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‘Military conflicts have increasingly penetrated civilian space in the post World War period’: Author of new book on the experience of war

As the author explains, war can be an extremely thrilling experience for some, while an excruciating one for many others.

Written by Adrija Roychowdhury | New Delhi |
Updated: January 22, 2021 4:47:50 pm
pieces of war, meha dixit, war history, world war, cold war, wars, books news, new books, Indian Express

In the introductory chapter of her book, ‘Piece of war: Narratives of resilience and hope’, author Meha Dixit narrates a conversation she had with Shapoor Khalili, a translator to the US troops in Kabul in January 2018. “I tremendously enjoy being on the frontline. Before being shifted to Kabul, I was working in some of the worst conflict-affected provinces in Afghanistan. I preferred being on the frontline in those provinces than being in Kabul which is relatively peaceful,” Khalili had told Dixit. As the author explains, war can be an extremely thrilling experience for some, while an excruciating one for many others.

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An expert on peace and conflict studies, Dixit spent over a decade visiting war torn areas of Sierra Leone, Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Lebanon, India-Pakistan border and Kashmir to put together the recently-published book by SAGE that carries the voices of the people most affected by warfare. In an interview with Indianexpress.com, Dixit spoke about the way the experience of war has changed in the post World War period, how children and women carry the strongest impact of war, and how the experience of war is carried through generations even by those who have not seen or felt it first hand.

Excerpts from the interview:

How has the experience of war evolved historically?

When you look at wars in the 18th and 19th centuries, mostly they would be confined to the battlefield. But after the World War period and more so after the Cold War period, the conflicts are different in the sense that they are more prolonged and intractable. Violence and attacks penetrated into the civilian spaces. It is not as if civilians were not affected by wars earlier. But the kind of wars and conflicts we see today have increasingly penetrated civilian spaces more than ever, and particularly women and children are being affected.

Earlier the wars were between states and their armies. In the post-Cold War period, you have a lot of armed groups working from remote rural areas as well as guerilla warfare. Basically in that case you need the support of the people.

So, on the one hand the actors participating in warfare have changed and on the other hand, the nature of the targets too have altered. In Afghanistan, for instance, the Taliban and the Islamic State have attacked NGO offices, hospitals and schools.

What are some of the most stark instances you came across wherein children have been affected by war?

In Sierra Leone, I came across many children who participated in war. There were those who were abducted, and then there were others who voluntarily picked up arms. There were children as young as 12 or 13 who were really ‘excited’ to join the war. War actually carries a thrill for them because of the idea of wearing a uniform, carrying a gun, having a sense of power. The most common weapon used here is the machete which is not very heavy so a lot of young boys had those. Then many would participate in burning villages. There were also young girls who were as young as five or six abducted and used as sex slaves as well as combatants.

In Afghanistan, children have been used primarily as suicide bombers. A number of them might have been abducted. But in many cases, the child might also be influenced by the ideology.

Is there a difference between the way men and women experience a conflict zone?

In most conflict zones we find that orthodox gender roles are reinforced. In Afghanistan for instance, when the Taliban regime came to power, the experience of women was very different. Women were supposed to be in veil. They were flogged if they were seen outside.

Then there is the experience of those women who participated in war. For instance, in Eritrea when women joined the army, they felt liberated because the traditional gender roles were shed away. But when that happened, women could not reach the same level as a man could in an armed group. So even there they would be met with discrimination.

In the case of women, sexual exploitation is a much bigger problem than that of men. We see in Bosnia or among the Rohingyas, where sexual abuse is a deliberate strategy of warfare.
At a time when the law and order situation has collapsed and there is no accountability, women would definitely be more affected.

Is there a generational impact of the experience of war?

In this case an example of Lebanon might be relevant which experienced 30 years of war, but is now no longer in war. When the stories of war are passed down through generations, one carries them, even if they have not actually experienced the war. A lot of people have told me that there is always an insecurity and that they perpetually feel that war is at their doorstep. They are forever in the look out for an exit strategy.

In other instances, say like in Kashmir, Palestine or Afghanistan, the conflict is prolonged. So one hears stories of violence from their parents or grandparents, and then they live through similar experiences. So in a way the impact gets compounded.

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