Women in every community in conflict have their own mechanisms for survival and dealing with conflict. When it comes to conflict resolution, however, they often need some institutional support because for peace to be recognized, it needs to be institutionalized. United Nations Security Council Resolution 1325, which was passed in 2000, was meant to give women that sorely needed institutional support. As all feminist activists are aware, through the “three P’s” of participation, protection, and prevention, Resolution 1325 was to have ensured the engagement of women from bottom to top in peacemaking by now. The resolution is particularly significant because it was meant to encourage grassroots feminist activism in management and resolution of conflicts. It was hoped that women living in conflict zones could employ this instrument to transform the lives of women from that of victims to active agents of change.
In this regard, we may remind ourselves that “the relationship between women, peace and security is not an automatic question — peace must be made to work for women” as suggested in the review of Resolution 1325 by the NGO Working Group on Women, Peace and Security in its report From Local to Global: Making Peace Work for Women.1 In many cases, that much hoped for transformation did not happen, and in a few where it did, it was not because of Resolution 1325 but notwithstanding it. In this 20th year of Resolution 1325, this paper will address how effective this instrument is in the context of India.
India is currently the largest democracy in the world. With a population of at least 1.3 billion, India is a country of great diversity in
terms of ethnicity, religion, language, space, topology, and much more. Furthermore, India has a post-colonial legacy of nation formation that has privileged certain groups and dispossessed others. As a result, there are many conflicts between the state and certain communities, such as Indian citizens in Kashmir and Northeast India. In addition, there are conflicts between the government and the far-left groups. In this context, let us delve a little deeper into some of these conflicts, such as that in Nagaland in Northeast
India and the conflict in Kashmir.
History of the Nagaland Conflict
When India became independent, the Naga people were dispersed over four states: Manipur, Assam, Arunachal Pradesh, and Nagaland, with the majority in the latter. In the 1950s, the government of India placed restrictions on the most important and politically visible Naga group, the Naga National Council (NNC), because it had begun a movement for Nagalim or Greater Nagaland. Nagaland became a state within the Republic of India in 1963, but the movement for Nagalim spearheaded by the NNC
continued. The leaders of the movement split into two factions in 1980, with one faction led by General Secretary Muviah and NNC Vice President Issak Swu and the other led by President of Eastern NNC S.S. Khaplang, who broke away to form the Naga Socialist Council of Nagaland (NSCN).
The Indian state chose to cope with the crisis of sovereignty and the autonomy movements through the militarization of Nagaland. This paternalistic, top-down, security approach captured in the brutal Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) of 1958 was responsible for numerous atrocities. Although a cease-fire agreement was reached between the government of India and the National Socialist Council of Nagalim (NSCN) in1997, it stands in contradiction to the AFSPA which is still in force, the presence of the Indian Army in Nagaland, and the brutal treatment of women during this transitional phase of political instability. Naga women have never accepted victimhood, however, and have actively endeavored to put an end to violence and brutality.
History of the Kashmiri Conflict
The state vs. community conflict in Kashmir is even older than that in Nagaland. When India became independent, Maharaja Hari Singh was on the throne of Kashmir. At the time, rebels in the Poonch region launched a protest movement against oppressive taxation by the maharaja. The Poonch rebels declared an independent government of a “free” or azaad Kashmir in October 1947. At the time, rulers of princely states were encouraged to accede their states to either India or Pakistan, keeping in mind factors like geographical contiguity and the will of the local people. To postpone making a hasty decision at that point, the Maharaja of Kashmir proceeded to sign a standstill agreement with Pakistan that ensured the continuance of trade, travel, communication, and such services. A similar agreement was pending with India.
Following serious riots in Jammu in October 1947, Pashtun tribesmen from the northwest frontier provinces of Pakistan recruited by the Poonch rebels and encouraged by the Pakistani government invaded Kashmir in an attempt to frighten Hari Singh into submission. Instead, the maharaja asked India for help. India agreed to help on condition that Kashmir accede to it. Kashmir did so, whereupon India drove most of the invading forces out. Pakistan contested the accession, arguing that it was done under duress.
In 1948, India sought a resolution of the Kashmir conflict at the United Nations, which ordered a plebiscite, but it never happened. India failed to hold the plebiscite, citing the fact that Pakistan continued to hang on to the territory it had managed to hold during the 1947 war, while Pakistan stated it would continue to hold on to the territory until India withdrew its forces and only then hold the plebiscite. Relations between India and Pakistan soured and eventually led to further wars in 1965 and 1999. Sheikh Abdullah, founder of the National Conference party, was permitted to become the first prime minister of Jammu and Kashmir but was then jailed, and after Bakshi Ghulam Mohammed took over the National Conference (allegedly in an understanding with the Indian government), the post was abolished and the position was reduced to chief minister. Sheikh Abdullah was released in 1964 but was jailed again in 1965 after Jawaharlal Nehru’s death. Following his release, Sheikh Abdullah reached an accord with Indira Gandhi and became head of the Congress party in Kashmir and was elected the state’s chief minister. There were constant squabbles between the Abdullah family and the Indian government, and subsequent elections made the situation explosive as their results were disputed, triggering a secessionist movement in Kashmir which has gone on ever since. The violence generated by state and nonstate actors has been responsible for the loss of human dignity and gross violations of human rights.
Women’s Role in Peacemaking in Northeast India
As we are all aware, conflict zones produce and reproduce hierarchies instead of resolving tensions. In the context of Northeast India, women have shown their ability to be highly innovative in their negotiations with the state in times of both conflict and peace. In most regions of the Northeast, women are marginalized in institutional politics, so women’s activism for peace in traditional frameworks acquires great political value and gives legitimacy to their other struggles. Thus, while electoral politics in the Northeast have failed to empower and have actually led to their further marginalization, women have created spaces for negotiations in other areas in the public sphere. It is in the politics for peace that they can negotiate some spaces of action.
Women in the Northeast have also made strategic use of gender roles to enter the masculinized space of conflict. The most notable of the Naga women’s peace groups is the Naga Mothers Association (NMA), which has rendered valuable service for the cause of peace, and women have been continually active in the politics for peace in Northeast India. The NMA came into existence on February 14, 1984 with a declaration whose preamble stated: “Naga mothers of Nagaland shall express the need of conscientizing
citizens toward more responsible living and human development through the voluntary organisation of the Naga Mother’s Association.”2 One achievement of NMA is the formation of the Peace Teams in October 1994 to confront the deteriorating political situation. Their theme was “shed no more blood,” and their message was that all lives are valuable, be it the lives of Naga people or their adversaries. The NMA was spectacularly successful during the armed conflict was on, but the stable cease-fire that has been in place since 1997 has challenged the relevance of the NMA, and younger women have taken over and steered it away from traditional politics of peace to electoral politics.
Much has been written on the traditional role of motherhood in peace-making in Northeast India.3 Many women in the region have tried to intervene in the conflict, not just as mothers but as women of a community. The state has often appealed to women to be agents of peace by reasserting their role as mothers and sisters. The testimony below reveals some of the contradictions of the women’s movements and highlights how women’s political engagement, either in democratic political institutions or voluntary organizations, provides the scope to bring in their perspective in managing conflict situations and carries the possibility of transgressing stereotypes which often center around control over sexuality. Looking back at the conflict, a Naga woman comments:
When we were in primary schools, we were frightened from all corners. There were frequent encounters between Naga UGs
and ARs. Most of the parents warned their children that when you hear gunshots you have to roll down. If Army comes you must
not talk too much. For a long time parents advised us to keep our essential commodities ready as at any moment we had to hide
in paddy fields…. government of India has ignored our area as it is a border district. There is hardly any development at all.... It is
important to internationalise the women’s body of Naga women. We need to form a network of Naga and Manipuri women. Women
should come out and talk to their respective groups and bring the UG groups on the same platform to enter into dialogue so that
we could achieve our larger goals.4
Women’s Role in Peacemaking in Kashmir
Historically, most women in conflict regions in India are marginalized, and Kashmiri women are in a double bind because they live in an Islamic society which is traditionally patriarchal. Nevertheless, there are certain women’s groups in Kashmir that have historically tried to claim a space in activism. Duktaran-e-Milat is a women’s organization founded in 1981 by Asiya Andrabi whose early goal was to educate Muslim women properly about Islam and make them aware of their rights; however, this group has often had to go underground after the Indian government started to prohibit its activities when it became political. The organization became decidedly more political in 1987, demanding seats reserved for women on public transport, for example. The movement has gradually degenerated into a radical religious group, however, appealing to women to run households in line with traditional Islam and to support the mujahideen. Somewhat different is the volunteer Women’s Self-Defense Corps which was founded as a female alternative to the Jammu and Kashmir national militia. Apart from giving women weapons training to enable them to protect themselves in the strife-torn region where peace seems an impossibility, it seeks to provide a space for women to come together and discuss their problems and issues. Furthermore, despite the seeming impossibility of peace, women’s movements have tried to carve a space in activism for peace as well. Women have organized cross-border initiatives historically to provide opportunities for and to promote face-to-face interaction and dialogue, and much-needed understanding between the people of India and Pakistan. For example, in 1999, 40 Indian women from different regions with varied political views took a 12-hour bus trip from New Delhi to Lahore in an event organised by the Women’s Initiative for Peace in South Asia. Women are also involved in the Pakistan India People’s Forum for Peace and Democracy, an organization in which they have been working for peace alongside men over the last three decades.
1325 Failed to Empower Indian Women
Women have been involved in the Indian political arena since the nationalist movement began. Gandhi actively argued for women’s
participation in politics as he considered women to be morally superior to men. Even today there is a vibrant debate over this issue, but one cannot deny that Gandhi’s support encouraged many women to enter the political arena, especially in nonviolent activism for peace. When Resolution 1325 was passed, there was genuine hope in India that the roles that women play in multiple conflict-mitigating processes would be honored, but that never happened. The resolution was neither enforced nor did it reward countries
that adopted National Action Plans (NAP). In fact, countries often refused to have their own NAPs because they said they were not at war. Resolution 1325 recognized many groups, such as peacekeeping forces, but did not recognize civil society-based women’s groups that were already active in the field of peacemaking. This failure to recognize local histories of peacemaking caused these groups to feel divorced from it. It was only in the capital city of Delhi that the existence of this tool was recognized. UN Women, which had been mandated with instrumentalizing 1325, did not reach out to women activists beyond the capital.
Resolution 1325 was a radical instrument, but the resolutions following it, from Resolution 1820 onward, have privileged discussions about sexual violence against women. All other kinds of violence are being subsumed within the paradigm of sexual violence. The structural violence that is rampant in conflict situations is seen as peripheral; the political violence perpetrated states that do not recognize women as citizens is seen as incidental; and the fact that the greatest violence against women, especially in times of conflict, is perpetrated not by individuals but by the states that are supposed to protect their interests is disregarded. A tool like 1325 can be effective only if it is able to uphold the demands of women working for peace at the grassroots level. This is the only way to save such resolutions from obscurity and being relegated to discussions in the hallowed corridors of the UN buildings in New York — without their having any impact on the lives of the millions of women that they were meant to empower.
1 Krista Lynes and Gina Torry (eds.) From Local to Global: Making Peace Work for Women, published by the NGO Working Group on Women Peace and Security, 777 UN Plaza, New York, NY 10017, October 2005, p. viii http://www.peacewomen. org/sites/default/files/fiveyearsonreport.pdf accessed on 12 November 2020.
2 Constitution of the Naga Mother’s Association, Reprinted in Kohima, 1992.
3 See Paula Banerjee, Women in Peace Politics (Sage Publications, New Delhi, 2008) and “Between Two Armed Patriarchies: Women in Assam and Nagaland,” Rita Manchanda ed. Beyond Victimhood to Agency: Women War and Peace in South Asia (Sage Publications, 2001).
4 Janeth Hungyo, former Executive Member of TSL 1974-1982; Focus group discussion on 13 June 2009.