NGO Interventions in Situations of Conflict

Some Reflections on Possible NGO Interventions in Situations of Conflict: The Experience of the Viol

Linked with Urvashi Butalia – India.

Published on AMAN Foundation, by Urvashi Butalia, not dated.

… This essay mainly describes a project entitled the Violence Mitigation and Amelioration Project (VMAP) on violent conflict which was initiated by Oxfam (India) some years ago. Within this, my essay looks at only one aspect of this overall project, i.e. the sub-project on women and conflict. Briefly, the VMAP project is divided into several sub-projects, which look at the following: (a) mapping conflict (b) law and conflict (c) dalits and conflict (d) syncretic traditions (e) the question of Hindutva (f) the psychological impact of conflict and (g) women and conflict. Two independent projects defined geographically rather than thematically, form part of this group. One is located in Rajasthan where there has been a continuing flow of people (Hindus) coming in from Pakistan, especially at times when relations between the two countries are at a low. The other is located in West Bengal and is concerned with people who are currently living as stateless people in Bangladesh, but are in fact Indians in legal terms. These people, erstwhile inhabitants of small enclaves called chitmahals (which continue to be in Bangladesh ) have, over a period of time, migrated into different parts of West Bengal where they live in small clusters. The project is aimed at assisting these displaced people to set up their own community based organisations to fight for their rights as legitimate citizens of the Indian State …

… The women and conflict project began by taking as its basis the fact that there had been virtually no work on the question of how women were impacted by and involved in conflict in India and across borders in South Asia. (This situation is considerably changed today when, tragically, the increase in conflict has also generated a wealth of writing which helps us understand the underlying patterns as well as the need for sustained intervention and action). We emphasized that the kind of conflict the project was addressing was not individual, domestic conflict but conflict, or conflicts, of a collective nature, and those in which violence played a major part. (Four years into the project, however, we realized that it was not so easy to make such a separation, but I will come back to this point later) It was becoming increasingly clear that in India, in recent years, there had been considerable escalation of different kinds of conflict and women were involved in these in a variety of ways. To begin with, they often bore the brunt of many conflict situations as they were the ones who were left behind with the burden of holding family and community together. But they were not merely victims of conflict, as had been widely believed earlier, but also often agents involved in the violence of conflict, in furthering it, and sometimes in profiting from it. For women’s groups, the realization that women could turn against women, putting the interests of their community or religious group first, as became evident in every communal conflict that took place in the country, was a sobering one. But between the two binaries of victim or agent there lay a host of other realities. Often, situations of conflict forced women into taking steps they might not otherwise have taken. The poverty created or exacerbated by situations of violent conflict, the loss of earning members, often put an additional burden on women, pushing them into situations of considerable danger outside the home. The paucity of work opportunities could also result in many women taking on sex work in order to keep home and hearth together. Others may be coerced into, or may voluntarily choose to join armies, militants or security forces to make up their cadres. (Indeed, it is clear from accounts of the North East in India, and of the Maoist uprising in neighbouring Nepal, that the bulk of the cadres of militants are increasingly made up of young women.) Often, these were women who had themselves faced some kind of violence at the hands of those in power, or those who were defined as the ‘enemy’. Thus, we felt we needed also to examine and understand the chain of violence which led women into reacting to situations of violenct conflict by taking the initiative to join violent campaigns … (full long text).

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