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Situation of Women Human Rights Defenders in NE
Published on 24 Jan. 2011 12:30 AM IST
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Representation before the UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights Defenders, Margaret Sekaggya on January 14, 2011 at Guwahati brought forward the abysmal situation of human rights defenders particularly Women Human Rights Defenders (WHRDs) in north east India. The status of women in north eastern states remains marginalized due to several factors.
Patriarchal values of the society and the ongoing armed conflict have been responsible for restricted mobility, interstate migration and trafficking, lack of resources and livelihood options for women and caused hardship in women’s education. Women, as human rights defenders in north east India, work on a range of issues and against various actors both public and private. Decade-long armed conflict and ethnic conflict resulting displacement, violence against women remains the prime focus area of most of the women human rights defenders. WHRDs remain vigilant against crimes committed by private actors like domestic violence, patriarchy, social evils like witch hunting and so on.
Factors that affect work environment of WHRDs in NE
First and the foremost factor that hampers women’s participation as human rights defenders is gender based violence at home and outside. Gender-based violence is not just physical or sexual but also mental, verbal, emotional, financial and intellectual which is perpetrated by the deep-rooted gendered cultural and social relations between the two sexes in our society. Patriarchal conditioning of both men and women sanctions use of violence, coercion to enforce and ensure compliance by women where violence is used by men to ‘control’ women. Gender based violence is one factor that forces women human rights defenders either to give up the profession as defender particularly after marriage or some forcefully prefer to remain single.
Secondly the issue of militarization in the region is to be accounted for. North East India is heavily militarized with about 500 thousand armed forces to contain 1800 militants of about 70 active militant groups in the region.
Heavy militarization of this region has resulted into restricted mobility and insecure environment for the WHRDs to work. It is now estimated to be one member of the security forces for every 20 persons in Manipur, which has a population of 2.5 million (Laishramcha Jinine, ‘Militarisation of Manipur’
The Police-population ratio in Manipur is 554 per 100,000 (the national ratio is 126) and a Police density (policemen per 100 square kilometre area) of 63.8 (the national average is 44.4, source: Manipur Assessment - Year 2008, Source;
We need to mind the gap between the international law and domestic law. In India, international treaties need to be harmonized with the national legal system and requires enactment of legislation to implement the international treaties, conventions. In absence of such domestic legislation it becomes impossible to protect human rights based on the international yard sticks. Human rights defenders, thus, enjoy no protection or fail to claim their rights enshrined in the international treaties.
Human rights education is a key tool for the would-be defenders to carry out their interest in human rights advocacy and monitoring. Human rights education has been neglected so far in this region. School curriculum and university curriculum don’t have information about human rights or the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. State Human Rights Commission failed to take adequate measures to educate people on human rights issues due to finance constraints. Human rights education should be undertaken as early as in primary schools.
Culture of impunity affects majorly not only the WHRDs but also all HRDs. Many legislation enforced in north east India require ‘prior sanction’ for initiating legal proceedings for violating human rights and this has resulted into a culture of impunity. Also over the years courts and police in India have acquired a reputation for delaying justice and investigation. In this region police investigation is heavily hampered by logistic and other major problems like corruption. As a result, individuals often find it easy to disregard law and dictate their own version of justice upon the defenders who seek to adopt non-violence measures to address human rights issues. Human rights defenders work under the same system of impunity in north east India and it is more difficult for them too as the law is unlikely to produce speedy result on their behalf.
Low women representation in public life
Absence of women in representation in public and political life and decision making is like slow poison. There is complete absence of women in decision making positions in the administration and in public and political life of the society. Noting such situation the CEDAW committee called for constitutional amendment reserving one third of the seats in Parliament and state legislatures for women and undertake awareness-raising about the importance of women’s participation in decision-making for society as a whole. Urgent sustained measures are to increase the number of women in government service, including in higher political, administrative and judicial posts etc in order to increase representation of women in public and political life.
Few individual instances:
1. Since November 2, 2000, Sharmila has been arrested under section 309 of IPC which punishes attempted suicide by a one-year imprisonment. She is released every year to be arrested again.
2. Nazma Phumdrei Mayum of Organisation for Development (OFD), Manipur has faced the wrath at the hands of religious leaders for her work for almost three years.
3. Birubala Rabha of Goalpara, Assam faced tremendous resistance and harassment by the community members while working against the evil practice of witch hunting in lower part of Assam state. Birubala Rabha has to flee her village in order to save her life.
4. Parvati Thousen of NC Hills, Assam started the organization Shakti Mahila Mandal in 2006 with the support of about 500 women and addressed the issues of domestic violence and peace process in the conflict torn North Cachar Hills. Sensing her strong leadership, political parties started harassing her and her organization has now few members only. Parvati didn’t stop there. Her struggle continues amidst the environment of insecurity and fear.
5. Anjali Daimary, the President of Boro Women’s Justice Forum (BWJF), Assam and a prominent human rights defender had a narrow escape from attempted murder. Ms Daimary was shot at 1:30 PM local time on 8th October 2009 in front of the Barama College gate, Assam where she is a lecturer.
6. In 1996, the General Secretary of BWJF Ms Golapi Basumatary was shot dead along with five others when miscreants fired at them indiscriminately. The perpetrators still roam scot free till today.
Social notion of women as a symbol of ‘honour’ and dignity of the family has created silence over the issues of violence against women. Women in general and WHRDs are constantly subjected to violence that are not accounted for and are forgotten under the cloud of silence. The need of the hour is that each member of the society fosters a culture to respect and cooperate with the WHRDs in their struggle for human rights. It is for the interest of the whole society. There should be helping hands with dignity not with violence.

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