UB: The feminist movement has always been very critical of militarism and war. Can u tell us more about your involvement with these issues?
MB: While Vimochana’s specific concern was and is the socially sanctioned personal forms of violence perpetrated on women within the home and outside (dowry tortures, murders and other forms of marital violence, sexual harassment and rape of women, trafficking and commodification of women), our wider preoccupation has always been with the larger forms of violence in society. So our engagement is also with the more public and political forms of violence stemming from ideologies like that of communalism, fundamentalism, nationalism and militarisation which are leading to greater human insecurity, institutionalised intolerance and the increasing brutalisation of patriarchies both within the home and outside.
Towards the vision of making violence against women unthinkable and creating a violence-free world for all, especially the more marginalised and vulnerable communities, we have been part of larger global movements like Women in Black and the Courts of Women.
Women in Black has inspired groups of women from communities and nations in conflict to come together in different parts of the world to stand in their own towns and cities, at street corners, in market squares and other public places for one hour every week, dressed in black, silently protesting the many forms of wars and violence which are increasingly becoming intrinsic to their everyday realities. Inspired by the grief-stricken mothers of the Plaza de Mayo in Buenos Aires, Argentina, who walked in silence in the market squares with photographs of their disappeared and dead sons, the movement began in Tel-Aviv, in Haifa, in Jerusalem. Palestinian and Israeli women came together in public to speak of a homeland for the Palestinians, to protest the politics of hatred that was wrecking their homes, breaking their lives.
The Movement then spread to other parts of the world. In Belgrade from the beginning of the war in 1991 in which the Serbian army systematically used rape was used as a weapon of ethnic cleansing against the Bosnians, women from both nationalities stood together demanding that war rape be treated as a war crime. The cry was picked up in other countries including Brazil, Philippines, Germany, Netherlands, US and the UK.
Vimochana initiated Women in Black in Bangalore, India, in 1993 to protest the razing of the mosque in Ayodhya and the rapes of muslim women that were even televised and broadcast in Surat to teach a lesson to the minority community. Since then, we have stood against forms of wars that include violence against women within the home and outside — nuclearisation of Nation States, cultural nationalism, linguistic chauvinism, the US occupation of Iraq and Afghanistan etc. We have organised vigils in Bangalore and at regional and global fora like the World Social Forum and the Beijing Women’s Conference.
Through the Asian Women’s Human Rights Council we have also organised vigils as part of the Courts of Women, more than 30 of which have been held in different regions of the world in partnership with local organisations and networks. Organised as alternative political spaces in civil society, the Courts of Women seek to rewrite the collective narrative of resistance to war through the individual testimonies of women who have been victims, survivors and resistors to different forms of violence. For instance, the World Court of Women against War organised in Cape Town, South Africa, in 2001, heard diverse voices against war including those of women from the killing fields of Cambodia; the Hibakusha of Japan; victims of Agent Orange in Vietnam and ethnic cleansing in Bosnia; ‘comfort women’ from Philippines; victims of the genocide in Rwanda, nuclear testing in the Pacific, economic sanctions and carpet bombing of Iraq; the stolen generation in Australia; victims of racism and apartheid in South Africa and many others. Together they were able to weave together a powerful indictment of the ethic of militarisation that is seeping into every crevice of our culture, militarising not only our politics, but also our minds. Heard by a visionary Jury drawn from state and civil society, the Court sought to find new roads to peace, through justice, through reconciliation, through healing of communities, through addressing wars at their very roots.
UB: What do ‘Peace building’ and ‘Justice’ mean in the present context, according to you?
MB: Given the dehumanising militarisation of our times, peace building would mean recovering forgotten faiths, regenerating a compassionate and ethical politics, and rebuilding inclusive communities that are able to reaffirm life in its myriad forms. Starting from rejecting militarised faiths rooted in a hyper masculinised polity, it would mean the creation of defiant islands of harmony in the tumultuous seas of war and violence.
In this context we need to redefine and reaffirm the right to survive of those people, processes and practices being rendered redundant by the dominant structures of knowledge and of politics. Justice would mean the right to reinvent a democracy and polity that empowers us to regain control over our own resources — economic, cultural and political — in such a way that it enhances and not diminishes our potential to be truly just, peaceful and responsible to the most vulnerable within us.
For our future as individuals, as families, as communities, as countries, as a world, depends now on the choices that we make and the paths that we leave behind for the generations that follow. We owe it to all our children to leave them a legacy not of fear that comes from the barrel of a gun, but a freedom from fear that comes from the security of trust and belonging.