Talking about women and peace in Kalinga

March 24, 2011

At the foot of Asoka’s edict marking his renunciation of war, scholars and activists met to discuss women, war and peace in the Indian context.



Less than ten kilometres from Bhubaneswar is Dhaulagiri, site of an Asokan edict associated with his renunciation of war. The legend is that Asoka was the archetypal ambitious, ruthless and even fratricidal prince whose brutal wars savaged their victims. The war with Kalinga was no exception. Asoka, moved to remorse at the sight of the destruction he had wrought, is said to have foresworn violence. The Dhauli, Jaugada and Tosali edicts speak of this in moving words:

“All men are my children, and just as I desire for my children that they should obtain welfare and happiness both in this world and the next, the same do I desire for all men.” (1st Separate Rock Edict at Dhauli and Jaugada)

“If the unconquered peoples on my borders ask what is my will, they should be made to understand that this is my will with regard to them—the king desires that they should have no trouble on his account, should trust in him, and should have in their dealings with him only happiness and no sorrow. They should understand that the king will forgive them as far as they can be forgiven, and that through him they should follow Dhamma and gain this world and the next.
For this purpose I instruct you, that having done so I may discharge my debt to them, by making known to you my will, my resolve and my firm promise. By these actions, my work will advance, and they will be reassured and will realize that the king is like a father, and that he feels for them as for himself, for they are like his own children to him. My couriers and special officers will be in contact with you, instructing you and making known to you my will, my resolve, and my firm promise. For you are able to give the frontier people confidence, welfare, and happiness in this world and the next. Doing this you will reach heaven and help me discharge my debt to my people.
This inscription has been engraved here for this purpose – that the Officers shall at all times attend to the conciliation of the people of the frontiers and to promoting Dhamma among them.” (2nd Separate Rock Edict at Tosali)


In Bhubaneswar, earlier this month, under the aegis of Sansristi, a small group of activists, writers and scholars met to discuss UN Security Council Resolution 1325 and its relevance in the Indian context.

A word about UNSCR 1325: This resolution’s most well-known provision mandates greater participation of women in all parts of the peace process. But 1325 may be read also as a rubric for a series of UN Security Council Resolutions passed in the decade that has followed: 1820, 1888 and 1889. Between them, these resolutions affirm the following:
1. Women and girls experience conflict in some unique ways and this needs to be factored into peacemaking.
2. More women need to be part of conflict resolution, peacekeeping and peacebuilding processes and provision must be made for their continued participation in post-conflict dispensations.
3. Rape and sexual violence in conflict situations is a crime against humanity.
4. Impunity for rape and sexual violence must end and these crimes must be exempt from amnesty provisions.
5. There is a connection between making rape and sexual violence punishable in conflict contexts and the existing local provisions and attitudes towards them; therefore, efforts must also be made to reform and strengthen local laws and their enforcement where gender violence is concerned.
6. There needs to be cooperation and consultation between UN agencies and operations, Member States and civil society on these matters.

One objective of the conference was to assess how 1325 applies to the Indian context and how it can be used to promote peace. The two-day discussion highlighted three concerns.

The first and fundamental one was the question of drawing lines around ‘conflict.’ What is a conflict area and what is not? What sorts of conflicts fall under the 1325 ambit? The policy-maker’s response is likely to draw a narrowly defined circle. The activist’s instinct is to include the gamut of conflicts and struggles in society. The scholar’s is to recognize the challenges inherent in both views. Participants also saw the existence of the 1325 resolutions as an opening to push the Indian government to recognize the existence of conflict situations that it has been inclined to minimize.

The second concern relates to increasing the participation of women in the security sector. The discussion was predicated on the existence of a natural connection between the women’s movement and peace movement; nevertheless the idea of including token women who may not make a substantive contribution to the peace process was raised. Why don’t we know more about those who can contribute constructively to peace-building? They are out there, but media, scholars and government seem oblivious. The conference participants did not debate military participation; this has not been as much of an issue in India as it is in the U.S.

The third concern related to gender violence in conflict contexts. Many of the participants described the incidence of rape and sexual violence and other human rights violations affecting women. But this is another way in which it becomes hard to draw the line between “conflict” and “peace.” For women and girls who live with the threat of violence everyday in their homes, schools, workplaces and streets, there is not much difference between the two situations.

The conference discussions wove around these three intertwined concerns, identifying India’s current membership of the Security Council and its quest for a permanent seat as an unusual opportunity for advocacy.

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