Kalpana and the Jumma women’s movement today

June 16, 2012

Hana Shams Ahmed

[A shortened version of this piece was published in the Kalpana Chakma Special page on 12 June 2012, New Age]

Feminist researcher Bina D’Costa and I were recently discussing a range of obstacles faced by the Jumma[1] women’s movement as well as all indigenous women’s movement today. D’Costa observed that one of the challenges that confront women’s political activism and rights based movements is to forge meaningful alliances and re-build linkages with indigenous human rights and women’s groups that the latter could also embrace as their own. Although in recent years a lot of mainstream Bengali women’s rights activists have spoken out about violence against indigenous women, there are still some communities, like the tea plantation workers and Saotal and Khasi women, whose issues have only been very sparsely addressed. And this is reflected in a lot of the national and international reporting on women’s rights.

The other side of this is of course how the indigenous leadership, including women leaders, has persistently failed to include women’s voices in high level forums. This year, despite the increasing number of cases of violence against women and girls in the indigenous areas in Dinajpur and in the Chittagong Hill Tracts, there were no indigenous women representing at the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues (UNPFII). Also, of course the debate is much larger than the Forum itself. It is just a symptom of the crisis in the women’s movement, a crisis that plagues all nationalist or even issue-based movements. It reminds me about how some men, demonstrating for their own democratic rights at Tahrir Square during the  ‘Arab Spring’, had swooped on women journalists and sexually assaulted them, about how, questions about race and gender marginalization continue to be raised at present in America’s Occupy Wall Street movement. Read the rest of this entry »