“I want to live”: Support a Woman Peace Activist Under Threat
Could you please tell us about this latest threat to you and your family– what was the context, and who perpetuated it?
Tens of thousands of people have died in my home state and many have been extra-judicially killed or disappeared. Many armed insurgent groups operate in our state, and hence civilians are caught between acts of violence from state and non-state actors. It is under these severe strenuous conditions that we as women work. We have been repeatedly threatened for many years now, and those who threaten us go unpunished. Politicians, criminals, gun dealers, drug dealers are all connected in our part of world. There is no ethics left in our governance system.
As a peace activist, how do you see sexism and patriarchal views coming into play with some of the backlash you’ve experienced?
We live in a deeply patriarchal society. Many of our lives are still ruled by customary laws, where gender discrimination is rampant. We are often told that “politics are not for women” in my part of the world, and hence a woman working for peace is considered a threat. Our human rights as women are dictated by men, our guns are held by men, our politics are controlled by men, and violence is perpetrated by men.
How do you see accountability mechanisms on local, regional and global levels coming into play?
First of all, the Government of India must repeal the draconian martial law called the Armed Forces Special Powers Act. Under this act, anyone could be arrested without warrant or killed based on mere charges of suspicion. Removal of this martial law would be a greatest confidence-building measure. In addition, those who are leading struggles must be brought to the negotiation table, and women must be a part of these peace talks. For decades, our lives, dignity and future have been trampled upon by corrupt leaders and bad governance, and this must change at local, regional and national levels.
On an international level, the stories of our people and their struggles are never reported in international media. United Nations Resolutions like UNSCR 1325, 1820, the UN Declaration on Rights of Indigenous People, The Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women, UN Programme of Action on Small Arms Light Weapons, and now the Sustainable Development Goals all can help mitigate issues that touches our lives on a local level. However, in spite of being in existence since 1945, the United Nations still must be made meaningful in the lives of millions who live in the margins of society. We need to make our governments, corporations and the UN accountable at each step in bringing us peace and justice.
What is your vision for the future?
My vision of a future is one where we stop warfare and focus on the welfare, justice and dignity of people, communities and nations wherever they are. The fact is that the world spends 1 trillion dollars in manufacturing weapons of war, whereas a tiny fraction of global spending is on deepening democracy, rule of law, gender justice and for climate change. If 10 percent of the world’s military spending is diverted, then we can achieve Sustainable Development Goals by 2030. Our lives and our world are all inter-connected. We need collective solutions to global issues.
At the moment, I am living in exile due to multiple threats I have received in my life. It’s a very painful time for me, my family and colleagues and women’s groups with whom we have been working non-stop for the past 15 years to bring the changes we aspire to. The United Nations adopted the UN Resolution on Women Human Rights Defenders in 2013, and many organizations claim to be working to defend our rights, but these past months I have realized that these efforts have not translated into concrete action.
Many women human rights defenders, like Berta Ceres of Honduras, have given up their lives fighting for the rights of us all. In her memory, I would like to live, stay alive and continue the struggle for the world. Each one of us needs this. We all have the ability to make this happen by reaching out and supporting one another. The life of a woman human rights defender is not easy. It is extremely tough, but we will keep doing this work for the world needs it for our collective peace and sanity. My life, like many other woman human rights defenders, will be a testimony of how we struggle, sacrifice, and endure to keep our ideals alive. Now we will see how the world will respond. It is a test, like life is. And this journey, however hard, will show us a way for a better world or not, time will tell. Meanwhile, I will write my exile diary and lead an exile Life.
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