Two weeks ago, a young girl left a Bar in Guwahati. A gang of 18 men set on her, dragged her onto the road by her hair, ripped off her clothes, yanked up her vest and tugged at her bra, and molested her. She was crying for help from the passing cars all the while. They were laughing and smiling, staring into the several cameras that filmed them. One of those cameras belonged to a News Channel’s reporter and camera man. Welcome to India: the country where a woman can be a president, but must fear for her safety; the country where women are beatified in its mythological lore but abhorred and abused in society; the country where no lofty panegyric is spared in proposing causes for empowering women but where women fight for a place in society; the country where news channels have women as reporters and shows devoted to women’s rights, but – devoid of any compunction – film the molestation of a woman just to add to the sensational value of the case; the country where men may frequent pubs, but the moment a woman does, she becomes a prostitute. Welcome to India: the fourth worst country in the world, to be a woman.
Forty five long minutes of abuse transpired, while the hapless girl cried for help, begged for passing cars to stop and suffered disrespect. When the police did come, the girl was whisked away. She couldn’t be more than twenty. She was questioned, and then medically examined. There wasn’t any attempt made to arrest the men - despite their faces being as clear as day in the footage.
And all this, right in a place that boasts of an exhibit in a museum that etches Mahatma Gandhi’s words (circa 1921), stating thus: Of all the evils for which man has made himself responsible, none is so degrading, so shocking or so brutal as his abuse of the better half of humanity; the female sex. All this, right in the heart of the State of Assam, which by far is considered female-friendly, with a largely matrilineal social setting.
All night long, the news channel, NewsLive, continued playing the video of the girl’s molestation. In a bit, he got on twitter to say that “prostitutes form a major chunk of girls who visit bars and night clubs”. He has since resigned, but the damage was done. But public action did not let the girl’s cause go unheard. The police were shamed into action by residents of Guwahati – who printed and strung up an enormous banner alongside one of the city's major roads, featuring mug-shots of the main suspects. A week later, the chief minister of the State of Assam ordered the police to arrest a dozen key suspects. The victim has been promised compensation.
Abuse of women in India is an everyday affair, literally. And this is not a reflection of the mere extent depravity, but a transgression of the standards of decency and an exposition of the failure of governance in keeping violence against women in check. That a law outlawing sexual harassment and molestation is still evading India is a terrible amplification of this sordid reality. All the country has, is a Neanderthal penal code that goes back to 1860, where save for rape, only the “outraging the modesty of a woman” is punishable – with either seven, or two years, as the case maybe. There’s nothing to punish the crimes “in between” – and the latter is a terribly archaic and ambiguous term. Needless to say, the hotbed of impunity that India is when it comes to women’s rights abuses and violence against women, is facilitated by the climate of legal, governmental and policy-based apathy.
A man in Rajasthan bit his wife so brutally that she lost her face, literally, for her refusal to get more money from her parents for dowry. In Udaipur, a woman’s head was shaved, and she was stripped and beaten for having had an extramarital affair. A man in Indore, I read to my horror today, kept his wife's genitals “locked”. He drilled holes on her body and before going to work each day, would insert a small lock, tucking the keys under his socks. A woman was sexually abused for years, and then had acid thrown on her face and absolutely no one seems to be listening to her case. A few children near Bhopal were found playing with a female foetus they had mistaken for a doll in a bin. A dentist in Karnataka made his wife to drink his urine because she refused to meet dowry demands. A father beheaded his daughter in Rajasthan and paraded her bloody head as a caveat to other young women lest they fall in love with a boy from a lower caste. As all of this transpires without respite, the Parliament is still wondering if there is any reason for them to pass the Bill on Sexual Harassment of Women.
It’s easy to blame ‘westernization’ for all of this. It is easy to blame ‘women and their ways of dressing’ for all of this. But does what a woman wears, says, or does, is no reason for her to be ill-treated. Did the girl in Rajasthan dress skimpily? Or was the woman under “lock” down too empowered for her husband to tolerate? Does a girl’s visit to a pub automatically men she is a prostitute? What about a man’s visit, then?
After days of denouncing the Taliban and its derogatory treatment of women, I’m ashamed to admit that the scenario in India is as terrible as the Taliban’s ideals of women.
Why the hatred, really?
Ten years ago, a history lesson at school on the Second World War and a lost opportunity to participate in a Model UN session owing to a health setback decided the career front of the funny trajectory that is my life. I decided I would join the United Nations.
The lure was magnetic- I would stand as a representative of my country, or of an oppressed people. I would work with grass-root organizations and proffer them the benefits of humanitarian aid and assistance. I would be their voice. I would be their advocate. I would fight for them. I would ensure they would get justice.
But I would not be a feminist, I told myself. I would never, ever stand and scream hoarse saying that I wanted rights as a woman. I counted on myself as empowered, and found it ridiculous and outrageous when I heard allegations that women were deprived of their basic rights. I found it stupid that women would stand and argue in parliaments, demanding that they be given legal rights. What legal rights, I’d wonder? I am not deprived of anything. Blame it on my upbringing. My parents brought me up treating me as a human being. I was never deprived of anything by virtue of my gender, nor offered any special treatment owing to my gender. I was normal, life was normal.
Bit by bit, I began uncovering the entire spectrum of work that had to go into making the dream real. Not meaning to forget the hurdles altogether, I’ll save them for another post on another day, and for now, focus on the things I learned so far.
Ten years later, I found myself somewhere near my goal. Without the requisite educational qualification of a Masters’ Degree, I had something like a foot in the United Nations through some volunteering opportunities. I soon grew to become part of feminist organizations that worked for women’s rights.
And that is when the true essence of feminism- the grain of true activism separated from the chaff of jingoism- smacked me hard in the face. I learned the importance and practicality of being a feminist for the woman in need, and not for the already empowered woman in greed.
When I worked with these organizations (I still do- I love each of them, sincerely), I was just a writer. That was what I was – a meagre nerd across continents and oceans from where these organizations functioned, staring at a computer screen and churning piece after piece after piece, following copious research. What difference are you making, anyway? I’d ask. My family would ask. My friends would ask. You’re just writing. I’d tell myself. My family would tell me. My friends would tell me. Does your writing bring any justice to the ones in need? I’d ask myself. My family would ask me. My friends would ask me.
Well. I have no idea. Does it make any difference? Did it make any difference?
To them, I don’t know. To me, it did, it does and it will always do so.
When I wrote, I narrated the stories of women in distress. I told the world of real stories, of stories that were so real, they had to be fictionalized for the world to digest, of sordid and morbid realities that could leave you shaken. I told the world of the things women went through, children went through. I told the world what it already knew- or at least, most of the world already knew.
Stories of Rape, sexual Harassment, domestic Violence, honour killings, deprivation on gender-based grounds, gender-based inequality, foeticide, infanticide, etc.
And as I wrote, I grew. I grew because I didn’t just tell these stories, I felt them. I realized that what were just words for me here was the reality, the harsh truth for a woman, miles away. I realized that as much as the world was “ahead”, it was also terribly backward.
I travelled. I went to war stricken Afghanistan where women bear the brunt of living a crippled life- facing domestic violence, honour killings, rape and an abject deprivation from their every right. I went to DR Congo where women still bear the brunt of sexual violence aplenty, and suffer indignities in the hands of the very society that should protect them. I went to different parts of India, where I learned of girl foetuses being killed in the womb just because they were girls, where tribal women are forced to dance naked to be able to get a meal. I travelled to parts of the Middle East where women are the property of their men, and could even be killed or raped, with no one asking or questioning the impunity. I went to Nigeria, where girls are subjected to the harsh malpractice of genital mutilation, and their cries were so loud that they were silent. I went to Pakistan and Palestine, where women are subjected to the awful nightmare of murder in the name of protecting their familial honour. I went to South East Asia where girls are born into brothels, and lived their lives there, without knowing that they were made to live as slaves. I travelled to Kosovo and Houston, Texas, where their dirtiest secret is the filthy game of human trafficking. I went to Latin America where “poverty has a woman’s face”.
I realized that in the same world where women had the freedom to work as equals with men, some women were also subservient to men and could not work whatsoever. I realized that in the same world where a woman had the right to be educated, a woman was also forced to give up school because her society ordained thus. I realized that in the same world where a woman was free to choose who she would marry and when she would marry, a woman was forced to marry a man many years older than her while she would be a mere child. I realized that in the same world where women would be respected and their honour safeguarded with dignity, a woman would also be used as a miserable sex-slave. I realized that in the same world where women would be in charge of making peace, the bodies of women would be battlegrounds where war would be waged.
I learned, quite simply, that there is something intricately linking the backbone of society and women. I realized that when one of those woven threads constituting the weft in the fabric is unravelled, society is crippled.
I learned that a culture of silence proves to the be the hotbed of a culture of impunity. I may not be an expert. I may be far more ordinary than I know I am. I may lack expertise and “intellectually stimulating” might hardly be a justifiable title for the kind of stuff I write.
But I do know one thing. I am a drop in the ocean, but a drop, nevertheless. I am one among the scores of other women who serve as a conduit between the oppressed and the outside world.
And that is why I am proud to be a feminist.
War, conflict and all kinds of armed battle have horrible impacts. Society is torn apart, often having to be rebuilt from the grassroots. People find themselves crushed by injury, their means of livelihood being thwarted by an exchange of fire and their lives itself, smashed to smithereens with them left to pick up the pieces. But of the lot, women are known to be the worst sufferers of conflict. As report after report seems to underline the fact, the trend still continues in the same direction. World over, women are the greater part of the segments of society that flee from the scene of conflicts. With most of the men folk taking to the armed forefronts, women find themselves being made the sole breadwinner of their families. Coupled with the economic considerations, there is always the looming threat of sexual violence. Oftentimes, the bodies of women become the battleground, as combatants and non-combatants exploit women sexually. Why is sexual violence so common on every warfront? Why are women the easiest targets? The fact is, that rape is cheap, easy and extremely effective. Armed groups, combatants and non-combatants alike use rape as a means to terrorize and control women and communities. Subjecting women to sexual violence earns the woman the indelible mark of stigmatization that society throws on them. Shrouded with humiliation, families then wind up turning these women out of their homes, and when women are spurned the backbone of a societal structure is broken. Men don’t want to marry women subject to sexual violence. Families don’t want to have them around anymore- either the stigma is too much to bear, or the fact that these women burden them since they can’t be married off (especially true in societies where marriages bring in bride prices). Sexual violence is calculated, brutal and absolutely bereft of humanity. Using sexual violence as a modus operandi in warfare is intricately woven with the hegemonic desire for power. Soldiers thirst to drive fear and strive to humiliate and punish women and their communities, in the hope that by doing so, they would invariably break down society entirely. Sexual violence in conflict and post-conflict situations is a preferred method that is used to reinforce gendered and political hierarchies. Considering this, it is absolutely imperative that women be made an integral part of the process of preventing conflicts, and part of the peace-building and peace-keeping roles. Although this would contribute heavily towards protecting women, the ground reality is that the inclusion of women in pre and post conflict measures has been ignored largely. A UNSC Resolution (Res 1325 in 2000) worked to urge all the member states to “ensure increased representation of women at all decision-making levels in national, regional and international institutions and mechanisms for the prevention, management, and resolution of conflict”. Aside of reflecting the evident lack of the involvement of women in dealing with conflict, the resolution also showed signs of being a proactive initiation of the process. However, the situation a decade since shows no signs of improvement, or abatement. Consequently, a recent endeavour was made by the Security Council, with a host of deliberations that discussed the means that may be deployed to effectively implement Resolution 1325. The frugal to non-implementation of the resolution boils down to the question of policy. The involvement of women in the process of peace-building and peace-keeping, as also in the active political trajectory of a state is largely up to the state itself, and its policies vis-a-vis women. In most parts of the world, women find themselves inadequately equipped and inadequately represented. Furthermore, in several post conflict regions, women find themselves in a situation of fear, and in a situation where they are placed as sole breadwinners, and thinking of participation in the political process is far too distant a proposition. Where the fear factor goes, most women believe that participation in a vociferous political framework might bring them more harm. This is especially true in the context of places like DR Congo and Afghanistan. When women are forced to be sole breadwinners by circumstance, they are obligated to put their families first. This often makes them want to reach out to things that would benefit their families more than anything else. Consequently, these women wind up either voting for leaders who offer them sops and freebies but no future plans of empowerment, or wind up staying outside the political framework in search of a means of livelihood that could provide for their families. This is particularly true in India, DR Congo and Zimbabwe, and to some extent in Afghanistan and Nigeria. Involving women in the peace process is not easy, and is certainly not free of obstacles. A strong commitment is needed from the states themselves, to determinedly keep its women safe, and offer them a good social standing. On the part of the women, as hard as it might be, it is necessary that they put all their trust in themselves, to take a leap of faith. Women in War Zones International strives to put women back on track in DR Congo, by empowering them through the channel of education. Many of these women have aspirations of taking a plunge into the world of entrepreneurship, and aspire to eke a living out of a means they tailor for themselves. They are, truly, embracing the fact that they can be and should rightfully be the masters of their own fate. However, it is still a feat for them to actively participate in politics not just as voters, but also as candidates. This is something they cannot do until the government and the society of Congo makes some place for these women. The society and polity must learn to rise above lowly considerations such as stigma and stereotyping. Until this is done, true empowerment shall remain a dream for most women. However, we, at Women in War Zones, firmly believe that if we empower these women through education and entrepreneurship, they will be able to rise like the proverbial phoenix, from the ashes. They will be able to carve a niche for themselves, and as women who are unencumbered from the yoke of stigmatization, they will rightfully demand and earn their place in politics.
Join us in our movement to make this a reality. (www.womeninwarzones.org)
For years together now, and even as I pen this piece, the world is peppered with people whose lives are spent staring hunger in its face, as their lifestyles are seduced by poverty and illness. Ample rhetoric has been around, as leader after leader pledges himself to eradicate world poverty, world hunger, and uplift masses in need of monetary and social rehabilitation. All that remains, however, is either a leader whose efforts have been so miniscule that they were virtually intangible, or a leader whose didactic verbosity earned him enough money to siphon into his own private fund. The result, then, is the number game. Death by hunger to the gubernatorial realm becomes a statistic, while to the deprived families bury another cadaverous remnant, wondering who and when the next would be.
There is no doubt that we need to have a law installed firmly to assert and secure human rights, in the face of so many instances of violations one comes across. However, one cannot help but note that merely because the law is in place, these violations and deprivations have not quite come to an end. Infusing a little wave of pragmatism here, it is without doubt that real people need access to real food to quell their hunger. No amount of lofty legalese, couched in paper tigers, would benefit anyone suffering the ruthless brunt of hunger. One’s access to food determines the entire fabric of his life, and any event depriving him of his food would virtually function to the detriment of his life itself. Accessing food in human dignity is a rather important part of human rights. The right to “food”, the right to “life”, the right to “livelihood” and even the famous “right to feed oneself” have all come across as exemplary battle-cries of Human Rights activists. But the percolation of these rights into action has been deplorable, to say the least.
What use is a right inscribed on paper, when there is simply no food given to the ones in need? When famines occur, when there is artificial scarcity, what logical mind would believe that a person affected by hunger could stand in a court of law and argue for a morsel? Food in and of itself is not often the problem, and nor are vagaries of geographical cadre, such as droughts and famines. There is enough food to go around. People are deprived of food not because there isn’t any, but because they are deprived of access to it. As a consequence, the hungry are driven to steal, to break the law to get food, which may even cost them their lives. Bonded labour ties them to backbreaking working hours to fetch a tasteless, nutrition-deprived meal. Prisoners lose access to food because, well, they are prisoners and those in charge of them may decide to refuse them a meal. Peasants and farming populace struggle to protect their land holdings in the wake of unfriendly policies, land grabbing, land ceiling and other landlord friendly law and the looming threat of mouths to feed from a barren land. There is no dearth of aid being pumped into a famine stricken world. But it just doesn’t reach the hungry ones.
Scarcity is not the factor tempering insufficiency of access to food. It is the denial of access to food producing means, resources and work. Food is being produced increasingly in a bid to maximize returns on investments in food production. The rich gain the best of food production, as new frozen foods, organically produced groceries and the like benefit them aplenty. Access to food in dignity does not mean the right to access a morsel or a meal, but the freedom to be employed, in whatever manner, in the industry that produces resources that allow room for self-sufficiency.
Prices are increasing world over, on wheat and grain. The United Nations and World Bank food price indices show nearly record highs. Concerns are rife that food inflation would definitely push scores of people into poverty, or even jolt political stability in some states. School level economics would break down this phenomenon easily to narrate that the rich remain rich, the poor worsen. Hunger cripples them, as they find themselves squarely in the centre of a condition that renders them incapable of working. No money, no education, no work, no money. One big vicious circle.
Should the world begin to see world hunger in its truest form, and begin to unshackle the old and inefficient means of food distribution, and work on a more pragmatic means to architect access to something as basic as food? Sound reasoning sits at the base of the tenet, no doubt, but the principle has been brandished without compunction as a means to garner votes, as a means to assert political superiority. No policy has been personified in action. There is no point screaming oneself hoarse about the cache of rights a human being enjoys, if there is never going to be implementation of the law. What use are a few words on paper, when there is nothing to feed a starving stomach? Without implementation, the law fails in its purpose, mocking the ones it guarantees rights to. “Take the right”, it says, sneering. “That’s all I can give you.”
[Before plunging into the text of my post, I'd like to offer you a little background. I work with the Women in War Zones International, which is an organization that is devoted to telling personal stories of women in areas of conflict in order to promote women’s human rights and health, prevent war crimes and achieve victory over abuse of women living in war zones. The effort originally began as a documentary film by the same name, but soon became a full fledged project. Those of you who are interested in having a look at the site, please visit www.womeninwarzones.org]
Last night, I met a long-lost friend. In conversation, we happened to ask each other what we were doing, and I casually made mention of my present position as a Writing Intern with WIWZ, among other things I do. I’m not sure what caught her fancy specifically vis-a-vis WIWZ, but she was intrigued enough to ask me what it entailed. So I plunged into an animated explanation of the kind of work WIWZ does, and the situation in Congo that was being addressed by WIWZ and its trajectory from a documentary to a full-fledged movement.
‘Oh. So you help a bunch of rape victims. Big Deal.’
Exactly. I was shocked, too. And I expressed what I thought, then and there.
‘Um... loads of women get raped. No big deal.’ She retorted.
That’s right. No big deal. That’s what she said. I couldn’t believe it either. But that conversation got me thinking. What hope do we have if the world just believes that rape is ‘no big deal’? What use is any rhetoric, if everyone just stands and watches? Inaction, apathy and simply turning a deaf ear actually encourage the perpetration of such evil. How could a girl anywhere speak that of the predicament that many of her own counterparts in Congo face? How could she have treated the issue in a manner that suggested she was bereft of any care? A girl of the same age in Congo would have faced harsher reality than this girl could possibly fathom. A girl of the same age in Congo would be living a life far, far away from what’s ‘normal’ for this girl. And here this girl with a 'normal' life is completely apathetic, bordering on contemptuous nonchalance, even, to the situation that women and girls in Congo face.
In a trice, after her rude retort, she walked away from me, typing a text message at breakneck speed. The brand imprinted on her cellphone caught my eye. I’d recently read about the brand’s tryst with using Conflict Minerals in its manufacture, an action that earned ample criticism. I was fuelled into action. I ran up to her, and told her that she had quite a role to play in the predicament that the women of Congo face today- her action of buying and using a cell-phone that had the blood of scores of abused women from Congo, in it. Her face paled, and I walked away, disgusted. I’m sure she did her homework with Google, soon after, and I hope she’s wiser, and a little more sensitized.
On countless occasions, I have been ridiculed for my choice of being a volunteer for causes by a small pocket of people. With ridiculous name-calling being the foremost amongst a host of other profanities, I was monikered “NGO”, “Activist”, “head-case” and “Missionary”. I’ve been awarded these epithets owing to my pursuit of intern/work options that let me do something in some little way that help causes for places like Congo. At first it bothered me that people were harsh in their judgment of me. But today, that conversation I had last night has completely taken away any sense of irritation that the aforementioned nomenclature ushered in, because I am proud I am not one of those apathetic, inert people, who believe that crimes like rape are no big deal.
With a heart brimming with gratitude for Women In War Zones, for letting me be a part of their team, I am only too happy that I am "Beyond the Stereotypes"!!
Somalia has been touted as a failed state, a state that has spiralled downwards on all fronts-political, economic and social. With famines, droughts, pirates and warlords, all that remains of the state itself is a meagre cadaver. Arguably, one may believe that a state itself is not responsible for the way nature plays with it. However, the Somali problem goes a lot deeper than meets the eye. Nature has been unkind, no doubt, what with droughts being an exceedingly common feature in the state. However, it is only an exceptional drought that produces a famine. If a famine does arise, it must be remembered that there are a host of other factors that create a path for it.
Geographical factors catalyzing a famine, no doubt, are very simple to understand. If a state is entirely dependent on the vagaries of a monsoon to covet a good crop yield annually, it is obvious that a failure of rainfall would only imply the consequent failure of crops, and a clear shortage of food. However, that need not result in a famine. A proactive gubernatorial force will see to it that there is an alternative solution in that food will be sourced from allies and sympathetic states in the international community. While Somalia has all the geographical factors that may result in a famine, the operative word is may. However, Somalia also has exactly all the political and gubernatorial factors that will result in a famine, and the operative word here, is will. Needless to say, the confluence of the two has hardly been of any use to the state.
There is no dearth of examples in Somalia’s history to testify to this fact. Take the drought of 1984, in the Horn of Africa, which, though, did not cause a famine in Somalia, but virtually devastated Ethiopia. Although geographically contiguous, Ethiopia took a heavier beating from the drought because its military government was embroiled in a civil war, and remained engaged in it instead of rising to the occasion and meeting the needs of its people. Somalia also had borne the brunt of a prolonged drought, called the dabadeer- meaning long-tailed- during the mid-1970s. The state did not succumb to a famine, thanks to the proactive gubernatorial policies that despatched aid to its people, nipping possibilities of mass-starvation in the bud. Later, in 1992, Somalia underwent a massive famine, which had nothing to do with a drought, but had everything to do with sectarian politics that functioned as a rift in the Somali polity and society. The famine itself originated in the heart of the state’s productive agricultural regions, namely, Bay. Starvation was deployed as a weapon by warlords, in a bid to target farmers and bucolic. When Somalia collapsed in 1991, the state fell prey to marauding gangs that looted whatever little that the farmers had in the name of harvests. Food was kept away from the hungry common populace in the State’s major warlord’s attempt to capture the region. At that juncture, the United States sent in troops to the country to reach the indigent populace.
Droughts are obviously nothing new to Somalia. However, it has been five whole decades since the last drought-induced famine. Attention needs to be focussed not on the drought, but on the famine. The biggest reason behind Somalia’s present condition of being steeped in penury and hunger is the inherent vulnerability of the state itself. Ecological disturbances have emanated as part of the impact of political and military forces. With the American pursuit of the Global War on Terror, the al-Shabaab terrorist outfit, the Transitional Federal Government, the Ethiopian invasion of Somalia and its continuous political and military involvement there, and finally East Africa's Intergovernmental Authority on Development and the UN itself, Somalia has plenty and more to cope with. Each of these actors has had a role to play in creating a situation where the common populace of Somalia find themselves hungry and starving, bereft of food and nutrition. The way the country has emerged is entirely consequent to its history.
America’s agenda in Somalia has been to fight what it calls the Islamic terrorists, of which, the target is the al-Shabaab in particular. Following the 1998 bombings in the United States embassies in Kenya and Tanzania, and the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Centre, there have been a host of secret operations, each carried out in a bid to capture terrorists and then run them aground by weeding out their support bases in Somalia. In the process, the United States had to seek assistance from warlords in Somalia, resulting in the 2005 Alliance for the Restoration of Peace and Counter-Terrorism in 2005. The people of Somalia were antagonistic to the alliance and the patron, resulting in their subsequent move of turning against them under the auspice of the Union of Islamic Courts in 2006. With the warlords defeated at the hands of the Union, peace reigned in Somalia, while most of the southern portion of the state came under the control ambit of Mogadishu.
Following this, the United States, along with Ethiopia, laid claim that these Islamists were terrorists, and therefore had to be weeded out since they were a threat to the region and its peace. However, a greater majority of the Somalian populace supported the Union of Islamic Courts, and even pleaded with the international community to work on a peaceful framework while engaging with them. Despite this plea, America supported Ethiopia, and an invasion commenced in December 2006. This resulted in a mass displacement and a terrible death toll. When Somalia responded with its own stream of attacks, Ethiopia hadn’t a choice but to withdraw a greater part of the troops. Nevertheless, there was an indelible mark from the invasion, one that left the state in a terrible condition of disarray. With Ethiopia left Somalia thus, the East African Intergovernmental Authority on Development and the international community picked up strings thereon. Designing a Transitional Federal Government that was led by the faction of the Union of Islamic Courts that was most amenable to the international community, and to the US agenda, things turned against Somalia once again. All the forces that had tried to work a means to push Ethiopia out were marginalized, leading to the Transitional Federal Government gaining control over all the regions that was under the control of the African Union Forces.
Needless to say, there was a massive civil war after Somalia had been left at the hands of the Transitional Federal Government, leading to the return of the al-Shabaab in the southern part of the state. The Transitional Federal Government was corrupt and inert for the most part. The death toll rose with such leaps and bounds. It was horribly astounding to note that the regime turned a deaf ear to the crisis that was burgeoning under its nose. Nothing was done to bail out is population while all that gubernatorial attention focussed on was to continue a sectarian war within the state.
One of the biggest catalysts for the ringing of the Somali death knell was the emergence of the al-Shabaab as a terror outfit. What started off once as the youth wing of the Union of Islamic Courts soon became a militant outfit when it brazenly declared its affiliation with the al-Qaeda. With that alignment, the group earned itself the official epithet of a terror outfit, and was identified thus by the United Nations and states in the international community. Needless to say, the group became the cynosure of all eyes as part of the world’s endeavour in the Global War on Terror. Though the al-Shabaab has endeavoured to have an Islamic state established, it has completely failed in bringing something as basic as infrastructure to the state. It has also been in complete denial where the existence of the famine is concerned, to the point that it has completely refuted permission to the international community to allow the influx of food. In every state, action of the gubernatorial kind commences from the grass-root level. When a crisis strikes, the lowest rung of the ladder seeks to respond with all its resources. When things get out of hand, the national government steps in. And when it meets with failure, the neighbouring states, and if it may so wish, the international community itself, will step in. Somalia has absolutely nothing to show to prove that it has the local level and national administrative levels up and running. And with these terror outfits being seized of power in such sizeable amounts, the international community and its attempts to pump in aid is also as much a failure as is the machinery within the state.
The world itself has been exceedingly obsessed with either the famine being consequent to the drought, or, with weeding out the al-Shabaab. No attention was diverted to understanding the true nitty-gritties of the little common man stuck in the ruined state. Military prowess has been pumped in aplenty only to destroy the state itself, instead of supporting its development. What Somalia needs now, is a government- and one that is capable of handling all of its crises, of solving these problems and of putting the state back on its feet.
Humanitarian intervention has become a buzz word of sorts. But is it accepted in international law? Can a state intervene in another state's affairs on any ground? How is a state to determine whether its intervention is capable of bringing about the change it wants to see? Who is to decide if a situation requiring intervention exists in the first place?
“The first question that comes to mind about humanitarian intervention, is if it exists”, said Noam Chomsky. In a world that houses Western states that lived in fear of terrorism and tried to weed out its roots by embarking upon a massive hunt for Osama Bin Laden in Afghanistan by launching Operation Enduring Freedom in 2001 and then seeking to weed out the Taliban and set up a more democratic government, in a world which houses a state that decided that Iraq had to be invaded in 2003 since it had failed to abandon its nuclear and chemical weapons development program in violation of UN Resolution 687 along with a professed intention of getting rid of a dictator to give its people a better leader, and in a world with a western coalition that intervened in Libya to implement Security Council Resolution 1973 through Operation Odyssey Dawn, there is no bigger reality than to accept the fact that humanitarian intervention does, truly exist.
Amidst a host of news reports and ghastly images emanating from the zones under humanitarian intervention each telling terrible stories peppered with statistics that do not show things in good light, there are feeble voices of observers and analysts, questioning the very validity and feasibility of this means of intervention. Traditional international law prohibits the use of force on all accounts under Article 2(4) of the UN Charter, which has attained the massively exalted position of jus cogens. Save for self-defence, as explained under Article 51 of the UN Charter, there is simply no exception to the prohibition on the use of force. These two rules put together spell out some of the basic founts of international anarchy upon which international relations is built- state sovereignty and equality of states. Consequently, one wonders how humanitarian intervention could carve a niche for itself- especially since the general viewpoint favours the notion that most of them are just interventions with a humanitarian pretext- a veiled sham. It confounds the rational mind that the international community has come to accept a flagrant violation of international law when it dons the garb of an action pursued with humanitarian considerations. To a rational mind, it only seems like a wolf in sheep’s clothing.
But what choice is the international community left with, when states are clearly in distress and need help? The rebels of Libya haven’t been able to dent the prowess of a dictator so steeped in antagonism to the values of human rights and democracy. The tyrant has left no stone unturned in suppressing the revolution, and even if it involves taking lives by the dozen, he has showed no signs of relenting. Should the international community turn a deaf ear, sport a blind eye and move on as if everything that is happening there should be within the domestic domain? Certainly not, especially with the transnational nature that the basic norms of human rights have taken- for it is a duty of every state to enforce these rights and guarantee them to the people. However, looking at the past few events, one cannot help but note that there has been a crossing of lines. Afghanistan was no doubt bearing the troubling brunt of the Taliban regime, but the clear intention of the West in its intervention was only just an attempt to capture Osama Bin Laden- a classic case of self-help. Along with trying to result in a by-product regime change, Iraq was also on the same lines, for it was on the premise that the state was building up weapons of mass destruction and nuclear weapons. A thin red line divides a case of intervention on truly humanitarian grounds, and on a mission to seek a regime change while coating the attempt with a glossy sheen of being a “humanitarian” move.
Therefore, knowing that it is fundamentally a necessity in the wake of atrocious events transpiring in some regions of the world, there needs to be a set of ground rules to understand exactly what is allowed and what isn’t, and therefore to quell attempts to toe the line. Primarily, there needs to be a definitive outline of what the term implies, and comes to mean. “Humanitarian intervention” is generally given to be relied upon to prevent or stop a gross violation of human rights in a state and in principle, differs from other kinds of illegal intervention, for it is neither performed wilfully, nor to alter the authority structure of the target State. This should be the very basis of all forms of humanitarian intervention. There must be a moral standard to a policy of intervention, and this element of morality is highly subjective, but not without one element of objectivity. The subjective faction requires that each incident of humanitarian intervention needs to necessarily be undertaken by studying the moral and traditional values of the state seeking to intervene. The objective element lies in the expected standard and yardstick of behaviour of states under the international realm, coupled with questions of human rights and preservation of values of maintaining peace and security world over. This is particularly necessary, for military interventions by countries at first sight assume the air of a ‘humanitarian’ cause and on closer inspection, validate the oft-repeated riposte: humanitarian intervention is a misnomer. In effect, most instances have only come across as being a quest for regime change.
Secondly, the means that are permitted to be deployed to deal with humanitarian intervention is to be defined. The term seems to wrongly suggest that the intervention will take place using humanitarian means. Nothing, however, is further way from the truth. The use of high-flying aircrafts that drops bombs on military as well as non-military targets (the oft-quoted ‘collateral damage’ in the case of Kosovo), is by no means more ‘humanitarian’ than shooting a person at close range or launching a ballistic missile are. The present day instance of deploying drones and the like in Libya is hardly humanitarian. If techniques such as these are put to use, the very purpose of humanitarian intervention is totally destroyed. The common criticism against the use of military force for humanitarian reasons is that it does not do what it sets out to do. It cannot alleviate an already desperate humanitarian situation: in fact it will probably make it worse. There is no point if the process of intervention is going to add to the death toll, or if it is going to destroy the very fabric of the society it is intervening in. This should be settled by exploring various options of peaceful settlement.
Thirdly, the outcome of such intervention needs to be clear. Humanitarian intervention is built fundamentally on the precept that a state’s sovereignty can be dishonoured, if morality demands that we consider not only the good of a single polity, but of the people within, and also keeping with the need to pursue the good of the international community. This involves a simple study of what the result should be, i.e., what the outcome of the intervention itself should be. Every instance of humanitarian intervention brings two benefits with it, if it is carried out in an acceptable manner. A short-term benefit, in the form of bringing the human rights violation to an end, and a long-term benefit which would imply a commitment to rehabilitating the region and overhauling its weak condition. Neither is going to be possible if the method used is violence, and neither is going to be achievable if all that the target ultimately seeks to establish is a regime change without considering anything else.
In this respect, humanitarian intervention is more of an investment and a commitment than anything else, especially since the results cannot, and will not be achieved in a trice. It makes more sense to have a set of rules jotted down, because in the present state of a Banana Republic that prevails where humanitarian intervention is concerned, states are left to redefine the law each time they embark on a journey of humanitarian intervention. And there could be nothing more destructive than that.
The use of children as soldiers has been universally condemned as abhorrent, hortative and unacceptable. Despite such a move, a tumultuous multitude of children have fought and died in conflicts around the world. Child soldiers live under harsh conditions, are deprived of food, education and healthcare, all of which are essential for their growth and well-being. They are almost always treated brutally, subjected to beatings and humiliating treatment. Punishments for mistakes or desertion are often very severe.
Girl soldiers are subject to the risk of rape, sexual harassment and abuse, and are also involved in combat and other tasks. Instances in Northern Uganda show that young girls were impregnated by male soldiers, and were made to strap their children on their backs while they took up arms against the enemy forces. The problem of children being recruited as soldiers plagues developed nations too. Largely, the world's child soldiers are involved in a variety of armed political groups, which include government-backed paramilitary groups, militias and self-defense units operating in many areas. Besides these, armed groups opposed to central government rule, groups composed of ethnic religious and other minorities and clan-based or factional groups fighting governments and each other to defend territory and resources amass children among their forces.
These children face such ghastly consequences, that things are only a trade off between death and a life that is worse than death. What can we expect from our future? How can we put this to an end? What will stop this evil? Is a legal instrument enough?
© UNICEF/NYHQ2011-1227/Kate Holt, Somalia, 2011; On 27 July, Asad [NAME CHANGED] (left) holds a gun in a reception centre for former soldiers from the rebel Al-Shabaab group, in Mogadishu, the capital.