Looking beyond the lens of vulnerability
“Let women not be viewed solely through the lens of vulnerability”, with these words Mary Werntz, Head of the Regional Delegation, International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) in New Delhi opened the day-long session at the launch of the book, Across the Crossfire: Women and Conflict in India. The book, a compilation of short stories is published by Women’s Feature Service (WFS) and Women Unlimited/ Kali for Women with the support of the ICRC.
Violence in all forms affects people in diverse ways tearing families and communities apart as they are uprooted from what are perceived as the safest places - their homes. Robbed of both economic and physical security, women and children become particularly vulnerable. “Women are not represented in camp committees, although UN (United Nations) guidelines on internally displaced persons state that women must be included in all decision-making bodies”, pointed out RatnaTalukdar whose story, a part of the compilation, revolves around women suffering from the consequences of disturbances in Assam. From having limited access to health care; from having to choose between meeting their husbands in jail or caring for their families at home; to being themselves incarcerated for petty crimes and building their lives within the walls of a prison; violence against women ensures that their fate is sealed. Yet, women play critical roles during and after conflict, as combatants, survivors, community leaders and peace-builders.The women of Sanjarpur voluntarily gave up the simple joys of life, says Kulsum Mustafa, who wrote on Azamgarh, a district in Uttar Pradesh that has a reputation of being a hotbed of terrorism and several boys from the village have been killed or arrested. “They have just one desire - to get justice for their children, restore peace and bring tranquillity. Adversity, in a way, helped these ‘purdahnashi’ (veiled) women – most of them illiterate- to re-discover their inner strength."
The essays, anecdotes, narratives, each in the authors’ own genres, move from being touching to tortured, poignant to pragmatic, as the writers recount the travails and tribulations of these diverse women. One such inspiring account is that of the 25 women from deep inside some of Manipur’s remotest districts who campaigned hard for justice to expose the pitiable situation of rape survivors. It is “interesting to note here that the commission appointed by the state government to look into the cases was comprised entirely of men,” pointed out the writer, Ninglun Hanghal indicating to the specific complexities of their struggles. These diverse accounts accompanied by the perspectives of the writers who also belonged to the local contexts, added depth to the stories of these brave women of untiring spirit.
The ICRC’s own experience in the field, too, has shown that women display immense resilience in keeping their families and communities together. Fulara Sira’s story–a 45-year-old tribal widow who was displaced from her village on the Assam-Meghalaya border - underpins the difference the Micro Economic Initiative Programme (MEIP) by the Assam Red Cross Society and ICRC made. In 2011, Fulara was full of energy writes Ratna Talukdar. She even got Red Cross volunteers to visit the site where her luscious trees had once stood identifying where she wanted to re-plant them. “This was the only way, she believed, to forget the bitterness of the immediate past and move on to a, hopefully, happier future.”