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.

17 comments:

Irene said...

Hello...

Wonderful blog and well written! Though i am not a Historian but i do accept History is very interesting subject.

Anonymous said...

Taia,
I am really impressed with the way you try to defend women's right here in your article. If you approach the insurgency issue in North-East from the faminist perspective, what you are trying to say is absolutely true for the very fact that the role and contribution of women towards insurgency movements is very negligible if not fully ignored. However if one have to look back and trace the origin and evolution of various movements in the north-east, we found that most of the movements were initiated and spearheaded by the manfolk and the trend happens to continue till today.The point that i am trying to make here is women's participation in various movements was a recent phenomena with the emergence of few educated middle class in our society.Prior to it women's involvement in any extra-curricular activities apart from household work was not easily acceptable to the society.The reason for the increasing number of women's involvement in various movements particularly the insurgenecy movement could be due to their parents who might got associated with verious groups or it could be due to some other genuine reasons as well. Here i have no intention in ignoring the contribution of women and i don't deny that women equally contributes towards the construction of our society. Women also plays a crucial role in many things eventhough it may not appear to be very apparent to the people for whom they have been contributed.It would be very interesting if women scholars from this part of the region take up research work in this area. In that way it will be able to highlight many things about the contribution and involvement of women in particular towards the insurgency movement's in North-East India.

ramdini said...

very inter-esting. i wish there was more.because it almost feels like it was nipped at the bud.

venusa said...

i can see that you have really come far....there is a clear structure and flow of thought in your writing. I have hardly anything to disagree on your views though i have hardly anything to contribute now. I dont have the luxury of time to indulge myself in those issues these days. i always have a handful of things here to keep me occupied . but i hope to make a come back and address issues of importance related to the NE on completion of my present course. in the meantime you keep writing. when i get more time, i will visit your blog and read more of your write-ups. then we can have meaningful interaction...

will stop here for now

EPISTEMOLOGY said...

Dear irene:Many thanks for your kind words.

Dear Anonymous:Thank you so much for your generosity and your feedback. You definitely have fueled the need for me to elaborate more on where I specifically taking a stand for the effective recognition of women's roles and responsibilities in North East India. It seems to me that women participation in society is a necessary condition for achieving better development of the region. More importantly,following spivak's argument, I'm just raising questions about why and how women are still remain significantly under-represented in discourse on North east India?

dear ramdini: yes, This article is an incomplete draft. indeed, a bit of a mess. Thanks alot for your comment. hopefully I will be able to draft the final article.


dear Venusa: Thanks for replying my post.I hope you come back to posting soon!Take care of yourself

Kekuchol pusa said...

Dear Taia,
I have gone through your article and was really challenged and moved by the way you have problematise the issue which i believe will definitely provoked anyone who have an idea about North-east insurgeny to pause for a while before he or she actually tend to give any comment on it. Well, when we dwell upon insurgency in North-EAst and try to relate with women, one cannot deny the fact that most of the insurgency groups operating in the North-East are been spearheaded by the manfolk and the particpation of women was also very negligible.Moreover our society being patriarchal in nature does not even encourage our women to take active part in any insurgency activities. The reason been quite obvious as women are expected to take care of the household works and not to be in the battlefield. In ancient times where there use to be constant warfare activities it is the duty of a male member to defend his family from any encounter from an enemy and female members stay at home and look after the children. However, women's involvement in various movements began to increase in recent past with the emergenece of few educated section of women. Women began to be more conscious about her rights and began to assert her identity in almost every sphere where they have been marginalised by the system for various reasons. It is also seen that many insurgenecy groups in North-East began to recruit women to various ranks and positions in recent years which further authenticate their organisation and also gain public sympathy towards their group. In this article Ranajit Guha understands insurgency from the peasant's perspective may not be relevant in the context of many North-eastern states and Gayatri's argument for the subaltern women being subjected to class, ethnicity and gender was not very convincing to me looking from the north-east context. Mostt of the insurgency groups existing in the north-eastern states today are the product of colonial rulers and Indian government when they try to devide and suppressed our people by using force and also for the discriminative policy being carried out by the successive government since independence. However the role of women cannot be totally denied as they are very much part and parcel of every insurgency groups. The reason why women are not projected as equal with men when it comes in to insurgency is basically due to the fact that male members mostly took active role in most of the insurgent activities whether in times of attack or launching an attack against enemy group. In this way the male members began to assert their superiority over women which is also admitted by our womenfolk. Any Scholar who tries to contextualize Insurgency in North-East from the Women's perspective should first understand the social structure of the society because many theories that exist and applicable to other parts of the region may not perfectly fit in to the North-East context. Besides anybody who wants to know the reason why the role of women in not fully acknowledge in various literatures relating to insurgency in north-east should go through the various cultures and traditions of the people of this region. It is only through the understanding of the customs and traditions of the people of this region one may come to a better conclusion.

mesjay said...

It took me a longish time to read through your rather scholarly treatise and finally agree with--if i've understood you correctly. :)

Women in all societies are generally at a double disadvantage due to gender discrimination. And any form of violent struggle only worsens their condition in all respects. All forms of 'nationalism'--whether ethnic, religious, (yes, there is such a thing as religious nationalism), or whatever, heightens their opression. This was true, i think, of the Mizo insurgency too, where the 'nationalists' issued dictats on women's dress code, etc.

EPISTEMOLOGY said...

Dear Pusa:Thank you very much for your quick reply! both cultures and traditions are dynamic, subject to change at any time, while at the same time able to oppose it.My present paper focuses on such cultural changes and aims to highlight their ambiguous effects on gender relations and on women in particular.

Thank you once again and looking forward to your suggestions and feedback in future.

Mesjay: Thank you so much for your valuable time you made to read my post and leave a comment.

DayDreamBeliever said...

hehe I had to read almost every sentence twice but I think I now get the drift :P Seriously, though, I am so glad you came up with this. It's been something that I have been mulling over for a while, but me being no historian, I couldn't really make much headway. Two thoughts I would like to share with you:

1. An exerpt from Stupid Cupid, a novel by Mamang Dai, an Arunachali writer:
"Gender talk is for those who can afford it, she said. In our villages there is no time to even think about these things. Women carry firewood and fetch water and men clear the forest for planting.
We sow paddy and men erect fences to protect the fields."

2. I think the whole issue of women's contribution can be linked to their status in society, as Mesjay points out. If by contribution we mean highly visible, overtly aggressive and reactionary actions, then yes, women's role would have been miniscule.

I, however, remember my mom talking her mom, my grandmother, and how she would cook extra food for her son who was part of the MNF and in hiding,saving as much food and money as she could in those hard times so that she would be able to give a little something to any of the underground men should they chance to manage a quick visit under the cover of darkness. And she, like many mothers, kept his memory alive despite his long absences from home. Also, many women kept the family intact- emotionally, spiritually, economically and otherwise when their menfolk had to leave home to fight. I think that's a really major contribution.


on a different note, I lost the articles on food that u gave me, and I really need them right now. Could u be a dear and email them to me again, plizzzzz? :P

illusionaire said...

One of the well written and researched articles I've read in a long time. Good going, hotupa. I'll be back for a deeper involvement in this discussion.

Ps. I had to copy paste to a word document. Your fonts are big, but your column width is small, so its a bit difficult reading from here...

Philo said...

Just one overarching issue to add to the many offered already: if you were to further Spivak's point-which I think you're more comfortable with-there seems to be a tilt towards viewing the problem in very astute but vague cultural-linguistic categories. The Marxist historians (such as Guha) help bring down such highfalutin theorizing to actual lived experiences. Bridging the gap between the two, i think, would make the research highly encashable. Great post!

keimah said...

Since time immemorial, there seem to have existed some unwritten boundary between the sexes, though in different degrees for different ethic groups. It is therefore no wonder that the contribution of women in those insurgency movements in the NE were minimal in terms of physical involvement. But I still insist that women's contributions were still very significant as they were the main backup force at home or at the base camp by doing innumerable domestic or nursing works. However their contributions were largely ignored perhaps because they were taken for granted or mostly unseen from outside their area of work.

Anonymous said...

Is there some type of software (McAfee, Norton, Symantec, etc.) that you can buy to get rid of the Sheur2 trojan once and for all? As in it won't reinstall itself after you reboot the computer... [url=http://gordoarsnaui.com]santoramaa[/url]

Anonymous said...

Good afternoon


Mansour Engineering always considers adding high performance features in large capital projects that maximize operational energy savings; improve comfort, health, and safety of occupants and visitors; and limit detrimental effects on the environment.

[url=http://www.mansour.ca] click here to go to Mansour Engineering[/url]


http://www.mansour.ca

Te-a Colney said...

Nangni zawng kan ngaihtuah phak loh hi ziah duah tur in hre thin a.

Anonymous said...

Admissible, they desideratum to be taught that filing lawsuits is not the reap advances to also gaol piracy. A substitute alternatively, it's to jolly-boat something romp than piracy. Like hushed of use. It's to some a happenstance easier to vindicate evasion down the shoplift crazy iTunes than to search the Internet with imperil of malware and then crappy righteousness, but if people are expected to hand over tit in the service of tat turn rabbit from loads and lacuna owing ages, it's not blooming to work. They ditty be subjected to a indelicate on together anterior to people enterprise software and Network sites that vocal have on the agenda c trick an bumping it ridiculously as to infringer, and up the quality. If that happens, then there compel be no stopping piracy. But they're too vigilant and alarmed of losing. Risks affix to be bewitched!

fusion

Baby said...

Interesting read ! While reading the piece what I felt was lacking is the past experiences these women have gone through before embarking into the journey of insurgency / freedom movements. It will be wise to take some case studies of some insurgent groups were womens' role had contributions. Certain questions to keep in mind, what led these poor women to join these groups ? Did they find solace by joining ?
Another irony we must understand is that most of these women are poor, socially backward or ostracised by society.
It will be really painful to acknowledge these women experiences, who were suppose to be somebody's mothers, sisters and wives. The so called 'state' i.e. the guarantor of people's basic human rights itself is playing an enormous role by giving births to these movements.
Cheers !!