EDITED EXCERPTS FROM AN INTERVIEW
How has the discourse on war and peace shifted in your generation? Why did you start the Gun Survivors Network?
I started the Manipur Women Gun Survivors Network in 2004. I was in a village in Manipur when I heard gunshots. A 24-year-old woman was brought to a gathering of women activists. Her mother started crying, “How can I feed you anymore? They should have shot you dead.” The government says there is no armed conflict in the country, but 60 battalions of the armed forces patrol every inch of Manipur. There are 32 insurgent groups. How can you still not call it a war zone? You don’t even allow the Red Cross to enter there. It’s high time we responded to this situation. On an average day, 3-4 Manipuris, mostly men between the age of 19 and 40, are shot dead because of the ongoing conflict, leaving behind young women with young children. To respond to this humanitarian crisis, we set up the Manipur Women Gun Survivors Network. We work in around 120 villages of Manipur. We seek out women whose husbands have been shot, families who have lost people in the war. New Delhi may not be reporting our stories of war, but it’s an ongoing war for the past 50 years.
You want women particularly, not just Manipuri men, to be part of the peace negotiations. What is the quality that women negotiators will bring to the process that is missing now?
Irom Sharmila, Ima Ngambi and thousands of Meira Paibis are working to bring peace to Manipur. We connected with the international campaign to ban landmines. My research showed that weapons from 13 countries have flooded Manipur and the Northeast. The US may never have heard of Manipur, but its weapons reach Manipur. We are close to the Golden Triangle that produces 66 percent of the world’s heroin. We have got the third highest HIV rate in the country. As women, we need to respond to all this. We must bring about change. AFSPA violates several articles of the Constitution. We love this country, but our issues have never been addressed.