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

So where did the money come from? It came from the fellowship money I had from writing my books, from writing my articles. It didn’t come from foreign agency. It didn’t come from anyone.

So when you start something, no one will help you. But remember you have an idea that you feel strongly about, go for it. This is how our work has started. Now we work in 300 villages, all across India’s Northeast. We are now becoming the voice of India’s Northeast. And confronting not just a nation state but also the non-state armed groups. In the Northeast, we have got 72 insurgent groups. Can you for a moment think — imagine Hyderabad City, lock down for two months where your children cannot go to school, you cannot go to your colleges, you cannot go to your jobs?

Imagine for a moment, everything locked down for two months? You cannot move on the streets because they are burning tires. This was exactly what happened to Manipur in July and August. No children could go to school for two months. No one was able to get in or get out. It was a state of a complete lockdown. None of the Indian press covered this. This is the apathy we have for fellow countrymen in this particular part of our — like what’s happening in the state.

So we have a lot of changes that we need to do. Violence in South Asia is an issue. But how do we respond but at the same time what we did? We took to Twitter as a social media platform to tell our stories. Indian media failed to report what’s happening. National media is not national media; it’s Delhi NCR. Where their OB vans can reach, that is national media. That is why even from South, even from Hyderabad, I don’t think none of your stories are reported properly. That is why rather than getting angry and upset, we internalized it and said where are the different platforms, so we have used social media to the hilt to tell our stories to the world and our stories are reaching. So that is one technology that we use to ensure that the stories which traditional media do not cover for us are reaching. OK, so turn it positive.

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The other thing that we really have to understand is how do we ensure that – OK, that I’m going to leave with — the last parts I am going to leave with is this. You know if money could change the world all the billionaires would have transformed the world. But they didn’t. They bought their private jets. They did their beautiful things, yet 500 million people still live without electricity and in dire poverty in our country alone, India. So it’s not money, and we as non-government organizations we do not believe in asking for money. It’s ideas and asking for solidarity.

And I’ll tell you why. In Manipur, when we started the work — OK, let me tell you — the dress I’m wearing is not made in China. It’s woven by the women of Manipur in their looms. OK, it’s not made in China, it’s done there. When we realized that the skills that our village people have, our women have, we took their skill up, and then we realized that they didn’t have the capital. We asked how much capital that you need to start weaving. We were shocked and horrified when we were told: 2,500 rupees was all that the women in the villages of Manipur asked us for support. I was shocked. I am not an economics student, I was totally shocked. If this is the way they were taking a 20% from money lenders and earning 800 rupees a month in spite of being master-crafts women. We broke that line.

We started giving resources to the women to start weaving. And they started weaving en masse. We have now 300 villages who are churning out products and last week for the first time the women survivors came to Delhi, took the first flights of their life, all women below poverty line, widows whose husbands were shot dead, and for the first time in one of India’s premier India International Centre the women had their first ever exhibition. And it has transformed their lives in the way and we already got 300 orders to work on the issue of women, peace and security. It’s a landmark resolution Government of India – the United Nations started 15 years back. What we realized was that in a country as big as India of 1.3 billion people, we have to take our own issues up, that the stunning video from the woman from Hyderabad who spoke about sexual exploitation. I know that we all feel pain when we hear these stories.

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Listen to it but look around and see where — I always say like she said, change is not when you go out into the stage and say this is the change I made. Change is look around in your own locality, see what is a transformation that — that’s how we started our work in Manipur 10 years back and has now become not only a national phenomenon but fighting against gun violence for peace and security has become a movement and we are proud that the women of Northeast have led this process for the country and the world.

Thank you.


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