Kamla Bhasin’s genius lay in her ability to overcome different fault lines and build diverse coalitions.
The fields of peacebuilding and protest are generally seen as occupying separate and discrete worlds. However, in women’s movements in South Asia, from the 1980s onwards but more visibly in the 1990s, these became more and more intertwined as academics and activists forged cross-border synergies and solidarities. .
The recently deceased feminist icon Kamla Bhasin largely contributed to this outcome. She has invested her unique creative energy to transcend frontiers and frontiers, past monocultures of the mind that reinforce stereotypes, mistrust and militarism, and reflect the cartographic anxieties of nation states.
Bhasin said: “Main sarhad by khadi deewar nahi, us deewar by padi daraar hum [I am not the wall that stands at the border, I am the crack in that wall]”. It captured the spirit with which women oppose ‘resolutions’ in South Asia, often in the face of strong opposition, cobbled together around cords of territoriality to join forces and mobilize across the country’s fault lines. , caste, religion, class and gender.
The recognition that women across South Asia face a continuum of violence – both structural and overt – as they confront the patriarchy of family, community and state, and “The complicity between them”, argued networks not hindered by national identities.
Bhasin’s book with Ritu Menon, Borders and borders, and that of Urvashi Butalia The other side of silence, both published in the 1990s, were innovative in their accounts of the pain, loss, displacement and violence that the partition of India had inflicted on women on both sides of the border and the similarity of their experiences. This work has revealed how community and even national honor is embedded in women’s bodies and the gendered nature of citizenship. It sparked explorations of what country, religious identity, or even nation really meant to women. It has also opened up the space for research and activism that questions the âsanctity of bordersâ.
Several ethnographic narratives that have given voice to the singular experiences of women in conflict situations – in Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Nepal, Afghanistan and Pakistan – have been added to the repertoire, enabling cross-cutting civil society engagements to across South Asia around issues of justice, rights, patriarchy, militarization and nuclearization.
During times of confrontation between different governments and their neighbors, especially between India and Pakistan, feminists like Bhasin have worked hard to ensure that people-to-people contact and some form of public diplomacy support dialogue and nurture synergies. Whether they are inspired by the theoretical articulations of âtrack twoâ (invented by Joseph V. Montville in 1981) or âmultitrack diplomacyâ is difficult to establish. In any case, this “diplomacy” avoided Henry Wotton’s prescription to “lie abroad for his country”. It was clearly a question of speaking collectively about the truth in power.
With women in mind, initiatives like the Women’s Action Forum (WAF) in Pakistan who contacted their sisters in Bangladesh to apologize for the atrocities committed by the Pakistani military in 1971; the Women’s Peace Bus undertaken by the Women’s Initiative for Peace in South Asia (WIPSA) from Delhi to Lahore in 2000 to demand a war-free and nuclear-free South Asia; Women in Security Conflict Management and Peace (WISCOMP) bringing together young South Asians for workshops on conflict transformation; the Regional Women’s Network (WRN) with its sustained campaigns against militarization and human rights; and Sangat with its innovative regional gender training conclaves, to name a few, has persevered in the mission of expanding constituencies for peace.
In recent decades, South Asia has witnessed “disobedient women” expressing peace and challenging state notions of security and order. They were visible in the movements of mothers in Sri Lanka, Didi Bahini in Nepal, the Force Thappa in the “Malki ya Maut [ownership or death]Farmers are struggling in Pakistan, and in the Chipko, Narmada, Bhopal and Kudankulam movements in India. Events like the Meira Paibis (women with torches) in Manipur, the women’s congregation in Shaheen Bagh and the farmers’ protests are also part of this dissent.
Drawing on the experience of activists like Bhasin making a woman’s place “in the resistance”, these movements have largely entered the arena of peacebuilding through the corridors of human security – expressing democracy and claiming citizenship.
At the heart of their commitment
Highlighting the tensions between personal security and what often passes for national security, opposition to war and cultures of militarism have been at the heart of their engagement, aware of the tension between what often passes for national security and the security of peoples, livelihoods and beliefs, including food and water security. At the forefront is also the need to link peace and security issues to development in order to tackle the structural causes of violent conflict.
Feminist scholars have often made connections between formal security discourse and certain types of hegemonic masculinity, and how political priorities and (techno) strategic discourse are skewed to preserve power hierarchies at the national level, within the international system, and of the world economic order. For them, the ârationalâ calculation of power, so characteristic of international realpolitik, cannot be âredeemedâ in the service of peace.
Women’s movements have questioned the conventional metaphor of the peace of the figure in white, passively holy or totally passive. To conduct the conflict in a non-violent manner, to transgress received notions of security, in their daily resistance and daily mutinies against oppressive socio-political institutions to build structural peace, was their cry of alarm.
The feminist âweaponsâ that they bring to their engagement mix the cerebral, the festive and the performative. Bhasin herself, with her extraordinary communication skills, has attracted a large number of young enthusiasts, “unfolding” slogans and art, music and humor, making her primers succinct and accessible on the web. gender, patriarchy and peace resonate through groups, while deciphering the most complex of feminist conceptions.
This practice of peace with dissent and nonviolent activism at its core that connected the personal to the political, often uses spectacular forms of protest and brings everyday items from the private sphere of women as children’s toys, diapers, rolling pins, clothes, veils and sometimes even female bodies in public space, similar to what Mahatma Gandhi did with khadi and salt. These forms of protest are harmoniously inspired by the collective global palimpsest of feminist activism chiseled by ancestors around the world.
Feminist peace activists today recognize that finding common ground involves recognizing differences while building on commonalities. Women’s experiences of conflict and violence are mediated by their âlocationâ and the intersectionality of caste, class, region, religion and gender. Even though women âspeakâ the language of inclusion and connectedness, they are not a homogeneous category with an identity that trumps all other affiliations. This poses a particular challenge in the mobilization for peace. Bhasin’s genius lay in his ability to overcome these various loopholes and create diverse coalitions and communities of practice – from grassroots workers to minorities, men and boys, Dalits, academics, students and international networks. His signature tune, “Azadi [freedom]”, Also called the” other walls “- the psychological barriers of suspicion, fear, deception, and above all an” other “that can only be countered by” putting yourself in the other’s shoes. perceived â- reaching out to those you fear the most loathsome stereotypes to touch at the heart of the complexity.
Since the mid-1980s, South Asian activists have sought to “engender” peace by attracting even more “hostile” neighborhoods to safe and empathetic “disarmed” spaces of trust, much like practitioners of peace. the Aikido. With friendship and community as their anchor and resilience, they chose to “sweat in peace rather than bleed in war.”
This was long before the landmark United Nations Security Council (UNSCR) Resolution 1325 in 2000 established the global normative model of the Women, Peace and Security Agenda (WPS). It also preceded the adoption of feminist diplomacy by the Scandinavian countries and the exhortations of the Hillary Clinton doctrine that women’s rights and violence against women be considered matters of national security.
Did feminist activism for peace in South Asia then offer crucial conceptual alphabets to the international model on positive peace (peace with justice) as an inclusive public process, and not just ‘negotiated’ in negotiations closed only by men? The story of their founding contributions to the WPS discourse needs to become more visible.
The peace of a people is a perpetual work, checked and tested every day. It is also an invitation to civil society to constantly refine the song of democracy.
Nurturing a South Asian identity was Bhasin’s labor of love. With love, she tried to make him part of the lives of others. And she did it, as we all must, with “passion, compassion, humor and style.”
Meenakshi Gopinath is President of the Center for Policy Research (CPR) and Director of Women in Security, Conflict Management and Peace (WISCOMP), New Delhi