By: Binalakshmi Nepram
It is not everyday that one meets a Nobel Laureate. Imagine having to not just meet but work with not one but three, and that too for three consecutive days.
It was an opportunity of a lifetime and a blessing to have met three outstanding women who have won the Nobel Peace Prize. Shirin Ibadi from Iran who won 2003 Nobel Peace Prize, Jody Williams from USA who won 1997 Nobel Peace Prize and Mairead Corrigan Maguire, from Northern Ireland who won the same in 1976.
These three outstanding women were joined by 120 equally remarkable women from 33 countries in a beautiful place called Montebello, Canada for a period of three days, a place in Quebec where G 7 leaders such as George Bush and others besides NATO used to meet. They were women activists, academics, security experts, corporate leaders, and Nobel Peace Laureates who all came together to forge a new security, and a future free of sexual violence in conflict at an international conference convened by Nobel Women’s Initiative, 23 to 25 May 2011 titled, ” Women Forging a New Security: Ending Sexual Violence in Conflict”.
I was given 10 minutes to speak on Manipur at this memorable forum. I was told, I will not be given a second more. Realising the responsibility of having been given this forum, I meditated in front of the majestic Ottawa River for a full 45 minuted before I spoke. And when I got on the dais to speak on 23 May 2011, I carried the voice of hundreds of thousands of women from Manipur and other conflict areas of India who could not be there in Montebello. I spoke exactly for 10 minutes at the end of which a thunderous round of applause happened followed by a standing ovation, the impact of which could be felt in twitter world. It was then I knew I told the story of hardship of my forgotten people from my heart, in honesty and sincerity to the world who does not even know that we exist. Hundreds of women came forth and gave their support for Manipur. It was a powerful yet a touching moment.
And later under the skillful guidance of 2003 Nobel Laureate Shirin Ibadi, we drafted the Montebello Declaration calling upon Government of India, Manipur, other Northeast states and non-state armed groups to come together for peaceful resolution of ongoing conflict and to end all forms of violence against women.
Commemorating Global Week of Action Against Gun Violence
I came back from Montebello to India’s summer heat, best experienced in its capital, New Delhi. Immediately upon my return, our team started preparing for the Global Week of Action Against Gun Violence that was observed from 13 to 19th June 2011. A week where we remember the loss of lives in the continuing gun violence in our part of the world. We knew the importance of this week especially as 12 Indians are shot dead every day due to gun violence, which means 5000 Indians are killed each year due to gun violence. Back home in Manipur, 3 to 4 people are shot dead at an average every single day, making Manipur a land of conflict tombs and wailing families, a phenomena we confront everyday due to the very nature of our work. Way back in 2001, United Nations had declared that 500,000 people are killed each year around the world due to small arms and called upon countries to address the problem but even after 10 years of UN action, lives continue to be lost either in Manipur or in Guatemala. To let governments and people remember the need to work to stem this problem, we at Control Arms Foundation of India and Manipur Women Gun Survivors Network organized five events all over India namely in Nagaland, Manipur, Kerala, Jammu & Kashmir and in New Delhi. Students in Nagaland University wrote essays lamenting the emergence of gun violence in Nagaland, landmine survivors in Kashmir took out a rally, a panel discussion was held in New Delhi and hundreds of women gun violence survivors met in Imphal, Manipur during this week.
Historic Imphal Declaration on Ending Armed Violence and Providing Victim Assistance
On 16th June 2011, as a part of the Global Week of Action Against Gun Violence, I reached Imphal, Manipur’s capital in preparation of a community conference that saw a historic gathering of hundreds of women survivors of gun violence in Manipur along with noted women leaders, rights activists, media and reputed lawyers of Manipur. Like any other meeting, the crowd gathered, speakers started their presentations which threw light on the problems of Manipur and the struggle that women and children are having after five decades of conflict. What made the meeting unique and historic was the way in which broke the “official protocol” of meetings – not set, somber presentations with “power points” but the loud heart wrenching cries of several widows who were gathered there who did not make presentation but their presence and their subdued cries that filled the room were powerful enough for us to let us know the urgency of responding to a humanitarian crisis that is looming over Manipur. After a day of deliberation, we adopted the historic Imphal Declaration on 17th June 2011. The Imphal Declaration called upon all parties of the armed conflict to recognize the humanitarian crisis that has besieged Manipur in terms of massive loss of lives; to all parties of the conflict to come together for a peaceful resolution of the Manipur conflict before further lives are lost; to recognize the important and leadership role that women in Manipur are taking on making humanitarian disarmament meaningful and called upon implementing United Nations Security Council Resolution 1325 on Women, Peace and Security and the inclusion of victim assistance as a soul to the work of the United Nations arms treaty that is currently been negotiated at the United Nations in New York.
This was in our own humble way one of the little journeys we undertook to bring Manipur to the world and the world to Manipur.