Monday, November 24, 2008

Women Building Peace Between India and Pakistan. Edited by Shree Mulay and Jackie Kirk. Delhi :Anthem Critical Studies, 2007

Ishita Dey

This book weaves together some of the attempts that the women’s movements have worked towards building peace between one of the most sensitive borders in South Asia. Through a compilation of essays, the editors have attempted to situate and understand how women negotiate, challenge and questions the role women perform in war , as “mothers” both in India and Pakistan. In a nutshell it questions the stereotypes and dogmas that perpetuate “peace” as a “ temporal” concept and tries to link peace with justice, security of the people, position of women not in terms of role-performance but also in terms of their position in relation to nationalistic, religious and other dominant discourses. What is significant and departs from the existing writings on “peace” is the aspect of self –reflexivity and the rich ethnographic roots of the articles. It questions the traditional protests evoking the patriarchal kinship relations of mother, sister and brother specially in times of torture.

There is a need to move beyond victimization and as one of the articles in this volume on Kashmir conflict, Anuradha Bhasin Jamwal suggests that it is important to understand that activities like stripping, mutilating, amputing breasts, molesting and raping is about “male construction of sexuality , it is symbolic representation of “manhood” . Hence “rape” is one of the worst ways to “victimize” women ; to create “shame” leave them marginalized within and outside the group almost on the threshold and is “suffering” the will generate more meaningful dialogues across borders in the recent times.

Any discussion on peace building between India and Pakistan is left answered without addressing the concept of ‘Kasmiriyat’ ; a secular ethnic concept expounded by the Muslim ruler Zain-ul-Abdeen and popularized by a mystic Hindu woman Lal Ded, defining the relationship between the Hindu and the Muslim communities of the valley by this model. Reeta Chowdhari Tremblay in the essay on “Identity and Nationalism : Where are Women in Kashmiri Politics?” argues that though the concept of Kashmiriyat was popularized by a woman the state discourse of nationalism is devoid of any gendered understanding to define “Kasmiri nation”; thus concepts of community, region and religion has taken predominance over nationalist debate.

One constant thread that weaves the essays is the how the building of nation-state in South Asia is based on what Himani Banerjee calls masculinisation of demography; whereby constant attempts to cleanse ethnic and religious minority groups to create political spaces where demography overrides democracy is evident. This results in citizenship based not on rights but on various culturally constructed forms of belonging. According to Himani Banerjee, “the question of demography involving actualities of human reproduction entails the issue of women’s bodies as reproductive sites- and in relation to the Hindu right’s agenda in India, that of Muslim women’s bodies, especially of their reproductive parts”. It is against this background and context she locates the genocide of Muslims in Gujarat in 2002.

Some essays reflect on the peace initiatives by women’s groups in Pakistan . Beena Sarwar and Shahid Fiaz in their respective essays discuss in detail about the various peace initiatives namely by Woman’s action Forum and other cross border civil society groups to address demilitarization, intolerance, globalization and Kashmir. Post Kargil there were various initiatives from both ends to continue civil society dialogue through “women’s peace bus” spearheaded by Gandhian Nirmala Despande which was received by Asma Jehangir. While on one hand these cultural exchanges uphold attempts to uphold the unity of the people most of these events as Beena Sarwar says go unreported and unnoticed.

It is significant in this context to understand the role of the media in both India and Pakistan. What do the popular media images portray, symbolize, represent about India – Pakistan relationship in Indian and Pakistan media? While Suhasini Mulay lays down the Indian perspective; through a overview of the popular media discourses on Pakistan in radio, TV and our cinema; Shireen Pasha argues for people to have correct access to information we need stringent media laws.

What follows from these essays is how are these steps significant in the context of peacebuilding efforts and understanding violence in South Asia. The essays by Chris Corin, Daya R Varma, Jackie Kirk and Shree Mulay provides a backdrop and context to the understanding of peace, “securitization” of peace efforts and legal interpretations of the same in their attempts to address the linkages between women, peace and security provided by the brilliant introductory essay on Canada and United Nations Security Council Resolution 1325 (2000) on Women, peace and security which foregrounds the human security approach from a gendered perspective to understand the root causes of conflict. UNSCR 1325 is path breaking and a model for advocacy groups who are working on peace and security agenda.

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