'Conflict survivors need proper social, judicial redressal'

New Delhi : Lakhbir Kaur was just 16 years old when her father and other male members of the family were killed during the 1984 anti-Sikh riots. Now a mother of three, she laments why there was no mechanism for help or to seek justice and rehabilitation.

“She was in a Muslim neighbour’s house with her mother when she received news that her father, a retired army man, had been killed. Soon after, news came that all her aunts (mother’s sisters) had been widowed,” said writer Nirupama Dutt, narrating Kaur’s story with her by her side.

The two spoke at a session of a two-day seminar ‘Women in conflict zones: survivors and peacemakers’, jointly organised by Women’s Feature Service and the International Committee of the Red Cross, that ended Wednesday.

Looking back, Kaur says she doesn’t want to avenge the killings but wishes she had been offered more help.

“I feel upset and even angry sometimes but not vindictive. Neighbours, even from Hindu houses, were helpful. But we still had to flee to Mohali (in Punjab) and seek refuge in a gurdwara.”

Kaur and Dutt, along with journalists who have covered conflict and violence, as well as human rights activists and rehabilitation workers attended the seminar to dwell on what needed to be done to ease the plight of victims.

Geeta Seshu, a scribe who covered the 1993 communal riots in Mumbai as well as the train bombings in 2007, said: “Media coverage of such events from the victims’ perspective is not enough. The media is, of course, an expert at anniversary coverage. Such reminders are, however, not enough. There is no sustained effort in covering what the victims’ plight is after they have been affected by the violence to the time they are rehabilitated.”

Orissa-based journalist Manipadma Jena, who has done a series on Maoist insurgency and the plight of tribal women and girls there, added: “In such circumstances of conflict so much is compromised. Innocent people are trapped in war. Education is a casualty. So much so that parents are forced to send their children as recruits to become human shields for top Maoist leaders. The government there admits that rehabilitation is not a priority.”

Chairing a session, Planning Commission member Syeda Hamid observed that victims’ testimonies needed to be carefully considered when thinking about how to protect women and children in conflicts.

Former Union minister Mani Shankar Aiyar suggested that work should be done to institute a ‘National Authority for Conflict Disaster’ that could work towardS rehabilitation of victims on the lines of the National Disaster Management Authority.

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