Monday, May 13, 2013

‘I studied History for 5 years, but there was not a single chapter on the history of the Northeast’

Why is the Northeast conspicuous by its absence in the academic curriculum of the country? In a recently concluded conference called ‘Weaving histories of Northeast India’, intellectuals, scholars and historians came together to understand why and make concrete plans to change this aberration. Binalakshmi Neparam, founder of the Manipur Gun Survivors Network and Secretary General of Control Arms Foundation of India tells Astha Tyagi about her vision to get rid of the prejudice that these gaping holes in history can breed. Edited excerpts from an interview - 

 Yours is a not-for-profit organisation that works with survivors of conflict violence. How did this initiative for the inclusion of Northeast India’s history come about? 
The idea came about last year when we saw an exodus of our youngsters from cities like Bangalore, Pune, Mumbai and Delhi after the Assam riots. It was then that a lot of questions started cropping up in my mind about who we are and why we were treated like that. One of the basic problems is that the Northeast is looked at as the ‘other’. People of the region are spoken of as ‘tribals’ and we are called by the word chinki. So the region has a huge negative connotation and we are trying to rectify that.

There are 45 million people in the Northeast and we are an integral part of this country. Then why are we still misunderstood and misrepresented? How come not a single boy or girl features in any of the advertisements? Why is a beautiful Indian girl always denoted as a fair and lovely north-Indian? But we realised that there was no use in getting angry with the media. Then we thought it’s the government agencies that are not doing their job and yes, they aren’t. But we cannot keep blaming; declare hartals (strikes) or go on protests, saying ‘Oh, we are being mistreated’.

I studied History for five years and was struck by the fact that there was not a single chapter on the history of the Northeast. When I took it up with professors in Delhi University, some of them were sympathetic while some said that if you want to learn about the history of the Northeast, go back to the Northeast. They were angry with my question. In fact, I topped the Jawaharlal Nehru University History exams, but later chucked it as a protest.

Our organisation mainly deals with women survivors, but through our work, we started receiving recognition and then we decided to take a plunge into policy making. People learn the most in the first 10-12 years of their life and hence we decided to approach the educational bodies of our country. They have to see to it that the Northeast is properly represented in the country. Once you know a little more about the people, you start feeling for them. At the moment, this feeling is missing.


You had a meeting in November 2012 with policy makers before this. Was there any learning from that meeting which helped shape this one?
These two meetings were about scholars and historians coming together to find the missing links as to why the problem is taking place. It is about engaging and taking appointments with government bodies like the NCERT, CBSE, the HRD ministry, UGC and state boards. We spent one year trying to understand who is responsible for what. We sought appointments and met them and that is why all these people came. We just wrote to them saying, “We feel that the Northeast is not being properly represented, let us talk and discuss this.” We got in touch with Shashi Tharoor’s office, the HRD ministry which does the main syllabus making of the country. When the other boards hear that there is a ministerial involvement in this, they will automatically take notice.

Representation itself has a lot of problems related to it and a project like this will carry with it fears of mere tokenism which might just hurt rather than bring about a change. Are there any apprehensions regarding how this project might finally take shape?
There is a lot of tokenism. I know there are experts working in the field and we appreciate the NCERT’s present contribution like mentioning the name of the Manipuri sarong or the dance. But this engagement is on a very superficial level. We want to move beyond that. Knowing about 272 ethnic groups will take some time. But it is not like we are starting on a blank slate, we do have more than 200 years of writing on the issue. We are not going to work in isolation. We will hold local area meetings and make sure that the Northeast is represented properly. After that, we will bring it to the NCERT, who have assured us that they will definitely include these suggestions in the 2013-2014 revisions.

Don’t you think a project like this works inherently on the assumption that there is exclusion and hence there is a need for an inclusion in a problematic narrative like the ‘nation’? 
This project is about good knowledge. It is about a beautiful country where there are diverse sections. I have been asked many times, ‘Madam, which country are you from?’ Once I had gone for a television show wearing a phanek and someone remarked, “Aapne torn saree kyun pehna hai?” (Why are you wearing a torn saree?) Earlier I used to be hurt, but now I  just do not bother. It is not about inclusion or exclusion. It is about building knowledge about a country where everyone at least knows the basic facts about each other and do not frame prejudices about each other. This project is about proper representation of those areas which are not documented at all.

What is the next plan of action, after this conference?
From this meeting and the last, our pool of resource persons has grown and they will act as the de-facto expert committee. Some of them will be advising us in their own capacity like Dr David Syiemlieh, while some others are ready to come on board. Then we will identify some key meeting places and the results of those will be carried to the NCERT, CBSE and UGC.

What is the final outcome that you envision from this project? 
We want the inclusion of the histories of the eight beautiful states of the Northeast region of India, so that people do not feel alienated or misrepresented. The larger narrative of education in India should be an inclusive, egalitarian one.

Friday, April 19, 2013

United Nations, Governments, Civil Society and Nobel Peace Laureates to Work to End Violence Against Women Date : 25 Mar 2013

1 Billion Rising campaign states, "One in three women on the planet will be raped or beaten in her lifetime". According to UNDP, 72 million children, 54% of them girls are out of school and about a billion women fall short of economic potential. According to UN Women 50% of women who die from homicides worldwide are killed by their current/former husbands/ partners. Women perform 66% of the world's work, produce 50% of the food, but earn only 10% of the income. The United Nations Commission on Status of Women is entering its 57th year, yet there is no favourable change against Violence Against Women around the world.

At the backdrop of recent rise of women in India and around world on ending violence and the fifty seventh session of UN Commission on Status of Women (CSW), Manipur Women Gun Survivors Network and Control Arms Foundation of India successfully hosted a panel discussion on the theme "Six Decades of UN Commission on Status of Women: Status of Women Now Worldwide and Evolving New Strategies to Ensure Elimination & Prevention of all Forms of Violence against Women and Girls" on 7 March 2013, 1 pm to 3 pm at Geneva Conference Room, Bahai United Nations Office, 866 UN Plaza, Suite 120,New York NY 10017.

The event was chaired by Dip. Minou Tavarez Mirabal, Chair-International Council, Parliamentarians for Global Action. Esteemed panellists of the event included Ms Rashmi Singh, Executive Director, National Mission for Empowerment of Women, Govt of India, Mr Arvinn Eikeland Gadgil, Deputy Minister, International Development, Norway, Jody Williams, Nobel Peace Prize Laureate, Ms Vanessa Farr, of The Women's International League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF) and Ms Binalakshmi Nepram, Founder, Manipur Gun Survivors Network and Secretary General, Control Arms Foundation of India.

Dip. Minou Tavarez Mirabal addressed that one woman was killed every 36 hours and 67 % of women and girls in cities faced rape and violence. She said, "One in three women on the planet will be raped or beaten in her lifetime. That cannot be called democracy. I am here as a parliamentarian. Our representative is to look after National Legislation. Around 1000 parliamentarians are working for Global Action on issues of gender violence. Gender equality is linked to all programmes. The ATT convention which we failed last July, we have to fight for that."

Mr Arvinn Gadgil on the outset shared his concerned that if CSW57 fails, it would be a dramatic crisis for the UN. He talked about some leading trends in the world citing that evidence showed that social change leads to increase violence against women. He added that climate change and violence against women were also related citing that increased trafficking and sexual violence against women in the Himalayan region was a result of climate change. He added that building alliances in different levels local, national and international and strategically working together was very much needed to end violence against women.

Ms Rashmi Singh presented Government of India's views at the panel discussion. She stated that violence against women is an obstacle to development, a violation of human rights and fundamental freedom. She added that there was no simplistic solution to end violence against women adding that it needed a multiprompt action. She said that India had ratified International Convention on women and gender issues. She said that gender issues had been included in the Government 5 year plan. She also added that violence is a manifestation of gender equality. She added that violence against women was a global problem and hence building alliances and partnering with networks or organisations was needed to fight the injustice.

Ms Jody Williams said that rape was a global public health crisis that needed urgent attention citing that we had not done enough to respond it. She said, "One in three women on the planet will be raped or beaten in her lifetime. Nobel Prize can be used as a tool for women empowerment. To address patriarchal structure of power, we established the International Campaign to Stop Rape & Gender Violence in Conflict that calls for powerful and urgent leadership on the local, national, regional, and international levels to prevent and stop rape and gender violence and conflict situations. It unites organizations and individuals into a powerful and coordinated effort for change to prevent rape in conflict, to protect civilians and rape survivors, and call for justice for all—including effective prosecution of those responsible."She added that they also needed to address issues of increased militarisation of the planet which needed to be discussed for demilitarisation for bringing peace."

Ms Vanessa Farr stated that global militarisation had a direct impact on increased lethal violence against women worldwide. She questioned why many emerging countries like India were now into arms deals. She emphasised on the direct link between violence against women and global militarisation. "The enemy is poverty. There are no weapon systems in the world to prevent poverty", she explained. Saying no to arms and ending impoverishment are key in this process, Farr said.

Ms Binalakshmi Nepram, hailing from the northeast Indian state of Manipur spoke of her own personal experience emphasising the issue increased violence against women and girl child. She pointed to the state rank of the Department of Women and Child Development in India, and reduction in budget allocated to the department.

The event concluded with the following points:
 Government and civil society should work together to end Violence Against Women.
 The support and the importance of working with parliamentarians around the world is needed to bring the required change. 
The support of Nobel Women Peace Laureates will continue to bring the required change.
 The meeting also called upon nations of the world to look into the issue of growing militarisation, globalisation and related violence against women.
 Most importantly the meeting called upon the prevention of rape in armed conflict zones and to take coordinated action to prevent it. To ensure the armed forces to protect the civilians and not to harm them. To prosecute impunity for rape and gender violence that prevails around the world. To ensure comprehensive justice for all survivors of rape in conflict at local, national and international levels.

The event was ended successfully. Over 60 people attended the event which included governments, civil societies and journalists. The two-hour event focused on the need to prevent violence against women, the role that men need to play in strategies, and demilitarisation.

The United Nation's Commission on Status of Women (CSW), this year the theme is on prevention and elimination of violence against women and girls. The Commission, under the UN Economic and Social Council, is in its 57th year. Member countries participate during the ten days and at the end recommendations are made for governments to implement in their respective countries. Apart from the states, NGOs also participated and hold side events.

Link for photos:

For more information, please contact:

Office of Manipur Women Gun Survivors Network & Control Arms Foundation of India.

Email: Websites: &