Armed Conflict, Small Arms Proliferation and Women’s Non-Violent Peace Movement in Manipur
Lecture by Binalakshmi Nepram Manipur Women Gun Survivor’s Network, Control Arms Foundation of India & Northeast India, and Women’s Initiative for Peace
Wednesday, March 2, 2016 4:30 p.m.
Science Center 101
Northeast India, home to 45 million people belonging to 272 ethnic groups, has been facing the onslaught of multiple armed conflicts for the last 60 years. This talk will unravel the Northeast Region of India, the complexities of the on-going conflicts, from the struggle over natural resources, ethnic strife, illegal migration, displacement and social exclusion, and discuss the unique and courageous way in which the Meira Paibis or the non-violent “Torch Bearer’s” Movement, led by women, has shown the path for peace and reconciliation. Binalakshmi (Bina) Nepram, born in the state of Manipur located in India’s Northeast region, is a writer and civil rights activist whose work focuses on women-led disarmament movements. She is the author of four books, a recipient of the Dalai Lama Foundation’s WISCOMP Scholar of Peace Award, 2008; the Sean MacBride Peace Prize, 2010; and the CNN IBN Real Heroes Award in 2011. In 2013, the London-based organization Action on Armed Violence named Nepram among the “100 most influential people in world working on armed violence reduction.”
A special luncheon with Bina Nepram has been organized on Thursday March 3, 2016 at 12:30 p.m. at the Lang Center for Civic and Social Responsibility. Due to limited seating, please contact Anna Everetts at aeveret1 if you would like to attend the luncheon.
Sponsored by: Asian Studies, Religion, Peace and Conflict Studies, Gender and Sexuality Studies, Sociology and Anthropology, Lang Center for Civic and Social Responsibility, the President’s Office, and DESHI.
As you walk into McCabe Library, there is a wooden bench and a photograph of the Longwood Progressive Friends Meetinghouse near Kennett Square immediately to your right. The bench is from Longwood. Longwood’s annual meeting, beginning in 1853 and ending in 1940, was a chance to discuss a broad range of reforms. Sojourner Truth attended the organizational meeting in 1853. At a later meeting, she gave a very terse testimony on her peace principles: “You can’t make life, so don’t take it.” So the bench in
foyer of McCabe may have been sat in by Sojourner Truth.
The last clerk of Longwood was Jesse Holmes, a Swarthmore College professor. Jesse Holmes gave the opening address at the 1927 annual meeting of Longwood saying, “The chief peril to civilization today is found in the arrogance and aggressiveness over the white race toward the colored races and weaker nations.”. The sale of the Longwood meetinghouse funded the Jesse Holmes Lectureship at Howard University.
Next, there is the Elizabeth Powell Bond Rose Garden. Her brother was Aaron M. Powell, the last editor of the National Anti-Slavery Standard. He began speaking out on slavery after attending an anti-slavery meeting where Sojourner Truth walked down from the podium, pointed directly to the young Aaron M. Powell, and told him he was to become an anti-slavery lecturer. You didn’t mess with Sojourner Truth.
A little further up the hill is Swarthmore Friends Meetinghouse, the site of the Swarthmore College Institute of Race Relations. The roster of lecturers at the first two meetings in 1933 and 1934, included African Americans E. Franklin Frazier, W.W. Alexander, William White, Ralph Bunch and James Weldon Johnson. White lecturers for those early meetings included Franz Boas and Melville Herskowitz.
Next time you are in McCabe Library, crossing the Rose Garden or at a Collection in the Friends Meetinghouse, imagine you are in a living history exhibit. Imagine also that you are part of that history,
This past winter break, students in the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict class taught by Dr. Sa’ed Atshan ‘06 went on a trip to Israel and Palestine for 10 days. The trip, funded by the Lang Center, the President’s Office, and an anonymous donor, was offered for an optional .5 credits. Of the 24 students in the class, 19 decided to go. Students in the class described the trip as an emotional experience that humanized the conflict after a semester of learning about the conflict from an intellectual standpoint.
Professor Atshan made a point in his class to de-exceptionalize the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Having taught at Harvard and Brown, he regularly brings classes of around 100 students on a trip to Israel and Palestine during spring break. This trip, the Swarthmore group, chaperoned by Religion Professor Yvonne Chireau, spent about half their time with a group from Boston College.
“I guess I expected to see what was there, but I think it really hit me once I actually saw everything, like the separation barrier and how it’s higher than the Berlin Wall,” said Yein Pyo ’16, a member of the class.
Students described scenes of tear gas canisters hung as decoration and entire villages reduced to rubble. One Palestinian woman who organized a weekly protest of the Israeli soldiers took the class into her home and treated them to a home-cooked meal while she showed them footage of her brother being shot in the chest with a tear gas canister and killed.
“Personal narrative was emphasized throughout the trip. We went to a theater company, a man who studied to be a pharmacist and then he started his own theater company. And it focuses on teaching Palestinian children to use an ”I” narrative instead of a “we” narrative, because a lot of times personal stories get clouded by the collective Palestinian narrative,” Killian McGinnis ‘19 said.
Emily Audet ’18 described a scene when the class visited Hebron, Palestine, in which the class was walking in an open-air market in the center of the city. Local Palestinians told them the market was usually bustling, but Israeli settlers had moved into adjacent second-floor apartments and had recently begun throwing trash such as glass and feces out their windows onto the shoppers below, leaving the market deserted.
When asked about the dynamics of teaching such a politically charged topic, Atshan remarked on the importance of creating a safe space that welcomes all points of views. He said he always gets very excited when students in his class volunteer to play devil’s advocate.
“While at Swarthmore, I was a Mellon scholar and a Lang scholar. The Mellon Scholarship is all about becoming good academics so I wear the academic hat, and the Lang scholarship is all about doing good in the world, so I care deeply about research, teaching, scholarship, but also about activism, and engagement in the world. But in my classroom, the classroom space is not about creating activists as much as it is about creating an intellectual environment.”
At the same time, students said they had to strike a balance between that intellectual space and the fact that they were learning about the lives of real people.
“[In class], it can seem very theoretical but to actually talk to the people and carry their stories and to visit the sites puts a very real and human face to the pain and suffering and injustice,” Mosea Esaias Harris ’17 said.
Many students described the trip as one that they will likely never forget, filled with intense emotions and heartfelt stories. It left them thinking about how they had been changed and how they would go about their lives once they returned to Swarthmore.
“It’s really tempting, after you have seen all this, to want to change everything and be the activist and be the voice on campus or in the world, but I was encouraged by the solidarity of my classmates, just knowing that there are little issues within the conflict that you can focus on,” McGinnis said.
Many students expressed a desire for for more trips of this type to be incorporated into humanities and social sciences classes to give them an experiential component, similar to labs in natural science courses. According to Atshan, this type of learning is called “embedded study abroad” and brings vibrancy to the kinds of experiences that humanities and social science students can usually only read or watch videos about.
“Humanization was a huge objective of the trip,” Atshan said. “We are very privileged to be able to sit in the ivory tower and turn people and their struggles and realities into objects of our analysis, and I think it is really important to restore the humanity of those subjects to see them as fellow human beings.”
I walked into my Introduction to Peace and Conflict Studies class unsure. I was unsure if I had any of the answers to the conflicts we would study, unsure of the conflicts in my own life, unsure if this class would help me or leave me to continue to spin towards answers I couldn’t name. But the most eminent question once I walked into the class was where I was going to sit—front and invoke the possibility of having to speak or back and hide from the questions.
I changed my seat three times that day. The truth, however, was that it didn’t matter where I sat. Professor Atshan would have reached me all the way in the back corner because his passion is limitless. He quickly walked in the room, a smile spreading across his face, books and laptop in hand, spouting a metaphor about how this class was an airport and once it starts it is as if the plane has taken off. Trust me, you want to be on that plane.
Professor Atshan lives a life of incessant learning. He started college in the same place as me, Swarthmore College. He then graduated from Harvard University for his Ph.D. in Anthropology and Middle Eastern Studies. Next, he taught at Brown University as a post-doctoral fellow. Now, he is back at Swarthmore teaching students like me. Within his studies, Atshan has won multiple awards and fellowships including the National Science Foundation, the Woodrow Wilson National Fellowship Foundation, Social Science Research Council, the Paul and Daisy Soros Foundation, and a Kathryn Davis Fellowship for Peace. But really beyond his awards, it is kind of inexplicable to detail the impact Professor Atshan has on students. I can’t name it, but he stirs up some notion that tells us to partake in activism for human rights of all kinds; even if we are not personally affected, we have the power to lift the voices of those who are.
So, without further ado, I present you Professor Atshan and perhaps I’m also presenting a passion that he will bring out in yourself.
What do you do, and perhaps more importantly, why do you do it?
I am a professor of Peace and Conflict Studies. I love working with young people and supporting them in thinking about how to make the world less violent and more just.
In the first day of your Introduction to Peace and Conflict Studies class, you asked students to tell the class what they are tokens for, what they are often asked to explain or represent. What are you a token for?
I often have to explain what it means to be gay, to be Palestinian, to be Quaker, and am often met with a generosity of spirit, but every now and then I have to deal with all sorts of prejudices. But I do my best to remain patient and compassionate.
Can you explain where you come from and where you are going? This can be literal or metaphorical if you’d like.
I have always been a bookworm. But I try to escape the protective shell of libraries and to be engaged in activism in the real world. I hope to help build bridges between theory and practice.
As a Peace and Conflict studies Professor, can you tell us what the word “peace” means to you?
Peace is not only about the absence of physical violence—it is also about addressing structural violence. Positive peace, in its truest sense, takes intersectionality into account—understanding how all forms of oppression are interlinked.
What is one thing you hope your students will take away from your class, whatever the class may be?
I hope that they find their unique voice. That they recognize their value and their ability to make a difference in whatever domains they are passionate about. That they are the future—and that they give us hope.
As a student at Swarthmore, you scheduled every minute of your day to maximize studying. You then went to Harvard University and then taught at Brown University. How did you find the motivation to accomplish all of this, study so much, achieve success at some of the best institutions for learning in the United States?
I feel so privileged to have had access to these institutions and resources. With this comes a responsibility to help give voice to those who are voiceless. I try to ensure that my pursuit of knowledge is as ethical as possible and that it helps enact change in the world.
What advice do you have for your students beyond college?
I think it’s tremendously important to be true to yourself. Follow your heart, follow your gut, don’t be afraid to be fabulous, treat others with compassion, and recognize your own gifts and power.