Dialogic Explorations: Texts and Contexts

The three day international symposium from March 15-17, 2008 titled Dialogic Explorations: Texts and Contexts formed part of an attempt to alter the dominant state centered discourse on conflict and peacemaking by grounding it within a more holistic and inclusive framework of human security.

The symposium brought together some sixty scholars, practitioners from different parts of the world along with WISCOMP Scholar of Peace fellows, to reflect upon the possibilities and limits of dialogue as an integral element of democratic practice. The symposium, engaged with the spaces for dialogue in the context of ethnic political conflict and more broadly as an approach to augment practices of coexistence in multicultural societies. There was an attempt to examine why and to what extent dialogue is increasingly being replaced in the public and civic space by stridency, discord and sectarianism. With conventional practices of consensus building increasingly under strain, the limits and possibilities of dialogue as a philosophy, methodology, process, strategy, and/or tool was explored.

The symposium focused on the lessons to be learnt from successful or thwarted dialogue processes from across the world. The attempt was to squarely locate it within the possibilities of the democratic and participatory framework and explore how policy and practice can be optimally impacted by according priority and public legitimacy to dialogue processes. This was considered relevant both for conflict transformation and peacebuilding and, more importantly, conflict prevention in the South Asian region that is increasingly perceived as conflict prone.

International participants included Harold Saunders (USA), Mari Fitzduff, ( Ireland), Vasu Gounden ( South Africa), Javed Jabbar (Pakistan), Fatema Yousuf (Bangladesh), Mohammad Osman (Kenya), David Malone (Canada) and Visaka Dharmadasa (Sri Lanka). Indian participants included Aruna Roy, Ranabir Samaddar, Shrivatsa Goswami, Pratap Bhanu Mehta and several others.

Gender, HIV/AIDS and Security

The HIV/AIDS pandemic is a multi-dimensional global crisis. It was first read as a public health crisis, after which its developmental aspects began to be recognized. Its gender dimensions are now well-documented across the world. Security analysts have recently begun to map the multiple levels of the insecurity crisis caused by the spread of HIV/AIDS. Given that HIV/AIDS devastates societies over a period of time; like famine and disaster: Where in the spread and containment of the epidemic should a line be drawn to highlight that this impinges on societal, state or individual security?

Seeking to explore some of these issues, the second WISCOMP Forum was organized in February, 2008 in Chennai. It attempted to define the security crisis caused by HIV/AIDS in India, highlighting the experience of women as part of that definition. Given that structural context shapes the vulnerability of women to HIV/AIDS and that the infection in turn aggravates their situation, the forum sought an engagement with some of these factors and consequences that can be defined as a source of security or insecurity, for women and for society at large. Acknowledging that HIV reinforces existing insecurities, and attempting to ensure that ones understanding of that include the insecurities experienced by women, the forum engaged the participants in an exploration and delineation of the gender dimension of the security challenge that is posed by the HIV/AIDS epidemic.

The discussion at the Forum was around two pivots:

  • The nature of the latent human security problem in the gender-HIV/AIDS interface in India;
  • The ways in which violence, conflict and security makes worse the HIV/AIDS epidemic, increasing the vulnerability of women and girls.

Structured conversations, the WISCOMP Forum Series hallmark, were scheduled across five related areas of the problematic:

  • The development, security and HIV/AIDS interface
  • HIV/AIDS and food and livelihood security
  • The HIV/AIDS Public Health Crisis, gender and security
  • Violence against women
  • Conflict, HIV/AIDS and gender

Women and Armed Conflict in Nepal

A post review discussion on studies focusing on Nepal was organized on April 30, 2006.

At the roundtable members of the core research team, Mandira Sharma, Anil Pant, Bela Malik and Purna Basnet shared the findings of their study focusing on the gender dimension of the armed conflict in Nepal.

The study on Women and Armed Conflict in Nepal: Issues and Perspectives raises a number of issues that are of interest from a human rights perspective. The monograph is essentially a study of the armed conflict in Nepal capturing the everyday insecurities that women face both as victims and as agents within and outside the Maoist movement. While at one level the study points out that the Maobadi movement had at least prima facie empowered women to challenge the status quo based on class and gender hierarchies, at another level it also interrogates whether patriarchy resurfaces within the liberation struggle in significantly different forms.

Non-Traditional Security Discourse: Gender in South Asia

A regional conference on the theme Non-Traditional Security Discourse: Gender and South Asia was organized by WISCOMP. Bringing together scholars, researchers and practitioners from a wide range of disciplines including International Relations, Political Science, Sociology, History and Gender Studies, the conference provided a context to interrogate the existing security discourse, particularly the apparent binaries of the “traditional” and “non-traditional” formulations on security, and to look at the possibilities for evolving a shared vocabulary through which the so called “non-traditional” security issues in South Asia could be cognized and located.

The non-traditional variables of security are now recognized as impacting both inter- and intra-state security beyond what the cold war discourse cognized or envisaged. The globalized environment of the post-cold war period has thrown up new challenges, threats, new actors and indeed new concerns that decisively change the contours of ‘security’. The outlines of the non-traditional security discourse still seem to be emerging and there appears to be little consensus and considerable ambiguity on what constitutes its domain.

In this context, the conference sought to visualize the possible directions, which the currently fledgling discourse might take, examine some of the critical tensions within it, and dialogue on how the discourse can become inclusive and relevant while at the same time remain focused, cogent, and coherent.

Informed by WISCOMP’s ongoing efforts to encourage multi-disciplinary dialogue on the question of how gender and non-traditional security concerns intersect in a South Asian setting, the conference provided points of entry for gender perspectives to be reflected in peace initiatives and processes of post-conflict reconstruction in South Asia. The leitmotif of gender wove together the diverse presentations on non-traditional security. The different kinds of research questions that emerge when non-traditional security issues are looked at through the gender lens, and the major challenges that the theorist and practitioner confront in their efforts to foreground gender in the security discourse were discussed at length.

An important focus of dialogue was the mapping of intersections between traditional and non-traditional security concerns, particularly how the two can be harmonized and a correlation established between the individual and the state. Such a focus is currently missing from the security studies agenda in South Asia where traditional and non-traditional security concerns are boxed into separate compartments in spite of the opportunities that exist to synergize the two.

The gendered dimensions of transnational flows, terrorism, small arms, drugs and human trafficking raise important questions that significantly inform any discussion on non-traditional formulations of security. The WISCOMP regional conference took cognizance of the manner in which terrorism; small arms, drug and human trafficking have entered the security lexicon as variables that straddle both the domains of what is regarded as traditional and non-traditional security concerns. The ways in which terrorism has reconfigured the traditional notions of conflict and war is particularly crucial in this context. An attempt was made to trace the different strands in the international discourse on terrorism, to evolve a South Asian perspective on terrorism, and to explore how gender mediates the debate particularly after September 11.

Analyses on non-traditional security concerns are also increasingly taking stock of issues of life, livelihood and freedom from want and “new” sectors of security are being redefined in a manner that cognizes non-military variables of security. Crucial in this context are questions that look at the “feminization of poverty”, the impact of globalization on the use of natural resources and on women’s access to the commons, and how international agreements under the World Trade Organization impact upon the arenas of women’s economic participation. In this context, the conference specifically addressed questions of food security, land rights and water security in South Asia.

The regional conference brought to the fore a wide range of questions and opinions on the relevant disciplines within which an emerging field of Post-Cold War Security Studies could locate itself, its association with International Relations, the linkages between the development discourse, the rights discourse, and the security discourse, and the implication of factoring in gender into the discourse on security.

Migration and Circles of Insecurity

A roundtable discussion on Migration and Circles of Insecurity was organized on August 26, 2005. This was the first in the series of post review stage of the various studies undertaken as part of the Non Traditional Security project formulation. The purpose of this particular stage was to flag a new series of discussion and come out with policy recommendations.

The study Migration and Circles of Security by Ranabir Samaddar and Paula Banerjee looks at the taxonomy of security and insecurity with a constant reflection on trafficked women, resource politics and enclave economy in connection to the population flow within Northeast from the adjoining regions of Burma, Nepal and Bangladesh. It also offers new models of analysis to understand how the larger issues of security and insecurity are introduced with respect to migration or population flows.