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Indian women 'gun survivors' urge for disarmament

Nov 23, 2011

A recent panel discussion held in New Delhi drew attention to the state of women in northeastern Indian state of Manipur where five decades long armed violence has claimed thousands of lives. The panelists pushed for disarmament and peace in the region.

New Delhi: Activists urged India to push for disarmament at a discussion organised by the Manipur Women Gun Survivors Network on November 22 in New Delhi.

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The discussion was held amidst a three day art and craft exhibition by Manipuri women, starting Nov 21, to spread the message of peace and disarmament amid growing global conflict.

Among the panelists were Binalakshmi Nepram, writer-activist and founder of Manipur Women Gun Survivors Network and also the Secretary General of the umbrella organisation Control Arms Foundation of India (CAFI), Lt. Gen. Dr. B S Malik, President, CAFI, Kusum Chopra, Advisor Design of FMG group of institutes and Somnath Chowdhury, a technocrat.

According to a research by CAFI, more than 30 armed groups operate in Manipur making it the most conflict-ridden region of the country. Armed violence between the state and insurgents has claimed over 20,000 lives in the last five decades.

Women are the worst sufferers when their husbands, sons or any other family member are killed by state, non-state actors. More than 300 women are widowed each year with no livelihood or hope for earning one.

Development has percolated through thin channels in Manipur and is sporadic.  Thousands of graduates are struggling to find employment. This makes them an easy prey for the insurgents. Chowdhury believes that development is the only way to control armed conflict in the state. “If there is development, we don’t need guns,” he pointed.

Influx of illegal weapons

“Mark every gun in this country like we are marking every Indian in this country through UID"
Binalakshmi Nepram

Another aspect which fuels conflict is the influx of illegal arms in the region. CAFI research shows that weapons from 13 countries are flooded into Manipur which are used by insurgent groups in the state. The arms are readily available at inexpensive prices. A landmine costs just Rs 40 whereas a country pistol can be obtained at a mere Rs 200!

In Jammu and Kashmir, armed forces have captured 39,000 AK-47 rifles and it’s still unknown where those weapons are and to whom they are sold to since they all were unmarked.

What happens to the captured arms is a new area of concern especially in conflicted areas like Manipur and Jammu & Kashmir and demands immediate steps to control the same.

“Mark every gun in this country like we are marking every Indian in this country through UID (Unique Identification Number),” urged Nepram.

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Despite the facts that India got independence in 1947 through non-violent means and India was the defacto leader in disarmament but since 1993 India hasn’t signed any disarmament treaty.

Many raise questions that abandoning arms may leave us defenseless. Answering a similar concern raised by OneWorld, Lt. Gen. Malik said, “The defence expenditure of the United States is 50% of the federal expenditure but still they feel insecure.” Big guns do not necessarily ensure security.  “Are weapons required? If yes, then have norms. If not, do away with them,” said Lt. Gen Malik.

The panel discussion was followed by an art and craft exhibition showcasing the work by women from Manipur.

CAFI, formerly known as India Working Group on Arms Control (IWGAC) was established in 2004 to curb armed violence caused by the proliferation of small arms, light weapons and Improvised Explosive Device in the nation.

Manipur Women Gun Survivors Network evolves a gender sensitive approach to the prevalent gun crisis in the state and helps women victims of violence to earn their livelihoods through financial assistance. It is first initiative of its kind in India and South Asia.

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