Conflict Zone Machismo

Femininity is meant to complement the armed version of masculinity

BOOK: Maoist and Other Armed Conflicts
AUTHOR: Anuradha M Chenoy, Kamal A Mitra Chenoy
PUBLISHER: Penguin
PAGES: 239
PRICE: 350
YEAR: 2011

Amit Sengupta Delhi 

"DURING ARMED CONFLICTS institutional structures break down. The public language and practice of politics and media becomes a weapon of conflict as terms such as 'brotherhood', 'martyrdom', 'honour', 'brave hearts' and 'sacrifice for the motherland' dominate the discourse and marginalise feminist values. Masculinity and force are privileged... Those who advocate peace efforts are seen as 'weak' and womanly. In such circumstances, women's identities are constructed to intersect with the needs of militarised nationalism..."

Perhaps, one of the most significant and offbeat chapters in this sensitive study is the one called 'Gender and Armed Conflicts'. Across the conflict zones of the Repressive State Apparatus, the ideology of militarism, market fundamentalism and patriarchal power, from beyond the red corridor to the missing persons twilight zones of Kashmir and 'AFSPA's' Northeast, there is one unilateral theme which runs like a jarring, unhappy symphony. The dehumanisation of women in times of social and political conflict. The reaffirmation of male stereotypes and prejudices. The reassertion of female inequality and infinite, structural, gender bias.

The authors argue that "femininity is meant to complement, support this version of masculinity..." This is the homogeneity of absolute and permanent male legitimacy. Across differences in layers, many times, this jagged symphony moves in tandem across scattered geographies – though collective struggles in the margins, even with macho leaderships, try to speak a different idiom from that of the organised, armed oppressor, who is often a stranger to the imagined communities across the Indian landscape.

The book moves beyond the Maoist paradigm, though it puts it in perspective with a copy book kind of detachment. It notes that between 1994 and 2010, 58,000 civilians, security forces and militants were killed in Jammu and Kashmir, the Northeast and Naxalite-affected areas. Understanding the dangers of getting trapped in statistics, the narrative moves across field research, conversations and social-psychological analysis, and enters the visible and invisible discourse in the mainstream and on the margins, in a truly pluralist, scholarly, non-partisan study.

This is complex because there are epical struggles which stand out with their remarkable originality and multilayered synthesis of ideology and politics based on oral histories, political experience, police repression and indigenous realism. From the Eastern Ghats through Dandakaranya to the Northeast, there is no one unilateral text to be deconstructed. There are multiple histories of these struggles, and they all weave into a multiple web of angst and anger against the denial of justice, compulsory mass displacement, or relentless State-sponsored brutality, as during Salwa Judum in Chhattisgarh. Indeed, the documentation of human rights violation is a serious endeavour in this book.

The book reopens the debate on militarisation in all its forms, including on the margins, even inside the home: the male nation-state power cycle around which women's empowerment and the wheels of feminist assertions move – often in a vicious circle. It reopens windows of hope in this circle of hopelessness, and redefines both the territories of female sacrifice and liberation, as much as the collective will to fight an endless battle against forces representing cold-blooded profit and denial of democracy.

Check the roots of militarisation and violence. Rethink the idea of armed justice and injustice. Is the violence of law and order part of constitutional justice? Open the debate and listen to dissent. Think again before you kill.

This study, by two of India's finest social scientists and activists, is as much a serious textbook for the eclectic reader as it is an unfolding thesis for those who are trained, and yet it grapples with a non-unilinear account of our unfinished history. In a scenario where there is a big absence of comprehensive documentation in conflict zones of contemporary India, this book is a must read. 

This story is from the print issue of Hardnews: NOVEMBER 2011