Masculine values and ideologies are embedded in our modern state, which silences the voices of minorities and women. South Asia has become a region where violence by democratically elected governments seems to have become a norm. The state, its ideology, and institutions have acquired a militancy of its own and appear to be in opposition to the people
“We want guarantee of a normal death” Mohsin and Ahmed introduces his edited book “Women and Militancy: South Asian Complexities’ with a poster appearing in the streets of Bangladesh. South Asia has become a region where violence by democratically elected political forces or governments seems to have become norm and all rights of citizens have turned into political rhetoric. The state, its ideology, and institutions have acquired a militancy of its own and appear to be in opposition to the people. The militancy and militarization is quite pounced all over south Asia. Modes of living, customs and practices have acquired a militant language. The editor explain militancy, an explanation that people would likely have differences over in terms of its specific cause-and-effect focus: criminalization of politics in South Asia has resulted in militant behavior and militancy in the societal, cultural and religious spaces. It attempts to bring the complexities and multiplicities of violence inflicted against women and the different dimensions of militarization. Masculine values and ideologies are embedded in our modern state, which silences the voices of minorities and women.
Shuchi Karim in ‘Unheard voices, war experiences of Behari women’ tries to create a space for Behari women in the war history of Bangladesh through their own narratives and brought memories long suppressed. The Behari community and the women of this group have remained excluded from history and constitute one of the subaltern groups. How do women, especially those who remain almost invisible recollect their memories of war which had life-changing consequences over generations? She in fact narrates it by researching on the Behari women, from a minority ethnic group which remained a marginalized community in liberated Bangladesh.
War makes identity divisions obvious which become compartmentalized and exclusive during the liberation movement, leave deep identity marks and made women aware of their identity… “It really hurt when 71 made each of us realize where we actually belonged to and who we were…71 made me a Behari” (Anjum). These identity differences got changed into conflicts and led to dire consequences. Behari women fell victims of war, losing homes, relatives husbands and sons. All the interviews conducted by the author show how a particular minority community and the women of it experienced civil war and how their kith and kin were killed and their experiences during 1971.
War and its consequences are not limited to the conflict, but have its impact on the lives of people in many ways and often for generations to come. Most of these women are living in refugee camps, in ghetto-like living conditions, in a state of alienation, condemnation and marginalization
War and its consequences are not limited to the conflict, but have its impact on the lives of people in many ways and often for generations to come. Most of these women are living in refugee camps, in ghetto-like living conditions, in a state of alienation, condemnation and marginalization. The war pulled Behari women out from private spaces. Issues of honour, identity and dignity remain central to them. Post-war struggle led women to negotiate their life on their own terms. Behari women faced dilemmas and tensions in the contested field of identity, some wanted to go Pakistan while others decided to live in their own places.
After 37-year stateless condition, the post war generation wants to integrate but they are excluded from citizenship, even from the mainstream Bengali population. The reasons emanate from the biased history, which portrays whole community as enemy. Behari women have no contradiction with Bengali identity but they are looked at with suspicion.
Tania Hague, in Militarization and the fate of women’s body: a case study of Chittagong’ Hill Tracts, has explored the ethnic women’s life, their struggle and complex situation in the CHT Bangladesh, where they negotiated with vulnerability, injustice and gendered citizenship. Rape or sexual assault is not only basically an act of aggression and hostility but also a total attack against the whole person, affecting the victim’s physical, psychological and social identity.
After presenting the powerful discourse on rape, state and militarization, the author uncovers rape of women in conflict situations. The case study is limited to three women, one raped by military and two by civilians or Bengalis. Though limited case studies, they not only fully reveal the experience and the memories of a direct physical violation through the victims’ voices but also the post rape behavior, experiences and consequences of Pahari women’s encounter with life.
After analyzing reasons for the emergence of male Mastans, the author draws attention to a problem not commonly known, that of the existence of female Mastans in Dhaka slums, which complicates her early argument and feminist scholarship
Apart from physical consequences, rape has a certain social stigma associated with it. In one case, of Rupali, rape not only displaced her but also restricted her movement and action and she failed to receive the economic aid, emotional help from her community. The most unfortunate part of the second respondent, Nilima, is that she was neither accepted by her community nor by her parents, pushing het to sex work. In fact all the narratives of victims present a bitter post rape-experience and loss of ‘honour’ and dignity. The victims failed to get justice and the legal body, women activists and the civil society fails to help victims to get justice because of the fear of a gendered Bangladeshi state where patriarchal culture is embedded in its institutions marginalizing ethnic women and silencing them. Since civilians raped two among the three women, the author fails to explain the relationship between militarization and the usual mass rape in a conflict situation.
Perween Hasan in ‘Life and living of Ahmadiya Muslim Jammat in Bangladesh; an unholy alliance of secular politics and religious extremism’ brings experiences of violence encountered by women of another minority group, the Ahmadiya. She chronicles the evolution of the Ahmadiya Muslim Jamaat in Bangladesh, and throws light on both Ahmadiya as well as anti-Ahmadiya movements, the latter being a case of discrimination and oppression by majority Sunni community.
Anti-Ahmadiya agitation in Bangladesh started in 1971 by Jammat Islamia which later takes shape of Khatm-e-Nabuwat movement. Their demands were that Ahmadiya must be declared as non-Muslims, removed from governmental positions, their publications should be banned and barred from interpreting Quran. The most audacious action against Ahmadiyas was the ban announced on Jan 8, 2004 by the Bangladesh led nationalist party coalition against the publication, sale and distribution of all books and pamphlets about them. But, while mentioning individual cases where they have been subjected to violence and repression down the years, the unholy alliance between religious extremism and politics has not been analyzed deeply, though she does mention this critical phenomenon that has affected the functioning of liberal pluralist democracy in Bangladesh.
Female Mastans are again a product of the patriarchal system and most of them are associated with the power structure through kinship. Put differently, women's involvement in Mastanocracy is hardly a sign of women's empowerment. Rather, it is a sign of being a victim of the patriarchal system
The extremist groups are highly involved in national power politics and their increasing intolerance are causing worries to minorities. As the author relates, the phenomenon of the whole nexus between the secular and the religious parties, resulting in virulent persecution of the Ahmadiya which reached a peak during the BNP-led alliance government of 2001-06. Then we come across Ahmadiya women living in a patriarchal society such as Bangladesh, and claims that “Ahmadiya women are doubly marginalized, internally as well as externally”.
However, she fails to set her position because the internal cases of marriage, customs, identity and position were viewed by women respondents as associated with culture and voluntary practices, but the author either ignores that or tries to interpret from her own liberal vision, as her own imposed version is clearly highlighted.
Fouzia Mannan in ‘Mastanocracy, insecurity and gender in Dhaka slum’ tries to show linkages between Mastanocracy and gender-based violence and its impact on livelihood insecurity, its perceptions and types of violence against women from gender perspectives in the urban slum - Motherbasti in Dhaka. The patron-client relationship, and the power structure of Motherbasti, highlights that those who have strong socio-economic background, muscle power and political connections occupy the leadership and become Mastans.
Women are threatened of rape to give money; girls are abducted and often made victims of sexual violence. There is insecurity in everyday life and women and children also remain victims of group rivalry between Mastan women. They perceive security differently and marriage is considered important for social status and security, while as woman not having the support of male member is a source of insecurity among women of Dhaka.
Violence against women is a common incidence in the urban slum and this ranges from violence by Mastans to domestic violence. After analyzing reasons for the emergence of male Mastans, the author draws attention to a problem not commonly known, that of the existence of female Mastans in Dhaka slums, which complicates her early argument and feminist scholarship. As she says, women in the urban slums are not getting justice, mainly because the society is patriarchal and masculine in nature and Mastanocracy has a strong relationship with both.
And, female Mastans are again a product of the patriarchal system and most of them are associated with the power structure through kinship. Put differently, women's involvement in Mastanocracy is hardly a sign of women's empowerment. Rather, it is a sign of being a victim of the patriarchal system. But she does not explain that why a female Mastan oppress the same women folk and why after coming into power women behave and act in the same manner as men - a typical case of feminism emerges which remains unanswered.
Imtiyaz Ahmed and Mohsin in ‘Militancy in Meghalaya, politics beyond Matriarchy’ locate militancy in the Meghalaya state of North East India, not from the perspective of ethno nationalism but on the matrilineal character of the Khasi community, and the central theme is expressed that militancy is gendered with women suffering the most. Khasi community has a matrilineal character, prevalence of head hunting and joint family with a mother playing the central role. The youngest daughter is protector of the property and the clan.
The contradiction arises when men from outside started to marry Khasi women party because of property associated with them, which resulted in militancy because of the threat to Khasi identity. Women became militant about the preservation of their system but militancy has a different connotation. It is a system where masculinity is played out, masculine egos and values are privileged. The editors conclude that Khasi women have to face and fight militancy both within and without.
Thus the book, Women and Militancy: South Asian Complexities, allows a reader to understand the women’s vulnerability to violence within the phenomenon of militancy which has been reduced to communal violence, identity threats and militarization. It shows that the women fall victims in almost circumstances to various forms of militancy in both patriarchal as well as matrilineal societies, even when, as Mastans, when they themselves are caught in negative activities. The book silently complicates several issues of feminism and presents a powerful narrative of women’s experiences of violence.
- Mudasir Nazar is M.phil student South Asian studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University