‘Women in conflict zones are not victims’. That was the general consensus among the panellists of ‘Women in Conflict Zones’ comprising of eminent figures like Barkha Dutt, Jasmina Tesanovic, Paro Anand and Rashmi Saxena. The discussions were driven by Humra Quraishi, a journalist and an author. The one thing all the panellists had in common was their experience interacting with women in conflict zones.

The session started with Barkha Dutt whose focus was on two main themes: women journalists reporting a conflict and how women in conflict zones fare. To illustrate the first point, she gave the example of her mother, Prabha Dutt who was actually the first women to report conflicts. During the Indo-Pakistan war in 1965, a time when a woman had to fight to even get assigned hard news, she fought with her editor to cover the war and upon refusal, set out on her own to the Punjab border to cover it. Fast track to decades later, Barkha Dutt faced the same resistance when she expressed her desire to report the Kargil war.

Shifting the focus, Barkha then briefly talked about the shift in the attitude of women in conflict zones. From passive recipients of violence, they are now leading the protest. She highlighted how women in conflict zones don’t necessarily have to be victims, they can be participants too.
The same point was later echoed by all the panellists present including Jasmina Tesanovic, who highlighted the important role women played in the Serbo-Bulgarian war. She reflected how women led passive protests against the military to protect their men who were not ready to be drafted for the war. The session saw Rashmi Saksena echoing the same thought- that women sometimes take up arms because they feel that institutions are being unjust to their men.

The last panellist, Paro Anand presented a different viewpoint. She related how her close working with women and children in Kashmir revealed her that it is the failure of society to support that gives rise to violence. She illustrated this by giving the example of Umar, a boy she had known, who joined militants at the tender age of 11 just to support his mother economically.

The session was an eye-opener to most in the audience who had a myopic vision of women in conflict zones. They should no longer be seen as passive recipients of violence. They can and have taken up arms when the situation demanded it. Unlike what the popular narrative says, they don’t have to be the subjects of violence, be it kidnapping, rape or to take up arms.

About the Author: A wanderer at heart, Vibhuthi is the author of Rainbow, an anthology of poems that was published in 2009 by Nishaganti Publication. She treads through life, by twirling with words, reading into pauses and looking for meaning. She currently writes for Bookstalkist.