Women victims in NE conflict zones suffering form PTSD

Assam women
Women victims of violence in conflict-ridden Assam and Nagaland often suffer from acute Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, but there is no matching response and mechanism to tackle the problem in both the states.

Though violence was almost a part of life in the two states till a few years ago, facilities like trauma centres or counselling centres to deal with such cases are few.

Whatever facilities exist, they are not properly equipped to handle the complexity and scale of the disorder, according to a study on the impact of conflict on women in Assam and Nagaland.

The study "Bearing Witness-a report on the impact of Conflict on Women in Nagaland and Assam" has been conducted by the Centre for North East Studies and Policy Research (C-nes) with support from Germany's Heinrich Boll Stiftung.

"Women find themselves at the receiving end of violence from three fronts -- the state, militants and a corresponding escalation of domestic violence," C-nes managing trustee and project director of the study Sanjoy Hazarika pointed out.

The major objectives of the study were to understand the nature and type of conflict situations women faced, to ascertain the impact of conflict on women in its various dimensions, to examine how women have been able to cope with the situation, assess women's hopes and aspirations and to offer necessary suggestions and recommendations.

"The most obvious impact is physical or sexual violence though the psychological scarring as a result of prolonged exposure to brutality has an even deeper impact on their well-being," Hazarika said.

The study finds that the loss that women face in these situations is not just emotional or physical but also involves economic and social spheres as well, according to Hazarika.

Most women face a decline in social legitimacy and find themselves relegated to the fringes of society with no one to care for them or to speak on their behalf.

Since they form the bulk of the unemployed and the uneducated, they find themselves unable and ill-equipped to take on the burden of the household and as a result become completely poverty stricken, the study points out.

Other impact of the conflict in these states include loss of livelihood and food security as a result of damage to fields and farmlands, roads and bridges, hospitals, shelters and schools.

Continued violence, particularly in the rural areas, has resulted in the large-scale migration of young women and men to urban centres and without any effective support system.

They are extremely vulnerable to exploitation, more violence and trafficking.

The incidence of HIV/AIDs, drug, alcohol and substance abuse has increased substantially in these states and the increased vulnerability of women to HIV/AIDs is an area of growing concern for social and health activists.

The presence of armed forces in large numbers also increases the demand for sex workers as young women are sucked into this.

Human and drug trafficking have proliferated with women and children being sent to other parts of the country and this is primarily due to loss of other economic options and increased poverty.

The state of women's health is another area of neglect and apathy in areas of conflict.

There is absence of infrastructure, adequate facilities and health personnel, as most of the much-hyped health schemes remained just on paper with few being able to access it.

Most of the women, interviewed for the study, were illiterate and did not know the mechanisms of the state and whom to approach for help, whom to lodge complaints with and had no idea of the state's role as a protector of their interests.

The study also revealed that the women felt that what helped them to cope with violence in their lives was the knowledge that they were not alone but their suffering and trauma was part of a larger community or tribe.

The study recommended that villages must be provided with adequate counselling facilities for women victims of conflict and specialised mental health facilities to identify and tackle cases of PTSD.

Adequate platforms must be created for strengthening inter-community dialogue with a clear focus towards a larger and proactive participation of women in dialogue for peace.

Compensation packages must be delivered on time as in many cases it is too little and too late and it was also suggested that women committees must be formed in conflict affected villages to check any sort of physical or structured violence against women and human trafficking issues.

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