Of Impunity and sexual violence

Is Nagaland the safest place for woman?   By Moa Jamir   Last year, Nagaland was declared as the ‘safest’ State for women in the country. According to National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) data, cases of crimes against women registered in the State were 67 for both 2013 and 2014. Indeed a glowing achievement which many attributed to apparent elevated and equal status women enjoy in the Naga society.   Basking on the glorious achievement, the State’s Inspector General (Crime) is quoted in media as saying, “The civil society organisations are very strong and they firmly deal with any incident of crime against women. Also, the Nagas at large don’t approve crime against women.”  

Nonetheless, beneath these layers is an apparent disquiet and knowing acceptance within large section of the people that the figures do not necessarily reflect the ground reality as most incidents of crimes against women go unreported, at least unofficially.   It is in this context, the release of political anthropologist, Dolly Kikon’s Monograph entitled “Life & Dignity: Women’s Testimonies of Sexual Violence in Dimapur” interrogating the existence of sexual violence in Naga society needs utmost consideration.   Kikon attributed the impunity- exemption or freedom from punishment, harm, or loss – equally to decades of militarisation that Nagaland and predominantly patriarchal environment in Naga society which act complementary to each other. It is by and large acknowledged that impunity of law-enforcement personnel guilty of sexual offences against women under Armed Forces (Special Powers) Acts (AFSPA), is most pronounced in the Northeast and with decades of militarisation, some of its elements have seeped into the patriarchal environment.   Patriarchy is a social system whereby men are given the power, authority, and legitimacy to make decisions and all other forms of asserting claims in society, Kikon had argued in earlier writings noting that Naga men and women, like any other society, reproduce sexist stereotypes often characterised with justification like, boys will be boys or ‘hot headed male’ or women do not talk about such things and so on. Thus, a clear demarcation is drawn, often justifying advertently or otherwise, the ‘deed’ of violence inflicted on woman.   Existence of impunity is perpetuated in Naga society by three reasons according to Kikon. Firstly, survivors of sexual violence are often dispossessed, abandoned by their family, and excommunicated by the larger collective as well, while the perpetrators get away. Secondly, cases of sexual violence are often suppressed and considered as “dark secrets,” and erased from the larger public memory under social and political pressure. Finally, impunity has been inbuilt into crime like rape because the focus is shifted towards interrogating and judging the morality of the victim rather than addressing the gravity of the offense.   It is also equally important for the society to understand what constitutes an act of sexual violence- the definition of sexual violence varies and several parameters are employed to describe the same.  The World Health Organisation (WHO) defines it as “Any sexual act, attempt to obtain a sexual act, unwanted sexual comments or advances, or acts to traffic, or otherwise directed, against a person’s sexuality using coercion, by any person regardless of their relationship to the victim, in any setting, including but not limited to home and work.”   Factors leading to its perpetration include a belief in family honour and sexual purity; ideologies of male sexual entitlement; and weak legal sanctions for sexual violence, WHO maintained more or less affirming Kikon’s argument.   Therefore, a sense of urgency is needed to address the issue of rising sexual violence against women and children in Nagaland, often ‘confined and contained’ beneath layers of varied societal justification. The first step towards addressing the issue lies in doing away with our illusive notion of a golden traditional era in the past devoid of infirmities that inflict human beings.   Sexual violence is neither an imported phenomena nor a periodical aberration but a grim societal reality today. Acknowledging its presence in the society and identifying it as a social problem will go a long way in starting a discourse and adopting corrective measures to check the menace.  

For any comment, drop a line to moajamir@live.com

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