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).

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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: 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: 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.

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.