The Department of Political Science organized a lecture by Prof. Anuradha Chenoy, titled “The three naratives on armed conflicts in India: State, insurgents and civil society” on Thursday, September 29, 2011.
Prof. Chenoy teaches at the School of International Studies, JNU, and is the author of “Militarisation and Women in South Asia” and “The Making of a new Russia.” She has been associated with Centre for Education and Communication and the Indian Social Institute. Her areas of interest include gender and security issues.
Beginning her lecture, Prof. Chenoy immediately talked about the dispersion of armed conflict in the country. “In India, there are islands of armed conflict,” she said. Though she recognized other forms of violence; for instance, violence against women in other parts of India. “But living in an area of conflict is totally different,” she said.
She stated that about one-sixth of India is covered with armed violence or armed conflict.
Citing the three narratives of armed conflict, namely, state, insurgency and civil society, she said that the state doesn’t recognize the concept of armed conflict in the country. “The state has its own narrative of armed conflict and people have different names for insurgency, I prefer to call the insurgents, violent protesters,” she said. And she went on to say, “The civil society is the least known of the narratives.”
Prof. Chenoy stressed upon the need to advance the civil society and to “not fall in the trap of the narratives of state and insurgency.”
Presenting a structural break-up of the concept of narratives for an easier explanation, Prof. Chenoy enunciated how state looks at the concept of armed conflicts. She used the word “denial” when referring to State’s response to the issue.
“State denies that there is armed conflict,” she declared. In the conflict ridden areas, “there is a clear aspiration for a particular kind of nationalism.” The expression of that aspiration starts with “an appeal to the state government.” The washout of that appeal then leads to a mass movement and “the state doesn’t recognize it until it goes out of hand.”
Recalling an instance of a ban on The Economist, for publishing a differently interepreted map of India, Prof. Chenoy talked about the phenomenon of mystification, and related it with cases of crossing over the borders. Prof. Chenoy said that non-recognition of the conflict is a major cause for perpetuity of armed conflict. “They don’t recognize conflict. They don’t recognize peace,” she said.
Moving on to the moral conflict of betrayal, she presented the example of Kashmir, “It is one of the longest issues in the world along with Palestine.” She said that after promising an active voice and autonomy “to Kashmir in the form of Article 370 of the Indian constitution, Nehru later announced that ‘we have integrated Kashmir.’”
Prof. Chenoy, a feminist herself, talked about the disguised message of the motherly terms attached to the nation. “There is a protection racket involved in the process,” she said. Ideas like protecting the “mother nation” give out a message “that to be protected you have to give up authority, that you are weak.”
She also briefed about how jingoism, at times, curbs authority to decide for oneself. “It stereotypes men and women, in particular, in different roles. It homogenizes everyone. No matter what, you have to fit in.” she told.
Later, Prof. Chenoy focused upon militarization as an ideology and how, when used by civilians, it can become dangerous. The biasness of the state on the mere reason of being mainstream and periphery was the next issue she talked about. “Kashmir and North-East are periphery” so the state either denies any conflict in these areas or “a particular image is given to them. There is a need to challenge the stereotype,” she stated.
“Every armed dissent starts off peacefully,” she said, “Kashmir, for instance, from 1949-89 was fine. It was in the later years that the conflict started. The Maoists were earlier part of an organized parliamentary, part of the Left. But they moved from being non-violent protesters to violent actors.”
Prof. Chenoy presented the example of ULFA in Assam and how the Assamese people in the beginning backed the new-sprung ULFA members. “ULFA started with small acts like extortions and the Assam people backed them by stating ‘They are our boys. They are our Robin Hoods.’”
Victimhood was another focal point in Prof. Chenoy’s lecture. She said that there is “a need for transitional justice for victims of insurgents as well as of state actors.”
Lastly, talking about the narrative of civil society, she said that the civil society critiques violence from both sides. It asks for “demilitarization, negotiation and re-negotiation” apart from transparency in the democratic process. She critiqued the process of peace negotiations because “generally, there are two militarized sides talking. There is no civil society present and one side is often stronger than the other.”
Concluding her lecture, Prof. Chenoy pointed out that there is a need to gently reform and maybe alter the way the three narratives function presently. “Counter insurgency as a remedial action has failed to work. There is a need to alter the structure of negotiation,” she said.
Emphasizing on peace building, justice, human security, livelihood and aspirations, Prof. Chenoy ended her lecture by claiming that “civil society is the real protector of these democratic values.”