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Women & Combat…

by on July 11, 2013

I struggle to find a way to frame this post as one cohesive rumination around the theme of ‘women & combat’. Therefore, I include fragmented ideas whose episodic nature will, I hope, gesture toward the possible implication of these ruminations.

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 When talking about using gestures of art with those who wield gestures of violence, it is significant to highlight the ‘gendered’ nature of the discussion. Most individuals in combat are considered as being young men/boys, and especially in a context like India – where I come from and work in – the active female combatant and the role of the arts vis-à-vis her use of violent gestures, necessitates a different kind of reflection.

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When we speak of ‘Indian women and combat’, if one does a simple google search with those terms, what dominate are stories about women as ‘victims’ of conflict. As mothers, as wives, as sisters, Indian women are seen — and I shall focus here on India, since that is the context I know best– as being the sufferers|activists of|against violence. Little serious consideration is given to women who use violence as their means; women who do not fit the nurturing-maternal-peace loving mould that India’s paternalistic cultures set up as being pre-dominant.  Do these militant/solider women become the ‘other’ within the ‘other’ – to quote Swati Parashar – or do they actually provide a ground from which traditional gender roles might be challenged and re-defined? For an interesting account of Kashmiri women and their roles in the militancy, Parshar’s Gender, Jihad, and Jingoism is worth a read.

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When I think of women in India who have been given/have taken prominence for their role as combatants, there are three who come to mind – the Rani of Jhansi,  Kiran Bedi, and Phoolan Devi (a.k.a. the Bandit Queen). The first is a historical figure who is known for her courage under fire during the Indian Freedom Struggles from British Colonialism, the second for being the first woman Indian Police Officer, and the third for being the most famous/notorious female bandit in Indian histories. Considering these three women and the ways in which their narratives have then been depicted in/ manipulated by popular culture, one must wonder about the ways in which their gender and their performances of this gender are ‘gestures’ that might be analysed and studied as being gestures of activism — activism within the context of a larger/different struggle.

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 When we want to access these narratives then, when artists want to work with women combatants, where does the work begin? Does it begin from a position of ‘voicing the silent story’ – which would lead to a possible re-casting of these women as ‘victims’? Does it begin from highlighting the position that a female presence in combat is a way to subvert patriarchy– and risk the simplistic understanding of ‘equality’ being the assumption by women of roles traditionally held by men? And if it begins from neither of these starting points, but simply as a gesture of interest/ curiosity, what are pedagogical/artistic/ theoretical ideas that would assist and nuance the work?

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 (As a continuation of ideas in Theatre of/for/with/about Separatists and Soldiers & Art…)

From → Violence

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