching focus onterrorism and security studies; feminist international relations; and women, gender and political violence

For further references on these and related topics see the following.

  • Alison, Miranda (2004), “Women as Agents of Political Violence: Gendering Security,” Security Dialogue, 35, 447–463
  • Moser, Caroline and Fiona Clark, eds. (2001), Victims, Perpetrators or Actors? Gender, Armed Conflict and Political Violence (New York: Zed Books)
  • Parashar, Swati (2011) “Gender, Jihad, and Jingoism: Women as Perpetrators, Planners, and Patrons of Militancy in Kashmir”, Studies in Conflict & Terrorism, 34: 4, 295 — 317

16 Days Campaign Theme Series: When ‘Protector’ becomes the Perpetrator, by Saumya Uma

Saumya Uma

When ‘Protector’ Becomes the Perpetrator: Justice vs. Impunity  

In 2004, Thangjam Manorama’s post mortem reports found gunshot injuries in her vagina.  In 2011, Soni Sori’s medical examination showed that stones were lodged in her vagina and rectum. Both were subjected to sexual brutalities by state actors. While Manorama  did not survive to tell the world her ordeal, Soni Sori continues to languish in jail within reach of  the very police that has subjected her to repeated and horrific forms of torture.  In both instances, the perpetrators are still at large.

Have no doubt that these may be exceptions! In 2002, 11 women testified before the Sadashiva Commission about the sexual brutalities perpetrated on them by members of Joint Special Task Forces (JSTF) established for anti-Veerappan operations. The Commission found the testimony of 10 women unconvincing because they did not mention it to the remand judge!  (Sadashiva Commission report, 2 December 2003, Chapter IV, para 44)

In 2008, an NHRC team dismissed the testimony of five victim-survivors, who alleged sexual brutalities by members of the Salwa Judum, as untrue and unsubstantiated. Why? Because they did not remember the number of SPOs who took them away to the camps, the number of officials who had allegedly raped them and their identities! (‘Chhattisgarh Enquiry Report’, National Commission for Human Rights, at para 6.25)

After months of investigation by varied authorities, we were told by the CBI that in May 2009, Asiya and Neelofar from Shopian had neither been raped nor killed, but drowned of their own accord in  ankle-deep water on the Rambiara Nullah. (http://articles.economictimes.indiatimes.com/2009-12-15/news/28382529_1_cbi-report-neelofar-cbi-investigation)

In instance after instance, state actors commit such atrocities with full knowledge that the law and institutions would shield them in myriad ways. The women’s testimonies are dismissed as lies, using creative reasoning. The state actors are rewarded for their ‘gallantry’ (Ankit Garg of Soni Sori incident and A Ravi Kumar of Vakapalli incident are examples). We are told that national security and territorial integrity are sacrosanct – justifying the need for draconian laws – while there is not a whimper about human security; that the acts of officials were “in discharge of official duties”, and hence they cannot be prosecuted unless the government sanctions the same (S. 197 of Criminal Procedure Code); that the NHRC cannot directly inquire into violations by armed forces but can only seek an explanation from the Central government (S. 19, Protection of Human Rights Act); and further, that the ignominy that the victims / survivors were subjected to does not amount to the offence of ‘rape’ under the Indian Penal Code, because there was no penile penetration of the vagina (S. 375 of Indian Penal Code).

When ‘protectors’ transform into ‘perpetrators’, state-appointed investigators and prosecutors have little motivation in ensuring conviction of errant officials.  This reduces the criminal trial to a farcical exercise, making a mockery of justice.

An archaic penal code that fails to recognize various forms of sexual violence contributes to subjugating women’s struggle for justice.  In contrast, international jurisprudence recognizes as crimes a range of acts including rape, forced pregnancy, enforced prostitution, sexual slavery, enforced sterilization and other acts of a similar gravity. Experience from other jurisdictions indicates that laws on victim and witness protection, reparations, as well as command and superior responsibility are imperative, both for pinning accountability and for justice to victims / survivors.  Further, contexts of mass crimes warrant  substantive, procedural and evidentiary laws that take into consideration the specific ground reality.

Through its participation in advocacy initiatives on the Torture Bill, Communal and Targeted Violence Bill and the Criminal Law (Amendment) Bill, the women’s movement seeks to bridge the gap between law and reality, address the challenges faced by women in their struggle for justice, and to incorporate  international jurisprudential developments to strengthen domestic law.

Ultimately, even the best of laws cannot deter or render justice to women for sexual and gender-based violence, particularly by state actors, unless there is a political will to end impunity for such crimes.

Saumya Uma is a law researcher and human rights activist based in Mumbai, India.

16 Days Campaign Theme Series: Gender and Militarism, by Anuradha Chenoy

Anuradha M. Chenoy

Extracts from a paper, “Militarism in India

(Dr. Chenoy has very generously let us use her paper, “Militarism in India,”
to generate this post. The full paper is available at our website.)

There is widespread belief that militarization is ‘not an issue’ in India and as far as the sub continent goes, it is Pakistan that is a militarized state. In this context it would be useful to dispel some common myths about militarization in India and South Asia. It is true that while Pakistan has been saddled with direct military regimes and we in India have continuously lauded ourselves on the relative success of our democratic system, the Indian State has militarist responses on a number of issues. These include: Regions in India like the North East, and Kashmir that have been continuously subjected to militarized policies. Further, when ever the state feels a threat, either from internal or external sources a militarist response is considered the primary option. Thus whether it is the approach to tackling social justice movements or secessionist movements, from Naxalite to Khalistan, the state responds by the use of military methods. The effort is for conflict management through repression. The basic issues of social justice or alienation are not addressed. (…)

Militarism is belief system that: endorses military values in civilian life; believes in the construction of a strong masculinity that is also a necessary component of state power; legitimizes the use of violence as a solution to conflict and dissent; and closely intersects with patriarchy and nationalism.  Notions such as national honour, national pride and the ambition of being a great power form the basis of this militarized nationalism in India. Militarization involves the increasing use of military power by states to further their national interests, with the option of using military threats and war as an extension of politics. It implies the growing dominance of militarist values in civilian institutions. Militarization encompasses the process whereby military values, ideology and patterns of behavior dominate social and political systems and influence gender relations, resulting in the militarization  of the structural, ideological and behavioral patterns of both state and society. (…)

Threat Perceptions and Great Power Ambitions (…)

Pakistan and India’s relations are embedded in competing nationalisms couched in masculinist terminologies as every threat is couched in terms of the ‘other’. For example: After India’s nuclear tests former prime minister of Pakistan sent bangles to the then prime minister Nawaz Sharif, to explain his weakness and femininity.  In October 2001, when relations were tense, President Musharraf gave a message to the Indian leadership: “We in Pakistan have not worn bangles and we can fight India on our own.”[i]  Prime Minister Vajpayee replied in a public address: “In Punjab where bangles are popular, people also wear ‘Kada’ (steel bracelet).”[ii]  The two berated each other for being feminine to the extent of wearing bangles and thus incapable of protecting their country or honour. This debate on masculinity trickles down to inter community hostilities, for example, during the Gujarat carnage of Muslims by Hindus in 2001, Bangles were delivered at the doorsteps of those Hindus that did not participate in the rioting.

The ideologies of nationalism that exist and exercise influence in South Asia promote a conception of womanhood which reinforces the view that the family and home is its principal arena, and of woman’s role as nurturer, caretaker and sacrificing supporter for those (mostly males) who are supposedly in the forefront of this bilateral confrontation whether this is in directly military or non-military forms.  The possibilities of a trans-country feminism which can emphasize the common concerns of Indian and Pakistani women, of Indian and Pakistani families, and by extension, of ordinary Indians and Pakistanis, are greatly limited by the existence of such a hostile general environment that characterizes relations between the two countries.

National security based on exclusionary and gendered identity politics is emphasized by right wing groups in both India and Pakistan. In India the Vishwa Hindu Parishad’s   (The International Hindu Organization, associated with the BJP) has repeatedly argued “Hindus! If you want to preserve your existence, you should arm yourself with different weapons dear to gods and goddesses” to overcome “weakness, timidity and unmanliness” that  “are great sins and bravery and masculinity of great punya -virtue”[iii]   The very basis of the nation according to the RSS ideologues like Guru Golwalkar is linked to manhood: “Our real national regeneration should start with the moulding of man, instilling in him the strength to overcome human frailties and stand him up as a real symbol of Hindu manhood.”[iv] Taken from the founders of the RSS this concept is echoed by contemporary strategists, like Jaswant Singh, minister for external affairs in the BJP led government: “India’s nationhood being essentially civilizational, a strategic thought to protect its territory has not emerged.”[v] When the Bharatiya Janata Party formed the government from 1998-2004, it attempted to translate such dictum into national security practice.

Internal Security (…)

The militarism of the Indian state has been countered by the militarization of the insurgency and both these have led to a social militarization of these societies, where common sense beliefs, relations between genders and people, and traditions  get coloured by militarist values.   A deconstruction of these conflicts reveals that these are conflicts for rights and aspirations and that military force has not been successful in dealing with these conflicts. The Maoist (Naxalite) movement in India is most active in the most backward rural and tribal regions of the country. The need here is for negotiations, development and fulfilling human security aspirations. The success of these other alternate and non-militarist methods have proven themselves repeatedly. For example, the current ongoing talks with insurgent groups of Nagaland and the Indian government have led to a sustainable cease fire; have lowered tensions; people and especially women have acknowledged that they feel more secure; the level of violence in civil society has decreased.

Nuclear Nationalism 

(…) Within a few weeks of taking over power BJP Prime Minister Vajpayee initiated nuclear tests in May, 1998. Explaining why these were necessary Vajpayee stated “India needs to regain its lost pride.” And “The BJP alone can undertake the task of leading a reinvigorated, proud India to its rightful place in the comity of nations.”[vi]  The rhetoric from the BJP and its allies in government resounded with gendered and chauvinist innuendos like “We are no longer eunuchs”.[vii] Sand from the test site of Pokhran was carried by Hindu fundamentalist organizations like the Vishwa Hindu Parishad to remote villages of India as ‘blessed’ land and the BJP science and technology minister stated on CNN ‘Pokhran and all our scientific endeavors have brought glory to India.’[viii] The tests were more signifiers of fundamentalist type religious nationalism than calculated defence policy. (…)

The nuclear tests by India in May 1998, and the subsequent preparations for nuclear bombs and weapons is based on an exaggerating threat perceptions. India had lived with the Chinese bombs and Pakistan’s preparation for a bomb under a status of ambiguity i.e. even after the 1974 Pokhran test India was not an open nuclear state. Sino-Indian talks and confidence building measures had been initiated and were moving smoothly. The nature of the Kashmir dispute with Pakistan i.e. low intensity/covert warfare or terrorists crossing into the India could not be controlled by nuclear attacks. The Indian Government had promised a strategic review but did not carry this out.[ix] The bomb lobby then set about justifying and legitimizing the bomb and asking for higher budgets for defence and the nuclear programme; up gradation/ modernization of weapons and deliberated on the number of bombs needed for security. Journalists close to the BJP were clear on the non-strategic nature of the tests as Swapan Dasgupta of India Today wrote:  “Vajpayee has released a flood of pent-up energy, generated a mood of heady triumphalism. He has kick-started India’s revival of faith in itself. To the west, the five explosions are evidence of Hindu nationalism on a Viagra high. To Indians, it is evidence that there is nothing to fear but fear itself. Pokhran is only tangentially about security. Its significance is emotional. The target isn’t China and Pakistan. It is the soul of India.”[x] The underlying refrain was that the Indian bomb would return the masculinity, the maleness as an ingredient of great power status. (…)

Militarism, Nationalism and Kargil (…)

Conflicts like Kargil reinforce and sharpened identity and gender differences in the power equations of Indian society. The sacrifice and martyrdom of the Hindu male was the subtext of the entire Kargil saga. National security, privileged ‘at any cost’, rested in the hands of a ‘macho state’ that provided ‘protection’. Masculinity is valued as women and values associated with women like peace are de-valued.  Although the role of the woman is not passive during conflict, during Kargil it was a ‘given’ role, always ‘secondary’ or supportive. This included nationalist patriotic gestures like giving up of ‘personal items’ like gold bangles and small money for the ‘cause of war’; to the soldiers; encouraging husbands and sons to go to war and become martyrs as  Seema widow of a Kargil soldier said to the press: “it is an honour to be widow of a valiant soldier.”[xi]   Women were part of the war and became the agency for militarizing society. The images of the Kargil conflict stirred up and produced for popular consumption had an emotional substructure of masculinity and its connection to war as a masculine enterprise. The attempt to strengthen nationalist militarism through sentimentality and gender differences that suffused the conflict further enabled the entwining of patriarchy and militarism. (…)


Militarism in India is driven by an obsessive national security that is not strictly guided by a clear analysis of security threats but is based on inward and exclusive militarist nationalism that has created a national security state. Right wing forces and their chauvinist nationalism propel militarism internally. These policies privilege values such as physical force and devalue debate and negotiation and thus reinforce gender stereotypes excluding and marginalizing large sections of the population. The values, belief systems and gender relations get militarized in this process. The concept of human security proposed by the United Nations is a step forward though not as radical as the concept of people’s security that peace movements advocate.  Human Security emphasizes that states need to broaden their security paradigm from exclusive focus on the state to an inclusive one that that considers rights and entitlements especially of the marginalized.

The Indian women’s movement has been engaged in fighting for gender equity, basic rights and survival issues for women. From Sati to women’s empowerment and representation they have systematically struggled on all these counts with varying amounts of successes. The tasks for the women’s movement remain far from complete and despite the wide agenda that remains to be fulfilled the women’s movement needs to engage with other political struggles. Critical amongst these is an involvement with a peace movement. This is because the phenomenon of militarization is increasingly affecting the lives of women, especially in our sub-continent. Women’s movements need to question defence budgets and the militarization of civil society and state and for doing this need to deconstruct the basis of national security and the official nationalism that supports such belief systems. National security and defence matters have been exclusive male preserves and perpetuate militarist values and gender stereo types. Women’s movements need to challenge the very concept of power that privileges physical force as the basis of power.

There is an urgent need for the de-securitization of the state. The nation-state remains the primary unit of political empowerment for ordinary people through the principle of citizenship as well as to help locate oneself in a culturally distinct way. It is this institution that the women’s and other peoples movements seek to transform. The focus of national security should be on an inclusive gendered human security that emphasizes on rights and needs and the concept of a militarized national security must be questioned and replaced. This would necessitate a democratization of policy making and the expansion and protection of human rights. This involves including representatives of women’s and peace and social movements when debating defence policies.  International law in general, apart from international humanitarian and human rights law in particular, should systematically outlaw war, Weapons of Mass Destruction [including possession by nuclear weapon states], and the use of force in international relations, except in exceptional cases strictly regulated and monitored by international agencies like the UN, International Court of Justice, etc.  This alone would ensure security in the right sense of the term.  It is thus the task of the women’s movement to understand and confront militarization. They will have to demand the feminization of the notion of national security. This in itself presupposes the substantial democratization of the notion of national security. To talk in such a framework of the possibilities of feminizing national security is to talk essentially of gendering the composition of state apparatuses in a more balanced way and by doing so hopefully gendering its policies in a positive way.

Anuradha M. Chenoy is a Professor at the School of International Studies in Jawaharlal Nehru University, and the author of Militarisation and Women in South Asia (2002) and Human Security, Concept and Implications (2007, co-authored with Shahrbanou Tadjbhaksh). She is a regular media commentator.

[i] The Tribune, October 23, 2001.

[ii] The Tribune, November 1, 2001.

[iii] Ghanshyam Shah, Reflections on Gujarat, Seminar, April, 2002, pp. 82-85

[iv] Interview with K.S. Sudarshan, general secretary of the RSS, Outlook, April 27, 1998.

[v] Jaswant Singh, “What Constitutes National Security in a Changing World Order? India’s Strategic Thought”, (Centre for the Advanced Study of India, Philadelphia, USA, Occasional Paper No.6, June, 1998). See also Kanti Bajpai, “War Peace and International Politics”, Paper in Weather head Centre for International Affairs, (Harvard Academy for International and Area Studies, Massachusetts, 1997).

[vi] A.B. Vajpayee, quoted in pervovich, p.374.

[vii] Statement by Shiv Sena chief Bal Thackarey who had argued that the Hindus were not masculine enough and the bomb had empowered them. Earlier governments that had not carried out nuclear tests were described “as a bunch of eunuchs.” Asian Age 24 May, 1998

[viii] CNN, 11 May, 1999, On India’s Nuclear tests.

[ix] Many analysts have stated that there is no ‘grand strategy’ on the basis of which India’s nuclear programme or disarmament diplomacy is being executed. Amitabh Mattoo, “Does Public Opinion Matter?” Seminar, No.444, August, 1996, p.33.

[x]  S. Dasgupta, India Today, 25 May, 1998.

[xi]  Hindustan Times, June 23, 1999.

Peace in the Home, Peace in the World: A special series for the 2012 Campaign

As part of the 2012 Prajnya 16 Days Campaign against Gender Violence, we are very proud to bring you a series of specially commissioned posts on militarism and gender violence by senior and emerging scholars. The posts centre around the global campaign theme, From Peace in the Home to Peace in the World: Let’s Challenge Militarism and End Violence Against Women! 

The objective of this series is to make accessible in the blog format, some of the issues and arguments that fieldworkers and feminist scholars have been writing about, in relation to militarism, conflict and gender violence (including sexual violence). The issues range from the actual occurrence of violence and its rhetorical underpinnings; to the laws that pertain to this violence; to the various contexts in which it occurs and the relationships that emerge to give it legitimacy; and finally, to the continuum of violence, from the home to the street to the now-ubiquitous battlefield.

We are most of all grateful that everyone we approached readily took the time out to find or write something for us, no matter that each one has so many commitments. It says a great deal both about their generosity as scholars and also how important this issue is.

Our contributors: Anuradha Chenoy, Sumona DasGupta, Preeti Gill, Saumya Uma, Binalakshmi Nepram, Swati Parasher, Soumita Basu, Akanksha Mehta and Kirthi Gita Jayakumar.

Starting today, posts will appear every other day, plus the 10th of December. We will also make a single file .pdf version available online at the end of the campaign.