Conflicted Democracies and Gendered Violence: The Right to Heal

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October 27, 2015 (Berkeley, California): Conflicted Democracies and Gendered Violence: The Right to Heal, a research monograph has released at the University of California, Berkeley. This pioneering publication is authored by an interdisciplinary and global collective of experts, and draws on work with women victim-survivors of conflict and mass violence in defining redress.

Gendered and sexualized violence in internal conflict and social upheaval repeatedly mark the reality of several countries that otherwise function as political democracies. Applying the novel conception of the “right to heal,” this publication focuses on the world’s most populous democracy: India.

The publication carries a statement from Navanethem Pillay, ​United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, 2008–2014, and a foreword by Veena Das, ​Krieger-Eisenhower Professor of Anthropology, ​Johns Hopkins University.​ The 432-page monograph is edited by Angana P. Chatterji, Shashi Buluswar, and Mallika Kaur of the Armed Conflict Resolution and People’s Rights Project at UC Berkeley. The contributors to the monograph are Angana P. Chatterji, Mallika Kaur, Roxanna Altholz, Paola Bacchetta, Rajvinder Singh Bains, Mihir Desai, Laurel E. Fletcher, Parvez Imroz, Jeremy J. Sarkin, and Pei Wu.

“What are the mechanisms through which violence is continuously sustained within democracies,” asks Veena Das, in her foreword. She notes, “This exemplary book helps us ask that question without the plethora of evasions that often allow democratic states to deflect that question to some other concern — national security, national honor or the necessity of pragmatism in view of the enormity of new forms of warfare.”

Since the 2012 rape incident in New Delhi, there has been heightened awareness of the persistent problem of gendered violence in India. Yet, as the monograph highlights, this attention has not been accompanied by structural changes necessary to address such violence. Further, the text focuses on the internal dimensions of areas of conflict and areas of mass social violence, where impunity for violence against women is even more severe. In these areas, gendered violence routinely, often over decades, merges with other forms of oppression — based on religion, caste, ethnicity, and other social conditions — and creates a volatile climate of distrust and discrimination for generations of women, men, and children.

The text focuses on extraordinary gendered and sexualized violence within varying political situations in India.

Navanethem Pillay notes in her statement endorsing the publication, “Providing extensive details, the document analyzes the existing infrastructure while demonstrating the alarming and repeated failure of official responses and state systems. The stories of survivor women from minority groups and legal cases highlight the horror of their experience in four acute instances, the conflicts of Jammu & Kashmir and Punjab and violence in Gujarat and Odisha. The document makes a compelling case for the development of effective national accountability mechanisms for political democracies to address conflict-based issues and grave social violence.”

The section on “Memory Fragments” allow s the reader to experience various women-survivors of violence in conversations with each other, and about their desires for the future. In a global context, adapted and localized to India, the monograph highlights the possibilities for accountability and historical dialogue through defining provisions for interim and long-term transitional and transformative justice to gendered violence within a conflicted democracy. The editors, Chatterji, Buluswar, and Kaur, explain that doing so “raises questions regarding the role of the state, civil society, and multisector institutions, and the most elemental of constituents: victim-survivors.”

More information and project details are available at the Armed Conflict and People’s Rights Project on the CSSL website:

The monograph is being released together with another report entitled, Access to Justice for Women: India’s Response to Sexual Violence in Conflict and Mass Social Unrest co-authored by the International Human Rights Law Clinic at Berkeley Law School and the Armed Conflict Resolution and People’s Rights Project.

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