Indian Women Are Fighting Gun Violence

Binalakshmi Nepram Thinks Americans Can Do It, Too

Photo by Lawrence Kesterson

Binalakshmi Nepram was born in the Manipur state of Northeast India, which she describes as both beautiful and extraordinarily violent. The rugged region adjoining Myanmar is home to 70 population groups speaking 400 languages and dialects, and has burned with both ethnic and political separatist violence since its merger into independent India in 1949. “As I grew up in this region, I thought all the violence and wars were natural. It was only after I came to New Delhi that I realized the situation was not at all normal.”

Bina was moved to devote her life to researching the gun violence phenomenon and developing responses to counter the growth of the scourge and support its victims. She spoke recently at Swarthmore College’s Science Center about her work, her writing and the organizations which involve women in arms control in India, and which may show the way to effective responses to gun violence in America. Her visit was sponsored by the college’s Department of Religion and the Asian Studies, Peace and Conflict Studies, and Gender and Sexuality Studies programs.

In a later interview, Bina said: “My research found that 57 types of small arms … have flooded into Manipur and other parts of Northeast India in the past 30 years … from China, Pakistan, Belgium, Thailand, Russia, United States of America, United Kingdom, Czechoslovakia, Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Cambodia, Myanmar and of late, Israel. The effect of this proliferation has been alarming … 50,000 people were killed in Northeast India; 20,000 women are widowed in Manipur alone. Our work also showed that it was not just Manipur, but worldwide.People are killed each year due to rampant weaponization of our lives, communities, society, nations and the world.

“Disillusioned by [the inaction of Indian government], we mobilized civil society and in 2004, I co-founded the Control Arms Foundation of India in New Delhi (CAFI) … to address issues relating to proliferation of small arms and light weapons as they affect civil society particularly women, children and the elderly, and also to create a movement in the subcontinent where defense and security issues are debated through informed debate, particularly as they relate to policies.

“Besides this work, we also lobby Indian disarmament officials, parliamentarians and think tanks, networking with other NGOs. We have also conducted mass awareness programs such as organizing an essay contest titled, ‘What have guns done to my country?’ … We also made three films on gun control issues and organized photo exhibitions related to gun violence.

“A third area of my work takes the form of direct intervention in the lives of women gun survivors. I launched in 2007 the Manipur Women Gun Survivors Network (MWGSN), which is the first of its kind in South Asia. MWGSN attempts to lift women above the trauma and agony faced in the conflict … It assists them in small-scale entrepreneurial work and is working towards building sustainable livelihood measures for gun-affected women in Manipur. The Network helps women gun survivors to open bank accounts and provides small loans.

“When our generation started the women’s movement against gun violence, we were able to take the message out to the public and government to take action against this massive proliferation of small arms and light weapons. Our current work with 20,000 women in 300 villages is a testimony to this. We thus sincerely feel that if women of America came together with supportive men, they can help save so many lives that are cut short each day with killings. Women of Manipur have over the years voiced their protest in very dignified nonviolent ways. Some of the techniques used include patrolling streets at night with bamboo torches, sit-in protests, hunger strikes, rallies, and wearing attire of lament such as funeral clothes.

“It is extremely important to organize effective reduction of gun violence and proliferation in America — 372 mass shootings happened in the US in 2015, killing 475 people and wounding 1,870. We need to evolve strategies that America and the world, united in action, join hands to ensure this is curbed.”

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