French anthropologist Romain Rolland said, 'Where order is injustice, inorder is the beginning of justice.' Which means that peace and order are not necessarily justice. Peace often rests on a dominant order maintaining itself through a combination of hegemony, which is a term that implies belief through consent, and coercion, force.
One of the key institutions for maintaining order, and not a just order in society is the family. Most people would automatically define family in terms of love, solidarity, companionship…But any such group or any such organization is not a family. There is a specific definition of family given by the law and that tells you what a family can be. But externally also you are forced into being part of a family. How does that happen?
You go to rent a place. "No sorry, we won't rent it to you.", "No sorry we don't rent to singles." "Sorry we don't rent to people living together who are not married." "Do you have children? Only then will we rent to you." Housing societies actually pass resolutions to this effect. A woman and her mother and the woman’s friend are not a family. A family is a patriarchal, heterosexual family.
In 1944 there was a judgment of the Delhi high court which said that fundamental rights are not applicable in the family. One way of responding to this as a feminist is to say that this is wrong, fundamental rights are applicable and should be applicable, that's all. But the other way is to recognize what is going on and that judge was absolutely right. He said that if you bring fundamental rights into a family it's like letting a bull into a china shop, there will be utter disaster, and everything will be broken. He's absolutely right. If you introduce equality and freedom, if every individual in the family is treated like a free and equal citizen, that family will not survive because the family as it exists, rests on one person being head of the household. Not any person -- the male, the husband, the father. If you introduce equality and freedom, then the heterosexual bracket of the family will collapse.
What is the reason that this family has to be protected, that the law and a range of ideological controls are set up which make you think that this is natural and it is the only way of being in a family?
Sexual division of labour
One of the key features of this family is the sexual division of labor. The sexual division of labour is not something domestic and private, it is keeping the economy going in such a way that if tomorrow every women demanded wages, or demanded to be paid for this work that she does, it is going to create a complete confusion in our accounting system because the entire system is happily pandering along on the assumption that women will do this for love, right? Now love -- I have often pondered on the co-incidence -- in tennis love means ‘nothing’. Love all! And I think women do it for 'love'.
So women are expected to perform various kinds of roles, expected to participate in the economy, in politics, but all those things are restricted because ‘This (the family) is your primary agenda.’
The other aspect of the family as it is understood, is that it is what we call hetero-normative. There is an understanding that the family can only be produced by a union of a man and a woman and his children. The American feminist, Adrienne Rich, has used the term compulsory heterosexuality, to refer to the range of controls that keep heterosexuality firmly in place as the only normal and natural way to be. By using this term compulsory with heterosexuality, she is de-naturalizing heterosexuality. She is making you recognize that heterosexuality is reproduced as natural as a range of controls, again from hegemonic to legal.
The subversive potential of love.
The problem is that this family, the heterosexual patriarchal family is the basis of securing the particular dominant social order in India, the caste order... How do you maintain the purity of caste if people are going to go off and have relationships and marriages with people from all kinds of castes? What will happen to the children, you have to maintain dominant caste order, the dominant religious community identity, you have to maintain property, you also have to make sure that certain families retain property. Which is why everyone is so perturbed of all the things, by Valentine's Day, right?
The Hindu Right perceives correctly the subversive potential of love.
Because there is a possibility that if you let love happen, you may fall in love with the wrong kind of person -- a person of a different caste, a different community, or with the same sex. Then what happens to this institution of the family? How are you going to maintain a certain kind of politics based on community identities and caste identities if these identities are going to be dissolved?
Women, in peace and conflict
If you look at India today, you see different kinds of conflicts and different kinds of resistances. One was against the oppression of the family. But there are two other kinds which you notice in a kind of consolidated way -- the huge movement against land acquisition by the state and resistance to the imperialist nationalism of the Indian nation.
Land acquisition is a process by which the Indian state has been acquiring land, dispossessing communities from common property resources and transforming this common property into private property which is handed over to corporates.
Now look at another set of resistances, Kashmir, North East. These conflicts zones are resistance to the imperialist nationalism of the Indian nation, backed by its army. The North East and Kashmir are kept within this territory called India by the army, by the Armed Forces Special Forces Act, by the APSFA.
Now, in such a scenario, where you find different kinds of resistances to the project of the nation state on one hand and to the project of social order on the other, what is the assumption behind linking women and peace?
If you just Google ‘women and peace’, you will find an endless number of entries because constantly conferences are being held and people are talking about women and peace, women and conflict resolution. This term ‘conflict resolution’ is very problematic in this context because you cannot resolve a conflict unless you remove the inequality and injustice that underlies the conflict. It not a matter of getting you to sit and talk to each other if one party is very powerful and the other party is completely powerless. You can't expect them to resolve their conflict. So, sometimes conflicts have to be there. They should not be resolved. That conflict has to lead to a new order.
Now, in such a scenario when you say ‘women and peace’ and ‘women and conflict resolution’, the assumption is actually the unquestioned sexual division of labour. Women are mothers, women are nurturing, right? Now, in the border conflict scenarios that I'm talking about, women just like men, can play several roles. They could be victims of the violence unleashed by both sides. They could be combatants with one side or the other. They could be peace activists.
But there is also a way in which women use this identity of theirs (as mothers), to be peace activists in quite creative ways.
So for example in Sri Lanka, The Mother’s Front that emerged between 1990-1993 had the membership of a huge grassroots movement and worked with 25000 women, basically mothers who were protesting the disappearances of their male relatives. Mother’s Front actively for three years used their identity as mothers to make a mark on the public. They were also continuously subverting that identity because it is about maternal suffering, but you are not sitting home and suffering, you are marching on the streets, you are facing the Sri Lankan army, right? Similarly the Mothers In Black in Latin America. In the US today for example also, there are very feminist militant activists who use their status as mothers to fight for child care or better working conditions for women, maternity and paternity leave and so on. But there is also maternalistic politics of the Sarah Palin type, so maternalism is not always radical, motherhood can lead to very conservative politics.
Eco-feminism is another kind of feminist philosophy which actually again draws from the sexual division of labour and women's productive role to draw a link between ecological conservation and feminism. Vandana Shiva and other eco-feminists point to the predominance of what they call a masculinist ideology that structures the world, through which both nature and women are to be controlled, dominated and their productive capacities harnessed for certain kinds of economic goals. They point to the fact that it is not an accident that nature is commonly referred to as 'she' and when you think about doing something with nature it's ‘He conquers the mountain peak.’ ‘You tame the fury of nature.’ So a masculinist ideology tries to put it all together under control.
So, if, in conclusion, we're saying that justice and peace may not coincide, then nor can women and peace. So, as feminists then, when we talk about women, we have to see women as negotiating different forms of violence as well as participating in it. And whatever they do they are exercising agency. They are exercising agency when they're being violent, and they are exercising agency when they are resisting violence.
Let me close with four different verbal images of women. These are four different conflict situations:
One image is one that I saw during the violence against Muslims in Gujarat in 2002. Now this image is of television cameras on Hindu women, they're laughing and chatting together in the winter sun on the terrace, on the 'chhatt'. They are smiling shyly at the camera and what are they doing, they are making missiles and fire bombs with homely materials -- saris, stoles, kerosene from their kitchens. They’re making these missiles to be used on Muslims in the country and they’re laughing and chatting and this is the same way in which they would have made papad together, they would have made pickles together. This is one image of women in conflict situations.
Another image of a woman in a conflict situation -- Maoist cadre, tribal women, olive green, wearing their guns and carrying them proudly and Arundhati Roy writes about Comrade Kamala. “She's 17, she wears a homemade pistol on her hip and boy what a smile!” So that's another image.
Third image: Manipuri women marching militantly, naked to Fort Kangla in Imphal, where the Indian Army was at that time quartered and they carry this banner, 'Rape Us Indian Army'. And this is a protest against the rape and murder of a young woman by Indian army soldiers.
And finally Irom Sharmila who has not eaten for ten years, and what is the image of Irom Sharmila that you see? Irom Sharmila in a hospital where with a plastic tube up her nose, she's under arrest; she's under arrest because she's violating the law against suicide in this country. She's not eaten for ten years and she will not eat until the Armed Force Special Powers Act is repealed.
So,you have these four women in four different conflicts...The point is that women are not just some biological bodies which reproduce and so are harmless. Women are located differently in caste context, religious context, class context, racial context and women respond politically, imaginatively, creatively, violently, peacefully to different kinds of situations and we have to understand the situation, we have to understand the local context and we have to think about justice as something that may need disorder to bring about.