Piece of War, launched recently by Sage India and written by Meha Dixit, weaves together various accounts of remarkable resilience from people living in the conflict zones in India and overseas. For her research, the author visited Afghanistan, Lebanon, Sierra Leone, Bangladesh, Bangladesh-Myanmar border, India-Pakistan border, Kashmir, Maoist insurgency regions and northeastern states in India.
The author is an expert on peace and conflict studies, and wanted to analyse the process of reintegration of child soldiers in society and did this with a PhD on the subject, for which she enrolled in 2007. “My thesis was titled, Human Security and Post-conflict Reintegration of Child Soldiers: Disarmament Demobilisation Reintegration (DDR) Programmes, and for this I chose Mozambique and Sierra Leone in Africa as there were regular discussions in our society about both positive and negative aspects on the issue. I wanted to study more about the concerns,” she informs.
Dixit was interested in poems and visual arts since childhood, and wanted to take up painting as a career. Later, during her studies she discovered that people living in war-torn areas use creative expressions, and humour that invariably shifts towards dark humour, often dark, to cope up with their stressful situations. “A number of girls in Afghanistan have taken to painting. In the book, I have mentioned about meeting a young girl in Herat, a place that has long been known as a centre for art and learning in Afghanistan. If given a chance, she hopes to represent her country through the arts.
It is sad that Afghanistan with a lot of potential, given its history and culture, is neglected.” The author, who has been working on the book for almost a decade now, also quotes examples of children who are exposed to war start acknowledging it as if it’s a game. “During an interview with a former soldier in Beirut, Lebanon, I was told he was fascinated with guns as a child as he came across a lot of military trucks and soldiers with arms, and asked his father to make a toy gun for himself.” Dixit finds life in war zones is full of contradictions where people find a way to normalise violence.
“In December 2017, when I was talking to Sikhs at a gurudwara in Kabul, they told me that to find a way to live with the constant bombings in their land, they think of the bombs as firecrackers in the sky. Similarly, a professor in Lebanon was so used to hearing the sounds of shelling in her town as a child that she with her sisters used to dance on the sounds of bombs,” says the author, adding, “War and war-like situations can take a huge toll of mental health and sometimes one wouldn’t realise it.
” Talking about an impact on her own mental health, as she regularly visited the conflict zones for more than ten years now, the author says, “I am on medication. I have to regularly visit mental-health counsellors, and there are times when I get recurring images of life in the conflict zones, as narrated by people and observed by me.” According to the author’s first-hand interviews with medical staff, special children in Kashmir who are often exposed to conflict-induced violence may get severely affected due to the ongoing turmoil.
“I have been told by medical staff that these children cannot step out in such times and the overall situation negatively impacts their growth,” says Dixit who was working with Amnesty International, an NGO which centres on human rights that halted its operations in the country in September 2020. “The reporting done by Amnesty International on revoking of Article 370 is the actual situation on the ground, largely ignored by the Indian government. I can say this because I was on the ground and I felt like one of the Kashmiris going through the hardships.”