Summary of the plenary session
India’s Northeast has been the centre of ethnic unrest from the time of Indian independence. This region portrays that processes of democratic state formation may not lead to social justice. This is the focus of the longest state-versus-community conflict in South Asia and, therefore, a region of widespread and multiple displacements. The region has witnessed an escalation of violence to an unprecedented scale in the decades between 1990 and 2010. With increasing state-sponsored violence there is also a tremendous increase in sub-national militancy and suppression of women. What is also revealing are the coping mechanisms people resort to, at times of shock and conflicts, given the limited public infrastructure, depleting resources and constant threat to one’s life. Being a woman in a conflict situation is particularly challenging, as she is more vulnerable to sexual abuses and forced trafficking. As a refugee she is expected to rebuild homes, resettle and rehabilitate families and protect the young, old and the disabled. The discussions were pegged around the theme of how migrant subjects articulate their rights and negotiate with the conflict environment. The need to articulate a pan-Northeast-Indian identity while asserting the gendered nature of forced migration despite internal differences was expressed.
What came out through the presentations on the theme of conflict and displacement and the role of women’s groups is how narratives of violence and protests have come to consume the collective consciousness and structures everyday life in Northeast India. Pointing to the discontentment surrounding war and conflict in the Northeast, Rakhee Kalita, Associate Professor, Department of English, Cotton College State University, Guwahati, India described the typical role played by women combatants in the region, their lives and misfortunes. She raised her concern about the fate of these women following the liquidation of their groups particularly in Assam? While male cadres get inducted into the mainstream, women disappear altogether. She revealed how some ex-women combatants have tried to cope with their predicament in a post-conflict situation. She pointed to the exemplary role played by these women in peace-building measures in the Northeast. She also raised the unfortunate issue that women are rarely represented in peace-building measures.
N Vijaylakshmi Brara, Associate Professor, Manipur Studies, Manipur University, Imphal, India pointed to ethnic markers as the paramount prism through which gender, class and individuals is understood in the Northeast. The way in which bodies, events and processes get instantly ethnicised is what fragments the body social. While self-determination is championed at the level of the community, yet these are forsaken leaving the society divided often leading to the collapse of the social order.
Khesheli Chisi, Former President, Naga Mother’s association, Nagaland, and Gina Sangkham, Secretary General, Naga People’s Movement for Human Rights, Kohima, emphasized on how conflicts in the Northeast have been between states and communities. The impact of these conflicts on women has been particularly devastating. The threat of violence as a result of the operation of Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act (Afspa) is a serious issue, since it has been instrumental in spreading different forms of violence upon women. In this context, women often begin to act as shields for the sake of their families with resultant vulnerabilities. The primary requirement is an awareness of the law.
Shiva Kumar Dhungana, Nepal Institute of Peace, Kathmandu spoke of how women constantly face threat of violence and are misled into human trafficking in Nepal. This is compounded by the fact that it is well-nigh impossible for these women to tell the world about their suffering. Repeated silencing of their voices and under-reporting of cases of intimidation and torture of women is widespread. Why, despite the presence of protocols to prevent and suppress trafficking in persons and measures to implement them, these have not led to better outcomes for trafficked persons? Such is the situation because implementation in itself is at low premium in Nepal. The institutional challenges to implementing effective anti-trafficking measures and protection for trafficked persons need to be further scrutinized. What is required, as Dhungana said, is capacity building and coordination of efforts at the regional, national and global levels against trafficking as well as strengthening gender-sensitive approaches to anti-trafficking efforts, so that women can participate in public affairs and stand up for their rights.
Field visits made
Paula Banerjee, one of the principal researchers and Anjuman Ara Begum, one of the CRG members visited Tripura and various parts of Assam in connection to this study.
Research carried out
Two principal researchers and two associate researchers are engaged in this study. Our researchers have started collecting data with special reference to Indian’s northeast to find suitable answer of the question: Are women emerging as separate force in peace politics?
Paula Banerjee visited Agartala, the capital of Tripura to meet Manik Sarkar, the Chief Minister of the state and had a long discussion on the situation of women in Tripura. She also met the commissioner and the members of the State Women’s Commission; Phulan Bhattacharyay, the Social Development Officer; Sobha Debbarma, Representative of Indigenous Women’s Forum and some of the leading media persons of the state to understand the role of women in local governance and politics within the context of peace and security processes. She discussed the topic with some of the faculty members of the university and the students from Bengali and indigenous communities as well. Besides Agartala she visited Belonia and Dharmanagar.
Anjuman Ara Begum visited different district libraries of Assam including the libraries of State Planning Commission, the State Women’s Commission and the High Court to collect pamphlets and data in connection to this study.
It is to be mentioned here that CRG’s earlier studies on “Women in Indian Borderlands”, “Women in Peace Politics”, “Peace Processes and Peace Accordes” and “Abiram Raktapat: Tripura Narir Sangram (in Bengali) have helped the researchers to understand the dynamics of the topic.
CRG’s recent two publications namely, Branding the Migrant: Arguments of Rights, Welfare and Security edited by Atig Ghosh (Frontpage publications: Kolkjata, 2013) and Unstable Populations, Anxious States: Mixed and Massive Population Flows in South Asia edited by Paula Banerjee (Samya:Kolkata, 2013) appear to be relevant in this context.
The book entitled Branding the Migrant: Arguments of Rights, Welfare and Security deals with the Unique Identification (UID)/Aadhaar project, which has been conceived by the Planning Commission as an initiative that will provide identification for each resident across the country and will be used primarily as the basis for efficient delivery of welfare services and will also act as a tool for effective monitoring of various programmes and schemes of the government. This volume has published two important articles written by Jayanta Bhattachrya and Samir Kar Purakayastha (for the details please see below), which have tried to analyse how this UID is likely to complicate matters for the migrants — the refugees, asylum-seekers, stateless groups surely, but also migrant labourers and internally-displaced people who may not be able to establish residential claims consistently and permanently in one location. They have argued that the migrants face the possibility of being identified and pushed back into situations out of which they have been forced to begin with. The UID can also become the stick in the hands of interested groups to beat weaker opponents with, to label the latter as foreigners and hound them. This is a point that should be kept in mind while dealing with Indian’s northeast.
The book entitled Unstable Populations, Anxious States: Mixed and Massive Population Flows in South Asia deals with the complexities of displacement that have created massive, mixed flows: refugees, asylum-seekers, illegal immigrants, Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs), and other victims of violence, deprivation, hunger. Persecution and discrimination occur together and the old forms of protection are often inadequate. Against this backdrop this volume deals with the protection strategies in South Asia. This volume has published three interesting articles by Partha S. Ghosh, Paula Banerjee, and Shiva K. Dhungana (for the details please see below) which can be considered as valuable research material for our ongoing study.
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