Transcript: Binalakshmi Nepram on Responding to Rising Armed Conflict in South Asia

When we discovered, yes, there is violence, there is conflict. But then what really matters is in these who is laughing all the way to the bank. We discovered weapons from 13 countries. United States of America would have never heard of Manipur but its M-16s are a favorite with our insurgents. Is it really oozies are available there? Rocket launchers are available there. And if you think that you only get buy one get one free in Big Bazaar, you are wrong. For every M-16 that you traffic you get a landmine free. OK, and this is not serious; don’t laugh, OK. It’s quite, quite serious. Anyway laugh.

Anyway the thing is, you see it’s very very serious. In India, 5,000 Indians are shot every year. It’s not just the Mumbai attacks which happened at the Taj. 12 Indians are shot every day because of gun violence. And we think it’s normal life. Don’t get frightened, just a reality we must understand.

Couple of years back, a 20-twenty year old something, Soumya Vishwanathan, a journalist was driving home from her work. She was shot dead in Vasant Kunj, the posh South Delhi Vasant Kunj area. A single woman driving a car in India is considered she is too free. She was shot dead around 1 o’clock in the night. And you know with what weapon did they shoot her dead? She was shot with a katta. A katta is a crude weapon which you can buy with 500 rupees where a bullet costs about 2 rupees. But the life of one of the brightest young journalists of our country was cut short by people who had access to illegal arms.

Chain snatching, many of them carry kattas when they try to snatch your chain. People have shot each other because of car parking space in Delhi. Children have brought their father’s pistols and shot classmates dead in our country. In the whole world, after United States, India with 40 million firearms has the second highest civilian possession of firearms.

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Now let me enlarge it to South Asia. So we think yesterday we celebrated Bapu’s birthday. Mahatma Gandhi. OK, I am afraid that Bapu must be turning in his grave. The independence of this country was one without firing a single bullet. Non-violence gave freedom to this country. Do we agree?

But today, our country, India has become the world’s largest importer of weapons. Is this fair? Last year, India’s defence budget increased but the budget for education, social welfare, all decreased. And let me tell you something. The amount of money India used on one day for international day of yoga: 100 crores. For advertisement for one day is the same amount of money Government of India has allocated for one year for work on women and child. This is a reality of how our policymakers are taking care of our country, from the learnings that we found in Manipur where our whole research was on mapping who is arming our insurgents, how did the guns come to Manipur, because as I said, I may fight with you but if I have a gun, then I may want to shoot you dead, because anger knows no boundary. And you do what you have to do.

So it’s a very very serious trend that one must understand. I’m sharing this because when we did this research, it’s published in a book called South Asia’s Fractured Frontier. This all research that we did on mapping small arms proliferation across South Asia region, we published in a book which is a part of my M.Phil thesis in Jawaharlal University International Relations and it’s a book called –

Now what happens? So a book can transform a life, OK. So if you have any issues which you feel, write it down. You don’t have to have a correct English. Remember that. Express what you feel, write it in your mother tongue, write it in whatever language but write it, publish. A book is like a second visiting card.

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Number one, so writing what’s happening around you is extremely important. For us that was the spark which gave our work. After that what happens? After you write a book, publish papers, I could have become a professor in any university in the world that I desire. But no, we didn’t do that. What we decided was turning that research into social action — was a second step that we did.

So what happens is we took the research, what we found that in Manipur alone because of the violence, 20,000 women have become widows because of gun violence. And out of that, only 2% were given government support. Do you know anyone in this room how much a widow gets her pension? How much does a widow in India get pension? And it’s a very important question because in India still, while a lot of educated women we are in this room and outside but many women are made to depend on their husbands for their things. So it is — in Manipur, it’s 300 rupees a month – widow pension. How can you — this is not even a cinema ticket in Hyderabad.

So what’s happening here is we have a huge amount of women who have lost people in the conflict. So in 2007 we set up the Manipur Women Gun Survivors Network which was a new idea. What we did was we went to many villages and identified women who needed our support. The women that we work are all women below poverty line, women who have lost family members.

And what did we do? Even before the Prime Minister Narendra Modi started, more than 10 — like seven years back, we opened the bank accounts of more than 5,000 women across Manipur. A lot of women — people would say, paisa kahan se aaya? Where did the money come from? Always when you say you are an NGO, they think you are fraud.

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