Conflict is a subjective reality both in terms of what the conflict is all about and also in terms of the way it is experienced. Women, men, and children experience conflict differently. These experiences of violence get further conflated with the social locations within which people exist.
This piece is located in the context of India and I choose to call this piece the ‘missing queen’ as a way to trace the missing narrative of the women living in conflict areas in the country. It seeks to bring to fore the lived reality of women in the context of violence. The attempt is to take the discussion forward on 1325, and highlight the lived reality of women in conflict and post conflict situations. India as we understand today—a geographical, social-cultural political- conglomeration of states, cultures and people stands on a history of struggle and conflict. Conflict in India is predominantly about land. The basic root cause of conflict is access and control over land, the laws of the land (socio-economic-political and cultural laws of the land) and the relations of people of this land. It has ranged from changing land relations to controlling cultures.
In speaking of conflict, one often hears of women’s experiences or through statistics, instances of injured, raped, widowed, orphaned women; as either a case study or a heart-wrenching story. Women are either forgotten in history or find a place in footnotes in discussions on conflict. Seldom do these discussions speak of the effects of violence and conflict on the everyday life of women. In the post UN Security Council Resolution 1325 era, much of these discussions have tended to focus on the sexual violence women face during conflict. While it is a gruesome lived reality, it often brushes aside women’s lived reality as a result of not being recognized as right-holders, while dispensing compensation.
The challenges women face when we are not seen as individual right holders are visible including the home and in public spaces like education and access to medical facilities.
In much of feminist writing the romanticized idea of home has been critiqued and questioned. It has been recognized as a place of violence. However in areas affected by conflict, home comes to be associated with a stable life and security. With burning of homes, families lose property and documentation. Often they are pushed into camps and have to rebuild their lives. This involves many a times getting fresh identity based documents made. The State responds to this through compensation. In India, compensation for burnt (fully or partially) homes is given to the family as a unit and is usually dispensed in the name of the head of the family or the heir. In a patriarchal society such as India this often translates into compensation being given to the man. Women end up receiving little to nothing in their own name. The same holds true when compensations are being dispensed for lost property. Private land is most often in the name of the male members of the family–father and the sons. The women (daughters, daughter-in-laws, mothers) have seldom any ownership to the land. They are most often treated as a unit with the husband. Further, in case a woman loses her husband in the conflict—either dead or missing—it finds her in a situation where her claim and that of her children is found to be competing with other members of the family. Absence of property and resources in her name makes her economically vulnerable.
Constitutionally every citizen has a right to education and access to medical facilities. In post conflict and conflict situations these are some of the facilities that get affected first. Women who are seen to be markers of culture are confined to home, their education is affected and they often don’t find access to basic medication and health care. Women are often married off young in order to keep them safe in conflict and post conflict scenarios (however the same holds true for ‘non-conflict’ situations).
There is a complete absence of these narratives and voices while speaking of conflict and post conflict situations. This is true because women are seldom seen as individual right holders. The State often conflates them with family and home and ceases to see them individual beings. These everyday lived realities and struggles of women in conflict areas needs to be fore-grounded in discussions and narratives around conflict and peacebuilding.
A lot of myriad kinds of work are happening in India in ensuring women’s access to social justice. Women’s role in peace processes is being increasingly recognised. In a country plagued with rampant communal violence, laws (Prevention of Communal Violence Act) and polices (such as 15 Point Program of the PM) link provisions of compensation and relief with affected women. The Justice Verma Commission set up following the December 2012 rape case recognised sexual violence on women in law and compelled the states to take necessary actions. Women are being collectivised in order to ensure access to social justice.
Dyuti is a feminist activist from India. Her interests lie in issues around gender and sexuality looking more specifically at conflict areas. From a young age matters related to gender and sexuality have been central to her and this comes across in her engagement with people and politics. Currently she is associated with Programme on Women’s Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (PWESCR).