Monday, 29 March 2010

The 'joys' of war!

Have just finished re reading Elina Penttinen's article (she first presented this paper at the Touching War Programme at Lancaster University, last year) on "Feminist imaginings or Feminist problem-making: Creating the world through observation", in which she appeals to the feminist IR community to not be trapped in its puzzles and problems and to stretch boundaries of imagination and analysis. She concludes that if we did focus on the cheerful, happy things in international relations, we would contribute to a more hopeful, joyous world, something that we all need to survive. What we are leaving out, in our quest for serious scholarship are moments and events when International Relations is about fun and being alive. How can we be sure that the stories we tell of violence and oppressions and pain and sufferings are the only 'true' stories? As feminists we can be liberated social scientists to speak of life as joy.

Elina's article does two important things. One is that it forces us to question the boundaries of our own scholarship and secondly it asks why certain topics have become taboos in IR. Are there prices to be paid for discussion of taboo topics? What if wars were to be joyous experiences for some, especially women? What if women did more than just wail and mourn? What if there were other stories to tell? I find her article exhilerating as I am quite tired of finding a theoretical/scholarly space to discuss the multiplicity of experiences of women who participate in wars and militant projects. Having closely studied the militant movements in South Asia (Kashmir, Sri Lanka), there are stories that never find a space in discourses. In feminist analysis any study of violent women, is caught between the binaries of agency and victimhood. Between these two 'ends' are stories of survival, hope, fun and of politics of subversion and purpose.

I recall my meeting with some former cadres of the LTTE. I am not sure I can address the question of their agency or victimhood as eloquently as many analysts have done and continue to do. What I do remember are the stories they shared, of joining the movement to escape the hardships of poverty, of escaping to a better world, of reliving their dream of a 'homeland', of escaping the harshness of violence at 'home', of escaping 'homelessness' to finding a 'home', of avenging their humiliation by Sinhalese soldiers, of finding real joy in the war, where they could do what they were best at. The end of war for them was brought about by the split in the LTTE and they were disbanded and were forced to return 'home'. This transition to the mainstream was not all a happy story. It seemed like the state of 'war' had more opportunities to experience joy and fulfilment than an enforced 'peace'. The state of 'homelessness' was unleashed on them in the absence of war. And I have repeatedly asked myself, what right do I have to deny these women, their politics, their joy, their sense of fulfilment and assign victimhood and/or empowerment in my scholarly language.

Then there is the conflict in Kashmir, where the only stories that are ever privilged (even by feminists) are stories of pain, of mourning and suffering. Unlike any other national project, Kashmir has only absented women from its politics. The silence of women is almost deafening. The message is often clear, women do not 'do' politics or militancy, but their grief and mourning serves many a political project. It testifies to the state 'oppression' and establishes the direct assault of the state on public morality and religious traditions. This is the gendered story of Kashmir. I ofcourse have read and heard different ones; of the romantic love and longing for the militant with the gun, of songs celebrating martyrdom, of hiding guns under their beds and militants in their homes, of nursing the wounded, of encouraging sons to fight, of creating and then shouting slogans against the enemy 'other', of holding on to their religious identity and of politics and activism that they believed would change their world.

Unlike Elina, I am not sure these different stories that I wish to tell are stories that can make the world better. What they can do is help interpret the world better, help understand the gender codings in these conflicts and map the silences that are often enforced on women to uphold the legitimacy of the patriarchal nationalist project. Hence, telling these different stories constitutes a political act itself that reveals a whole new world that would remain hidden otherwise. Elina's article gives me hope that feminist IR has much to contribute if any alternative discourse must emerge, and if women are not to be seen merely "as victims of gendered subjectivity in national narratives." Which brings me to the next important and related topic of emotions in the field of international relations, about which I shall write again.

While writing this, I am distracted by Nayyara Noor singing Faiz......aaj bazaar mein pabajaulan chalo...chashme nam jaane shorida kaafi nahin...tohmate ishq posheeda kaafi nahin....and my feminist consciousness search of new stories....:) More soon!

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