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Sheetal Sharma
Date of Publish: 2017-06-01

Conflict, Rehabilitation and Women

 

Understanding ‘rehabilitation’ from the traditional concept of relief to a comprehensive process for peace building is often undermined by the State machineries. Women are both ‘victims and ‘agents’ of armed conflict. Taking into concern all stages conflict, women are affected disproportionately and to the extent that they become more susceptible to marginalization, poverty and the sufferings engendered by armed conflict. Analyzing rehabilitation from the lens of two categories of women: 1) women victims/ survivors of conflict-induced displacement referred to as women Internally Displaced Person(IDP)s and 2) women ex-combatants who are in their transition phase is a very challenging task.

India ranks number 11 in the domestic refugee list in the global scenario, of which Assam contributes as the highest in Internally Displaced Persons record. There is still no legal recognition in India for those displaced due to armed conflict or any violence. The Government of India barely has any law in place regarding the provisioning of IDPs. The National Relief and Rehabilitation Policy 2007 talks about rehabilitating people displaced due to developmental projects, but it does not talk about conflict-induced displacement. The national disaster management authority, with corresponding state authorities, is primarily concerned with disaster induced displacement. This was evident when the Government of India delegation went for the 4th and 5th CEDAW reporting to Geneva in July 2014, where it overtly denied the existence of IDPs in the North East. In the absence of any recognition, or guidelines to address conflict induced displacement, we can very well imagine the sorry state of rehabilitation that is taking over the years in the region.

In terms of guideline what is followed in the State is the Assam Government Relief Manual which specifically looks into disaster induced displacement. Revenue and Relief and Rehabilitation departments are primarily responsible for disbursement of grants for any relief related activities. The Assam Relief Manual, 1976, which is in the revision process, is limited to distribution of cheques and providing temporary shelters and food items. The Ministry of Home Affairs, (Disaster Management Division), Government of India, has guidelines for items and norms of assistance for State Disaster Response Fund and the National Disaster Response Fund for the period 2010-2015.

Assam has been grappling with the problem of ethnic violence for a very long time since 1990s. From 2011 and 2014, Assam has witnessed wide-scale displacement.

• In 2011, clashes between miscreants among the Garos and the Rabhas in Goalpara district of Assam led to displacement of more than 50,000 people belonging to both the while more than 30 villages were burnt down.

• In 2012, clashes between miscreants among the Bodos and the Muslims speaking Bengali dialect led to displacement of 485,921 people in Bodoland Territorial Area District (BTAD) and adjoining areas in western Assam.

• In 2013, violence erupted in Karbi Anglong hills during a revived statehood movement. More than 3,000 people were displaced from the Karbi and Rengma Naga tribes sought shelter in displacement camps in the Bokajan area of the Karbi Anglong Hills district of central Assam, following ethnic violence.

• In 2014, miscreants among the Bodos and the Muslims who speak a Bengali dialect another 5000 people were displaced in BTAD.

It is noteworthy to mention that displacement, under situations of conflict, impacts women and children severely. They become most vulnerable to violence and continue to be passive beneficiaries of government’s rehabilitation measures. Gender based violence perpetrated during any violent episodes, in the conflict areas, goes unnoticed because the aftermath of violence is accompanied by the hubbub of discussion, the causalities, flash news, rehabilitation grants and political visits to the affected areas.

The CEDAW Committee, in its concluding observations for India in 2014, had highlighted the issue of a significant number of displaced women and girls, in the north-east in particular, as a result of sporadic clashes. It highlights their precarious living conditions and exposure to serious human rights violations along with the lack of gender-sensitive interventions at all stages of the displacement cycle.

Not much have changed since 1990s and now. The rehabilitation measures adopted by the government are very tokenistic in nature. Rehabilitation grants are not based on any parameter related to costs suffered per person and per family. Not only is it meagre, but equally difficult for an affected family to receive the grant due to corruption and bureaucratic hassles. For instance, the Government of Assam paid a compensation of Rs 30,000 per family whose houses had been completely damaged and Rs 20,000 per family to those whose houses were partially damaged during ethnic riots in BTAD in 2012. We wonder whether this amount is enough to suffice for a family which has lost everything (land, livestock) and all its belongings? Reparative justice is a far end cry. Economic recovery and livelihoods, which is a priority across conflict affected communities does not draw attention of the state nor the importance, perhaps.

It is important to note that neither the Assam Relief Manual nor the funds allocated for rehabilitation mention safety and security of women and other specific concerns for women. Our interactions with camp inmates, during our fact-finding visits, reflect on the trauma and fear that these people go through in their lives. Interaction with many inmates of 2014, the Baksa violence revealed horrific stories of being victims of multiple displacements. Many lost their family members during 1994 ethnic riots and 2014 violence was a mirror image for them. These clearly reveals government’s lack of peace building efforts and lack of political will, resulting in recurrence of violence and mistrust in the minds of people. Not only have women experienced changed social status due to conflict, but gender roles have changed and informal labour force has also increased.

Our visits have also revealed the ambiguous understanding of peace by the government authorities which was limited to forming peace committees with no proper guidelines. The affected people had no idea of these committees as they were formed at a district level. Peace committees lacked representation of women and women’s issue did not feature in their priority lists.

The CEDAW Committee in its concluding observations for India in 2014 has called for participation of women from northeast region in peace negotiations and in the prevention, management and resolutions of conflicts in line with UNSCR 1325 and CEDAW General Recommendation no.30 on women in conflict prevention, conflict and post- conflict situations.

Another category of women is the women ex-combatants. This category has not been acknowledged as an entity because ‘men’ are the visible beneficiaries of any government’s Disarmament, demobilization and reintegration (DDR) programmes. Mostly the DDR programmes follow a traditional approach wherein men combatants carrying weapons are qualified for rehabilitation benefits. Downplaying women’s ranks and roles during combats have put forth women in a disadvantageous position and excluded them from receiving assistance. I visited the designated camps meant for the cadres of the militant groups who are under suspension of operation and undergoing peace negotiation with the government. These designated camps are part of the rehabilitation efforts of the government so that the transition phase from ex-combatant to civilian becomes smooth. Also successful reintegration is a parameter for achieving peace in the long run.

Our interview with women combatants and spouses of male combatants in the designated camps brought forth the appalling condition of the camps and how lack of proper assistance programme inside the camp has been a major hurdle for these women to meet their transitional allowances be it, food, medical and legal services, education for their children among many others. Under the Government of Assam programme, cadres of the pro-talks faction are entitled to a monthly stipend of Rs 3000 and free food and stay in the camps. Unfortunately, this stipend is so irregular that the cadres have to live in a constant state of deprivation and uncertainty. One woman inmate disclosed that her husband received stipend after 11 months and that too it was a reduced amount. The condition of the camps revealed the reluctance of women combatants to cope with the present society which did not acknowledge their status or needs, and even few expressed that they were ready to go back to their combat life. These camps had rehabilitation programmes but they were not need based and market-oriented. The tradition weaving programmes meant for these women cadres were inadequate and no financial assistance was provided to sustain the programme. In Kakopathar camp of Tinsukia we witnessed non-functional handlooms, inadequate raw materials and lack of market linkages.

When we talk of rehabilitation, it is equally important to address the psycho social needs of women, a counselling component, which is hardly available in the State. Women ex-combatants have experienced and seen violence and killings from very close range. Those we interviewed have expressed their difficulties of reintegrating back into society. They have expressed a sense of hopelessness and anxiety about the future as they have experienced the apathetic handling of the peace talks by the government. Needless to mention, there is Government’s lack of transparency and accountability to reveal the status of cadres, who have gone missing during counter insurgency operations. Few women revealed the stigmatisation that they are facing within the community. These are evidences of ill-planning and poor rehabilitation and reconstruction approach which the government has adopted as a part of its conflict resolution effort.

Peace cannot be achieved alone by signing peace agreement but we need a strategic framework approach that address the human rights of all and is based on humanitarian laws and principles. Let us all demand the government to operationalise rehabilitation with an inclusive framework and understand it an important strategy for peace-building in the State.

Sheetal Sharma

( Sheetal Sharma is a development activist working for human rights of women in Assam. She was working with North East Network, a leading feminist organisation last 8 years. Her expertise lies on the issues of community mobilisation, violence against women, governance and peace and conflict. She has also conceptualised and undertaken studies on safety of women, domestic violence, women prisoners and women combatants. She can be reached sheetalsharma1@gmail.com )

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