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Northeast India Women Initiative for Peace : A framework for action for democracy, human rights, economic justice and conflict prevention in India’s Northeast region
Manipur Women Gun Survivor Network and Control Arms Foundation of India in collaboration with North Eastern Social Research Centre (NESRC) Guwahati, Assam
7August, 2010, Conference Room 4I3, Bosco Reach Out, Bholanath Mandir Lane, B K Kakoti Road, Ulubari, Guwahati, Assam.
Report On 7th August 2010, Control Arms Foundation of India in association with Manipur Women Gun Survivor Network and the North Eastern Social Research Centre (NEWSRC) conducted the second consultative conclave of the Northeast India Women Intiative for Peace. It was organized as a framework for action for democracy, human rights, economic justice and conflict prevention in India‟s Northeast region. The conference was held in the capital city of Assam, Guwahati and was attended by about 20 personalities from different parts of the Northeast, all of whom share a vested interest in bringing peace to the region. This conference is the antecedent of a meeting on 13 th June 2009 at the India International Center which was a conclave of women from Northeast India who are based in Delhi. Objective of the conference: To educate women in the Northeast about the issues of war, conflict and peace To look at measures to bring peace and justice in the region through a greater comprehension of the political economy of militarism To understand the internationally known United Nations Resolutions on women and peacebuilding such as United Nations Security Council Resolutions 1325 and 1820. To examine all local,national and international plans that have sought to end violence against women and see how northeastern women can use this knowledge and empower themselves To draw a blue print for women in Northeast India to conceive an action plan for rebuilding peace, providing justice and political rights in a society shattered by years of conflict. List of participants: 1. 2. Mrs Khesheli Chishi: Convener, Indigenous Women‟s Forum for Northeast India (IWFNEI) Mr Subir Bhaumik: BBC‟s Bureau Chief for East and Northeast India and the border regions of Myanmar, Bangladesh, Bhutan and Nepal
5. 6. 7. 8. 9. 10. 11. 12. 13. 14.
Dr. Gita Bharali: Director of research at the North East Social Research Centre in Guwahati, Assam Mrs. Lourembam Nganbi: President Apunba Nupi Lup (ANUL), Vice-President Apunba Manipur Kanba Ima Lup (AMKIL) and Secretary of External Affairs of United Committee of Manipur Dr. Rakhee Kalita: Associate professor in the Department of English in Cotton College, Guwahati, Assam. Dr. Nani Mahanta: Associate professor in the Department of Political Science in Gauhati University, Guwahati, Assam Ms. Anuradha Dutta: former professor of peace studies at Omeo Kumar Das Institute of Social, Guwahati, Assam Ms. Nonibala Narengbam: Secretary at the Integrated Rural Development Organization at Wangjing, Thoubal District in Manipur Ms Reena Mutum: Coordinator of Manipur Women Gun Survivors Network in Imphal, Manipur Ms. Sreekala MG: Executive Director at North East Network (NEN) Ms Sumshot Kullar: Peace and Conflict Resolution in Chandel, Manipur Ms. Athukrwi Jamati: Working with All Twipra Indigenous & Minority Association (ATIMA) in Tripura Ms Debasmita Ghose: Advocate of Human Rights Law Network in Guwahati, Assam Miss Elizabeth Imti: Lecturer, Fazil Ali College in Mokokchung, Nagaland
Proceedings of the Conference Conclave Session 1: Introduction The first session of the Second Consultative Conclave of Women from the North East began with an enthusiastic welcome from Dr. Gita Bharali, the director of the Research North East Social Research Centre based in Guwahati, Assam. She expressed a warm welcome as well as a hope for solidarity amongst all those who were present at the conference. She explained that many groups in the past had developed tools and action plans to confront the insurgency in the region and that this initiative was an example of such collective effort. A following introduction to the conference was provided by Ms. Binalakshmi Nepram, the founder of the Manipur Women Gun-Survivor Network and the SecretaryGeneral of the Control Arms Foundation of India. Ms. Nepram expressed her gratitude for all those who had arrived and explained her personal motivations behind her work and her determination to succeed to bring peace in the North East of India, especially in her home state Manipur. The inaugural address was presented by Mr Subir Bhaumik, the BBC Correspondent for the East and Northeast of India and the border regions of Myanmar, Bangladesh, Bhutan and Nepal. He spoke on “The need for women in the North East to take initiatives in bringing Peace”. His main argument was that women need to come together to form a large movement that would lead to a standing as a social force which would “accommodate a greater space in peace decisions”. An organization such as the Naga Mothers Association women is needed for greater institutional representation. He stated that “Peacemaking does not end with an accord, if accords aren‟t properly implemented, then they aren‟t
effective and ceasefires are irrelevant”. In all, a greater representation of women in monitoring bodies was essential because the lack of implementation of accords affects women the most. Mrs Khesheli Chishi, the Convener for Indigenous Women‟s Forum for Northeast India (IWFNEI) finished the beginning session of the conference with a talk on “From village to negotiating table: Women taking lead and making policy changes for Peace”. She described the role of rural women in the North East as those who “suffer the most bearing the brunt of gun violence”. The women are expected to be the peacemakers when the men create the conflict and this is an example of a gross lack of responsibility. The injustice is especially played out when the woman has been left widowed and alone, and being illiterate and not valued as much as a man, is unable to sustain herself and her children. Therefore, the women, having suffered psychologically, emotionally and even economically have created women‟s organizations out of compulsion. She concluded with the thought that encouragement will only come from other women. Yet “Peace has to come out from within ourselves, otherwise peace will remain elusive”. Ms. Nepram then closed the first part of the conference with heartening words: that about three or four people are shot everyday in Manipur but there are also at least three marriages celebrated everyday in Manipur. Consultative Conclave Session II: Listening to each other- Stories of Women and War in Northeast India Region The second session of the conference was chaired by Ms. Anuradha Dutta, a former professor of peace studies at Omeo Kumar Das Institute of Social, Guwahati, Assam. She opened the floor for Dr. Nani Mahanta: Associate professor in the Department of Political Science in Gauhati University, Guwahati, Assam. His topic, “Tools of peace making in India‟s Northeast”, focused on the role and the effect civil society, the majority of the people, can have in the region. Civil society has the influence to prevent violent conflict by pressurizing the government to make armed groups come to accord, monitoring the process and reconstruction and reconciliation. He called for the creation of “social capital such as trust and association between religious and ethnic and other divisions”. However, important issues still remain such as the divide between immigrants and indigenous people, intra-group classes and intergroup classes, the border disputes between Assam and Meghalaya and Nagaland (the Greater Nagaland problem), and the sustained dialogue on ethnic homeland issue, which has led to a widespread identity crisis amongst all individuals. Dr. Gita Bharali, the Director of research at the North East Social Research Centre in Guwahati, Assam, gave a presentation on the “Impact on Women on Development Induced Displacement and Human Security in Assam”. She first described the fate of rural woman and how it is linked to their economic independence. Rural Assamese women‟s livelihood is purely natural resource based and involves animal husbandry and agriculture. Therefore, when families are displaced, the woman is most vulnerable because jobs in more urban areas require workers with certain skills and very little women are trained or even literate. What ensues is that women have a lower status, lower income opportunities, little or with no property rights. Therefore the position of women in comparison to men leaves them more susceptible to being affected by violence in their surroundings.
Ms. Nonibala Narengbam, the Secretary at the Integrated Rural Development Organization at Wangjing, Thoubal District in Manipur, presented “Involving women in Governance - Manipur Conflict and Women Leadership in Bringing the Needed Peace”. After giving an overview of facts on the state of Manipur, she summed up the reality of women there: “The position of women is high (a value based on tradition) and the roles and responsibilities are determined by traditional norms, religious and customary practices”. This means that not only society dictates how much influence women can have but they themselves abide by tradition, thus determining their place in the community, under the shade of patriarchy and the Armed Forces Special Protection Act (AFSPA). Her opinion was that the reconciliation processed needed to be strengthened through networking and collaboration between non-governmental organizations, civil society organizations, institutional and individuals. Women needed to have a space in the institutional structure where they could be involved in policy implementation. Lastly, women‟s human rights needed to be defended through the upholding of international law in order to have security for themselves. The last speaker of the session was Dr. Rakhee Kalita, an associate professor in the Department of English in Cotton College, Guwahati, Assam. She began with this statement: “the absence of war is not always peace”. Her topic of discussion was “Assam‟s Conflict and Finding ways to Solution through Women‟s Work, Writing and Activism”. She questioned why activism of certain kinds could be found, women-oriented, in certain places and not everywhere. In Assam, the idea of women‟s activism began in the colonial period but now women have broken away to fight for peace. The processes of peace making and peace building have become complimentary and inseparable. Today, narratives and alternative voices, including political forums, serve as a vehicle for those expressing their trauma and their determination to change their lives. Testimonial literature can even be used to seek justice on secret reports of killings and can become key pointers to demonstrate what is really ailing the state. Graphic writing has also become important political platform. Dr. Kalita ends her discourse with the hope that by engaging creatively to work towards peace, one day the state will receive the message of the Northeast‟s reality directly. Consultative Conclave: Session III – Taking Charge of Our Lives, Our Rights The third part of the conference was chaired by Dr. Rakhee Kalita, an associate professor in the Department of English in Cotton College, Guwahati, Assam. The first speaker was Mrs. Lourembam Nganbi, President Apunba Nupi Lup (ANUL), Vice-President Apunba Manipur Kanba Ima Lup (AMKIL) and Secretary of External Affairs of United Committee of Manipur. She began with a description of the violence that is occurring in her home state Manipur under the AFSPA. Many youths have been killed and many women have been molested and raped by the armed forces. She said that there is no government to protect their lives. She spoke about her participation in a naked protest against the police in the state, at a time when they had arrested a girl, Manorama, under suspicion (without the presence of a female officer) and had raped and murdered her. The mothers who heard the story were so enraged that they unashamedly challenged the armed forces because of the cruelty of what had been done to the young girl. After her narrative, a short clip showing the protest was projected and brought great emotion to everyone in the room. Ms. Sreekala MG, the Executive Director at the North East Network (NEN). She gave a presentation on “Women and Conflict: Implementing United Nations Security Council Resolutions 1325/1820 and
Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) in India‟s Northeast”. The “CEDAW puts the obligation on part of the state to be responsible for women‟s rights”. However, there is very little awareness about the resolutions (1325 +, 1820), and so no knowledge about how it is now globally accepted that there is a certain code of ethics that is applied to those who do not participate in the insurgencies of the Northeast. Yet, the government of India states that “There are no situations of „armed conflict‟ within the territory of India, and hence the Security Council Resolution 1325 relating to Women in Armed Conflict is not applicable to India”. Therefore the issue of the human rights of women is neither a priority and requires more mechanisms to enforce them and report such abuses. Ms. Reena Mutum, the Coordinator of Manipur Women Gun Survivors Network in Imphal, Manipur, spoke about the “Economic Empowerment of Survivors of Gun Violence: Case Study of Manipur Women Gun Survivors Network”. In Manipur, women are considered to be the backbone of the economy. The largest example of this is the mother‟s market, the Ima Keithel, which demonstrates the successful collective Manipuri women‟s role within society. This form of economic independence has been essential in these times, as Manipuri has been experiencing an economic slump sharpened by inflation. The Manipur Women Gun Survivors Network is proud to say that their efforts have succeeded in changing eighty women‟s lives and those of their children as well. Sumshot Kullar, who is concerned with peace and conflict resolution in Chandel, Manipur spoke about “Ethnic Minority Women and Peace Building in Manipur”. She argued that a democratic space needed to be created for women to be decision makers in Manipur. However, this could only be achieved with a common platform which would assimilate all movements and bring together peace initiatives. Cooperation in terms of networking on regional, national and international levels would also strengthen peace making processes. Peace education programmes in schools, colleges and communities and the translation of International Human Rights documents into local languages would increase awareness of the rights of women. Finally, a media campaign supported by journalists who are advocates for peace could significantly contribute to the promotion of regional peace and security. The only representative from Tripura, Ms. Athukrwi Jamati, works with All Twipra Indigenous & Minority Association (ATIMA) in Tripura. Her topic of concern was the “Indigenous Women of Tripura‟s Effort for Peace Building”. In order to bring out women‟s activity, she said that it would first be essential to educate them. The main drawback of Tripura is the neglecting of girls by parents. This has caused many women across the state to live their lives without an education and thus without awareness or political or economic consciousness, which is necessary knowledge in order to start the process of peace building. Yasmine and Miss Joya…(?) gave a basic and informative presentation on “Legal Rights of Women in a Conflict Zone”. Apart from the International Bill of Human Rights and the Geneva Convention with Additional Protocol, women are covered by the Constitution of India. Their Article 14 promotes the right to equality and Article 15(3) declares that the state has the obligation to make special provisions for women and children. Under the AFSPA, women have to be searched or arrested only by a female officer, and this rule has been broken many times before but there has also been a lack of awareness on the part of women in the Northeast. Knowledge of legal rights are important but it should also be known to those who inflict violence that there exist globally-agreed upon codes of ethics in war that protect those who do not partake in the fighting.
Concluding Session The last speaker of the conference was Miss Elizabeth Imti: Lecturer, Fazil Ali College in Mokokchung, Nagaland who offered “Stories of Naga Women Taking the Lead towards Peace”. The conflict in her home state, Nagaland, has been enduring for more than sixty years. The society lives under a patriarchal system, yet Naga women have had historically strong social roles. After the women came together and decided to have a ban on alcohol, they burned all the alcohol together. This ban, however, led to the appearance of drug abuse within Nagaland. Therefore, during late 1970s and 1980s, when social problems were on the rise, the Naga Mothers‟ Association was founded in 1984, open to any single or married women. They felt very strongly that women suffer the most and so there should be a common platform for all to come together and support each other. In fact, these strong and mythical women have played a critical role in the peace process and ceasefire agreement. They are the ones who value human life when it comes to conflict and this honoring has given space for the appeal for peace. Working together to Draft the Second Frame-Work of Action for democracy, human rights, economic justice and conflict prevention in India’s Northeast: Some resolutions taken 1) The upholding and protection of the Indian Constitution and the recognition of the central government of the insurgencies in the Northeast of India. 2) The reformation of the security sector, involving a boosted morality especially when it comes to the protection of women. Their security needs to be ensured by increasing the amount of female police officers in the stations and guaranteeing their presence at all arrests of women. 3) To work towards ending the exclusion of women from non-traditional roles in society, especially in the governing sector. The legal rights of women in conflict zones also need to be strengthened by their promotion. This can be advocated by an appropriate implementation of the United Nations Security Council 1325+ and the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women. 4) For all women to work on a shared vision, through re-establishing relationships, networking and interacting with other workers in the regional, national or international level. Misguided perceptions can end when we learn about and from each other, and this interchange can begin through efforts such as community exchange programs 5) To build a positive peace starting from developmental aspects. 6) To address the main identity issue within each state. Divisions are easily made because of this problem especially when it comes to people‟s common interests. Alliances should be made across communities and state borders. 7) To break the connection between drugs and arms, both of which are utilized by state and non state actors. Currently, borders around states such as Manipur are blocked off from receiving commodities that people need to lie but drugs and guns are going through...what about a zone of free trade? 8) All sectors (security, judiciary, legislative, and executive) need to be reformed and made to be democratic instead of militarized. Resources and mindsets are controlled by those with guns or those in office. The common people need to educate themselves, and so resources such as the Laws of War need to be distributed in local languages.
Conclusion The second consultative conclave was successful in the sense that the women that were brought together in this conference were not as different at the end of the day when they shared their personal life experiences. From academics to researchers, lawyers and social activists, everyone participated with great enthusiasm and with appreciation for one another. After all, the women were all there because they all believed they could make a difference in their respective home states when violence struck at their doorsteps. For the second time women from all over Northeast India gathered together to draft a Frame-Work of Action for democracy, human rights, economic justice and conflict prevention in India‟s Northeast. The conclave offered these women the opportunity to show that the conflict is widespread and that no one is alone in their efforts to make peace. All agreed on key common issues that need to be addressed with other members of society, with local policy-making bodies and with the Indian central government. The conclave concluded on a touching note as all the participants were united in their belief that they were not alone and that if they joined forces, than perhaps peace in their region would be possible.