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.