Thursday, January 21, 2010

Contextualizing “Insurgency” in North East India: In search of Women’s Perspective.

It is without a doubt that the study on insurgency and the ethnic conflict situation is the richest literature produced in the history of North East India in recent times. While a number of frameworks exist in the examination of insurgency, very little attention has been directed toward its conceptualization in relation to women. Relatively, studies on women connected to the insurgency and ethnic conflict in North East India by social scientists is a recent phenomenon. This is mainly due to the fact that the history of insurgency in North East India has always been dominated by the ‘official’ history or the history of ethnic patriarchy so to speak, who lead various political movements. The categories “insurgency” and “ethnic nationalism” requires unpacking because each constitutes ‘patriarchy’ without acknowledging ‘women space’. Most of the current studies are generally confined to the impact of insurgency violence on women in which they are portrayed as victims (trauma, rape, restriction of women movement and hardship). Yet, there are some studies which do lay focus on armed militant women in insurgency war. Other perspectives limit women to the role of a “peacemaker.” These approaches narrow down the woman’s purpose to just that of the need to bargain between ethnic insurgency groups and the Nation State. Such studies leave us with only a partial picture of women's experiences in insurgency wars. Few that do mention women’s participation in ethnic movements have largely dismissed their contributions. The gap is still made wider by the fact that a good proportion of issues are far from being meant to address the real condition of women in the region mainly because there is hardly any literary work that covers insurgency history from a feminine perspective. This evidently raises serious questions in regards to what the roles of women in the formation of ethnic nationalism are. How exactly does ethnic nationalism impact the gender relations in the region? Can ethnic nationalism mean ‘gender equality’ (at least in terms of equal opportunities)? How do ethnic groups place their women? What do ‘ethnic nationalism’ and ‘insurgency’ mean to a woman?

The term ‘insurgency’ etymologically comes from a Latin word ‘insurgere’ which means to ‘rise up’. In English lexicon, the word can refer to either a ‘rebel’ or a ‘revolutionary’. Academically, Bard O’Neil defined insurgency "as a struggle between a non-ranking group and ruling authorities in which the former consciously employs political resources and instruments of violence to establish legitimacy for some aspect of the political system it considers illegitimate. In the context of North East India, several terms have been applied such as “ethnic insurgency”, “political insurgency”, “arms insurgency” so on and so forth. Moreover, there is hardly any work that covered insurgency from the ethnic perspective. For instance, the insurgency movement from 1966-1986 has been locally referred as “zalenna sual” which literally means freedom movement. Apparently, in the North East context, the term has been generated and applied mainly from two perspectives such as Secessionist and “Revolutionary”, whereas other forms of insurgencies such “Restorational”, “Reactionary”, “Conservative” and “Reformist” may also be present. There is a general agreement among scholars that insurgency is a form of political violence and is a means to achieve any of the above mentioned ends. Insurgency may break out against a particular regime, particular persons of a regime, particular structures and salient values a regime upholds, or particular policies or biases of a regime. In all such possible cases, the prime objective of insurgents would be to capture power and replace the political community.

What then, does ethnic insurgency means from a woman’s perspective? Warfare and military service have played key roles in national histories and mythologies and in the fashioning of gender identities. Despite the fact that women, war and conflict are very rich in recent feminist scholarship, ‘political insurgency’ remains marginal in feminist theory. The works of Ranajit Guha and Gayatri Spivak focus on ‘insurgency’ as a crucial point of departure in the rethinking of women exclusion in insurgency politics of colonial India. Ranajit Guha attempted to understand “insurgency” from the peasant point of view in the context of the colonial Indian. He theorised insurgency as the “site where the two mutually contradictory tendencies within this still imperfect, almost embryonic, theoretical consciousness -- that is, a conservative tendency made up of the inherited and uncritically absorbed material of the ruling culture and a radical one oriented towards a practical transformation of the rebel’s conditions of existence -- met for a decisive trial of strength”. Ranajit Guha eventually used “the word "insurgency" in his text as a name of that consciousness which informs the activity of the rural masses known as revolt, uprising, etc or to use their Indian designation – “dhing”, “bidroha”, “ulgulan”, “hool”, “fitura” and so on. However, such generalisations do not cover the entire complexity of the subaltern struggle in colonial India. Gayatri Spivak critically challenged Guha’s over-generalisation of peasant insurgency that obscures the subaltern women’s voice. She argued that the subaltern women's insurgency is rarely accompanied by any substantial historical research mainly because of colonial archive and historical records of subaltern insurgency keeps male dominant. Further, she argued that subaltern women were subjected to three main domination systems - class, ethnicity and gender. Spivak’s study thus provided how insurgency has been problematic because it equates with a masculine story of political evolution, marginalizing aspects of women in history.

In case of Mizo hills, insurgency broke out after the first women’s movement was initiated in the post-colonial period. Ethnic nationalism can at times be emancipating; at other times it is a reactionary force of the subjugation of women. Since its inception, Insurgency organisation (Mizo National Front) was entirely dominated by men. Despite these, many women embraced ethnic nationalism and participated in the insurgency movements, though the actual practice of ethno-nationalism is reserved for men. Women are manipulated, and they themselves internalize patriarchal thinking within a politics of over-determined ethnic nationalism. Recent history of insurgency movements has largely dismissed their contributions. Insurgency in Mizo hill thus, appears as a patriarchal war against the larger National State for the restoration of ethnic patriarchal order in the society. Women were subsuming under the category of ‘Mizo Nationalism’; it had ambiguous effects on not only the status of women by confining them as mothers in the home, but also seldom acknowledged women's issues as significant. It also reaffirmed the boundaries of culturally acceptable feminine conduct and exerted pressure on women to articulate their gender interests within the terms of reference set by ethnic nationalist discourse.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

A historian wins Infosys award: Isn't that crazy?

She is none other than our present Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s daughter. Professionally she is a Professor of History in Delhi University. Recently, she was honoured with Infosys Prize for her contribution as a historian of Ancient and Medieval history. I am very surprised that a historian was awarded by infosys. Isn't that crazy? I’m really curious as to why infosys stated its interest in history!

Since, my college days, history students such as myself have been branded as people who are interested in simple facts and figures of the past. Others may also think that a historian's main interest is nothing but things like what Akbar was doing during the Mughal period. If you think the same way as these people, my answer to you is quite simple and clear. You are ignorant on the subject of history as much as I am ignorant in engineering studies. Ok let me stop defending my position as a student of history.

There was a time when the growth of globalization with multi national companies had an impact on the education of history. History has almost become an unwanted subject in many colleges and universities since more and more students have started joining technical courses. However, the last few years have witnessed a revival of the history subject in many technical universities like IIT, medical institutes etc. When more and more multinational companies are expanding their businesses, understanding history is pertinent for successful entrepreneurship in many countries.For instance, India has a strong historical culture which even globalization cannot change. This scenario pushed many technical universities to expand their perspectives in their fields of business. Even infosys has also taken its step in this direction.

I congratulate Ms. Singh on her success and wish her a great future ahead. I hope one day she will be interested in the history of Mizoram just as sister Daman Singh did a very significant research on the forest history of Mizoram (The Last Frontier: People and Forests in Mizoram).