Look out for this North-Eastern wind

Often, the rest of India ignores the plight of women from the North-East's conflict zones. This weekend's events at NCPA: a film screening, photo exhibition and discussion hope to focus on its survivors, and unearth poignant tales of resilience

"North-Eastern women face the brunt of armed conflict, including rape and restrictions. While men wage wars and are killed in the process, it is the women who end up shouldering family obligations, often turning to prostitution to support the family as they lack education.

The 110 year-old Ms Heipungstule  narrates stories from World
War II when her village was "accidentally" bombed by the British.

That's why they are the real survivors," says market research analyst-turned-photographer Kausiki Sarma. The 27 year-old shot 31 photographs of such heroic women from Assam and Nagaland that form a part of a multi-media exhibition at NCPA.

Labour of love
Titled Reviewing the Impact of Conflict on Women in Assam and Nagaland, the event will include a discussion on the report Bearing Witness: Documenting marginalized histories, edited by Sanjoy Hazarika and Preeti Gill. There will also be a film screening of A Measure of Impunity (50 minutes), directed by Maulee Senapati and produced by Sanjoy Hazarika as well as a photo exhibition by Kausiki Sarma.

The term "conflict" in this case implies the strife caused by the military forces and the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) as well as by the militants and due to ethnic clashes. The report was painstakingly researched, from 2009 to 2011.

Ms Hiyinla's husband was a General in the Naga army and she
speaks of the difficulties faced by the family at the peak of the

The focus on the two states was to ensure diverse time lines; the Naga conflict is among the oldest long-lasting contemporary ethnic conflicts in the world, while the Assamese conflict began in the late 1980s. The researchers spoke to 250 women from three districts in Assam and Nagaland respectively, to compile
the findings.

Through the stories of the women and interviews with scholars and health professionals, the report throws light on how women's bodies are often the ultimate battlefields. At the conclusion of the report, the repealing of the draconian AFSPA act was highlighted as the need of the hour. It also emphasised how the women survive every day dealing with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and need trauma counselling.

Building bridges
The project findings were taken to the major metros, including Delhi, Kolkata and Chennai. "Our outreach programme is targetted at cities as they lack an awareness of the real issues behind the conflict. We want to change the perception that the North East is a problem child and build a bridge connecting these regions to the larger diaspora.

There have been concerns over human rights abuse in the region, but sadly there is hardly any research addressing the condition of women in the region," said Hazarika, founder of the Centre for North Eastern Studies (CNES), which conducted the project.

For Sarma, taking part in the project was her way to explore her identity as an Assamese. In the process, she heard heart-wrenching stories that often made her weep. "My hands started shaking and I would cry at times. That's when some photographs got blurred but I have retained them as well; I feel they are more special," she says.

Sarma was also overwhelmed by the fact that the women were eager to share their stories. "Their voices had been unheard for the longest time. They were happy that someone wanted to listen."
Up the volume, we are listening.

On October 15 and 16, 6 pm onwards
At Little Theatre, NCPA, Nariman Point
Call 22833838
Log on to to read the contents of the report.
Entry First-come-first-serve basis

Tales of grit

This woman's  husband, a member of the Naga army, was shot dead by Indian soldiers and betrayed by village informants.

Jayanti Mushahary's husband was a former militant of the Bodoland Liberation Tigers. He was killed by unidentified gunmen at their residence in 2009. After his death, Jayanty couldn't take care of her six year-old son due to financial hardships and sent him to an orphanage nearby.

Korobi's younger sister was a member of ULFA. Korobi was interrogated and kept in custody for several days by the army in 2006. Raids at their residence are frequent. Her son (in the background ), a 17
year-old youth, feels deeply angered by the political situation.

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