Impact on Women’s lives and Role of Women in the Struggle

“While entire communities suffer the consequence of armed conflict and terrorism, women and girls are particularly affected because of their status in society and their sex.” declares the Fourth World Conference of Women in Beijing.

In any struggle, women play an important role by actively participating in that struggle. They are fearless and militant, and, since Indian freedom struggle there has been enough evidence of the fact. Such movements are made successful by the participation of the masses, and in return most of them face repression from the state machinery, they and their minor daughters are raped in large numbers and even killed. In the conflict areas, women are mostly killed by the militant groups, besides the Army. In such conflict zones, women face trying situations and deep insecurity when their family members are killed either by militants or by state forces; they face a strange situation when the course of their lives is totally changed. In such areas, where the movements of self- determination are going on, women are doubly made sufferers because they make for   vulnerable soft targets and also because they lose their husbands, siblings and children.

Women are the symbols of culture in every society. So, on the one hand, they are expected to play an important role in the movement for self-determination. But, on the other hand, they are first targeted by the state as it knows that the defenders of these cultures must be defiled and their self-respect crushed in order to suppress the movements. Rape, torture and harassment form the repressive forces are brought down upon women to restrict their social mobility as well as to destroy the honour of the entire tribes.

While entire civilian populations are affected by and suffer the consequences of armed conflict and terrorism, the impact on women and girls is far worse because of their low status in a patriarchal society. They suffer disproportionately more due to displacement, loss of home and property, and loss of close relatives, and face poverty and separation, sexual slavery, rape, along with long socio-economic and psychological trauma.

Like other regions of armed conflict, in Assam also women are seen in various roles, which have different impact on their lives. They suffer atrocities at the hands of the State, being relatives of armed activists; at the same time, they face atrocities at the hands of the militants, being close relatives of armed personnel or Government officers. In time of different movements for self- determination the militants take shelter in the houses of the villagers, and as a consequence, the members of the family, mainly the women members face physical and mental harassment from the state forces despite their innocence. During the Assam Movement, especially during the 1990s, many such incidents occurred. In most cases serious psychological impact was seen on the victims, as rape is perceived as a crime against the honour of the tribe or morality of the family. The victim is often viewed by the community as ‘defiled’ or ‘spoiled’, and in many cases she is even socially boycotted.

When the normal social and economic life is disturbed, there are constant threats and anxiety of living in an atmosphere of oppression and fear. The loss of traditional support bases leads to serious consequences, when women are alienated from family and society. They land up in prostitution, human trafficking etc. Another impact is that since rape is seen as an act of dishonor, not merely as violation of human rights, such a situation leads to restriction on women’s mobility; assertion of ethnicity is over exaggerated and imposed through brute force and patriarchal and fundamentalist values and ideologies are reinforced. Due to the lack of sympathy and dearth of Government schemes or provisions for the widows, mothers and wives of the ‘missing’ people, they are faced with heavy economic burdens.

Women are also targeted by the insurgent groups now and then. A girl, Rashmi Bora of Nagaon District was killed by ULFA in the later part of 90s as she was suspected to be an informer. Similar was the case with Priya Basumataru of Chirang in August 2014, who was killed by NDFB (s) in front of the villagers. A few years ago, Jahnabi Mahanta of Dibrugarh, a teacher joined ULFA and died just after few months. According to a senior police officer she was murdered as she had relations with an ULFA leader.

Since 1990 to 2014, in major incidents of terrorist violence in Assam many women lost their lives, became widows or homeless. It is a long list.

ULFA gives a call for boycott of elections and kills other democratic forces for the sole reason of participating in elections. In 1998, February there was an attack by ULFA on the leaders and members of Sadou Asom Pragatisil Nari Santha in Naharani of Dibrugarh district in which a CPI(ML) leader and candidate of Lok Sabha election Anil Kumar Barua was killed and a woman leader suffered bullet injuries. Another woman leader was beaten with rifle butts.

Due to conflict among different militant organizations also women have to suffer. In Dhemaji, Assam, on 15th August, 2004, ULFA killed 13 people including both boys and girl students (12- 14 yrs) by blasting a bomb in the Independence Day official function organized by the district administration.

In 1996, December the BLT killed a prominent women leader of Bodo Women Justice Forum, Golapi Basumatary with the claim that her organization was working as a front of NDFB (RanjanDaimary), a rival outfit. There are also incidences of sexual harassment by the militant groups. One such example is that of 4thMay 1998, in Bangalduba of Kokrajhar district. Galmu was an old widow having good relations with two members of a militant outfit. On that day, the two members came to her house and forced a young girl out of the car. As they started molesting her, Galmu and her daughter protested and the militants killed them and burnt their house.

There are other impacts on women while they are active as combatants and also after coming to the mainstream. From some interviews, it is seen that their lives became very painful because of the sudden transformation from militant cadres to so called ‘housewives’, because after coming to the mainstream of politics they are again expected to lead lives of subjugated women in a patriarchal society.

In relief camps, victims of ethnic clashes and militant attacks spend months and years without basic hygiene and civic amenities. One can imagine what kind of lives they live if there is no privacy, no security, no health care.

Displacement is another dimension of misery of the people in armed conflict areas and it affects the women most.

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