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Why Women Must Reject Nuclearisation
A bomb does not discriminate, nuclearization does.

A nuclear bomb when dropped on any population does not distinguish between Hindus or Muslims, poor or rich, civilian or military, child or adult, men or women. However, nuclearisation - developing, manufacturing and maintaining nuclear weapons - affects specific social groups in particular ways.

India's decision to become a nuclear weapon state has a profoundly negative impact on women's lives. On the one hand, women being already disadvantaged within existing social and familial structures, will bear a larger part of the social cost of nuclearisation. This means:

- a decrease in access to resources, education, employment, services
- a reduction in both physical and social mobility
- and an increase in violence, fear and sexual oppression.

On the other hand, valorisation of the ideologies which underwrite nuclearisation is a valorisation of ideologies that justify and maintain the existing status of women in society.

- The economic sanctions against India have given the government an opportunity to proceed with a detrimental economic liberalization in the name of `survival'.

- The secrecy, disinformation and lack of public accountability that accompany nuclearization are a recipe for anti-democratic and authoritarian regimes. They exclude the majority of citizens, and of course women, from any policy and decision-making.

- Nuclearisation produces social consent for increasing levels of violence. It legitimizes male aggression, and breeds the idea that nuclear explosions give a `virility' to the nation which men as individuals can somehow also share.

- In the present political situation, the masculinist rhetoric of nuclearisation has been combined with a false patriotism and Hindutva ideologies. This effects all women in so far as it gives new militaristic meanings to national identity, and demands `othering' and animosity towards our neighbours.

- And it effects women from the minorities even more since they become the implicit or explicit targets of this chauvinism.

Social Costs and Distribution of Resources

The social costs of nuclear weaponisation in a country where the basic needs of shelter, food and water, electricity, health and education have not been met are obvious. What should also be obvious is that the major brunt of this burden will have to be borne by the most vulnerable sections of society among which are the lower classes and women.

The high costs of keeping up with the nuclear arms race together with the threatened sanctions by the powerful nations will exacerbate an already grim economic situation. While the inevitable cutbacks in social security and welfare will hurt and damage all poor people, the proportion of the poor who are steadfastly denied a fair share of even the scarce resources, will undoubtedly become larger.

The state of female health, nutrition and literacy is abysmally low, lower even than that of poor deprived men. Moreover, since patriarchal family norms place the task of looking after the daily needs of the family mainly upon women, scarcity of resources always hits women the hardest. Less food for the family inevitably means an even smaller share for women and female children just as water shortages mean an increase in women's labour who have to spend more time and energy in fetching water from distant places at odd hours of the day.

Crimes against women, including domestic violence, are often linked to deprivation, economic pressures and unemployment. For instance, female infanticide often occurs in very deprived households. And if a selection is made about which hungry mouths to feed, social and cultural values ensure that the girl is found more dispensable. These trends will now intensify; and the prospects of reversing them will weaken.

Despite the BJP leadership's claims to the contrary we can expect a steep cutback in several sectors rendered `insignificant' in the face of their macho assertion of national pride and self-esteem. We really need to question these false notions of national pride -- does it rest on the proving the capacity to destroy the planet or on providing basic life-sustaining amenities to its citizens?

In the field of education, though the recent budget boasts an increased outlay together with the claim that the government will aim to provide free and compulsory education for girls upto college level, the real picture is sharply different. New policies and cutbacks will hit girls and poorer students hardest, at the level of both primary and higher education. For instance, the UGC which finances the universities has been progressively cutting back maintenance and other grants to institutions. In a recent move it has even directed colleges and universities to raise their own resources to meet 20% of the additional costs of increase in staff salaries and has unilaterally cut back its grants accordingly. As a result most colleges of Delhi University have decided to raise students' fees by Rs. 3000-4000 annually. So much for the government's commitment to education, specially women's education!

Similarly the areas of health and welfare are bound to suffer. Safe contraception has still not become a major priority of scientific research and public spending. Instead the present government has chosen to exploit the frequently-expressed middle class fear about the pressure on resources created by increasing population, in which there is often a subconscious balancing of the dread of a population explosion with the means of annihilating ever-larger numbers of people.

Since women carry most of the burden of care of the sick, family health etc, the health hazards that are directly caused by nuclearisation will also affect them more severely both in terms of increased labour and in terms of social attitudes which tend to blame women for genetic malformations.

Lack of information is also a health-related issue. In keeping with India's goal, till now, of promoting universal disarmanent, education about the consequences of nuclear experiments, explosions, and manufacture of nuclear missiles on civilian populations, public health and the environment should in fact be a priority expenditure. Instead it is shrouded in secrecy. The department of Atomic Energy in India has not made public any report on the health effects of radiation in its atomic plants. Though there have been several accidents at nuclear installations affecting the health of workers and the people in the areas, no data had been disclosed. And the Atomic Energy Act (1962) ensures its non-availability to the public as all information related to nuclear technology is classified data. There have been reports from Pokhran that, since the nuclear test in 1974, there has been an abnormal ratio of cases of polio, mental retardation and Down's syndrome. The government has not bothered to investigate these. Instead it has glibly announced that the present Pokhran tests are `safe'.

In fact there are 32 million radiation victims all over the world -- workers in nuclear plants, the peoples of Hiroshima and Nagasaki where bombs have been dropped, people in the Pacific islands where several tests have been conducted, the uranium miners, as well as the victims of nuclear weapons testing, waste dumping and the accidents that have happened all over the world.

Nuclearisation, then, will involve decisions about the disposal of very large sums of money and resources that could have had innumerable constructive uses in our poor, under-educated country. One might say that, in any case, there was very little spending on social welfare even before 11 May 1998. However, the possibility was far more real; all governments were accountable for ignoring such vital priorities. Now, with increasing tension on all sides, it will far easier for this government to side step the issues altogether and to constantly cite the need for national security to undermine any demand for social welfare.

Conventional Weapons and Nuclear Weapons

The option of nuclear weaponisation means embarking on a self-destructive and never-ending race for more and more lethal and costly weapons. The argument that it is cheaper to make a bomb than invest in conventional weapons is not convincing. Nuclearisation will not eliminate the necessity for conventional weapons. On the contrary, by provoking neighbouring countries severely, it has made the prospect of conventional warfare far more imminent, and has stepped up military investment altogether. So, investment in non-nuclear weapons will increase, and on top of that the cost of the arms race will have to be met. All this will come out of the strained resources of a country where nearly half the people live below the poverty line. If militarism distorts the economy and polity so that no goals of social justice can be met, nuclearisation distorts it even more.

In sum, we will have to carry the double burden of conventional militarisation and nuclearisation. And this burden is both material and ideological. Nuclearisation, even more than militarisation, is breeding a new language of scientism.

Militarisation has been tied to global processes corresponding to Cold War policies, the arms race, and deployment of new missiles. It tends to produce a more self-assertive policing of societies, new nationalisms, alongside new avenues of consumption. Toys, games, computer games, popular films and television programmes have already naturalised an inordinate degree of militarisation through representation and simulation of warfare and the values associated with it. These values range from the glorification of motherhood to social constructions of masculinity and feminity; it is after all necessary to control women in order to militarise men. The depersonalisation of technological warfare, as in the Gulf War, masks the human suffering and casualties involved, and produces a tolerance for very high levels of violence.

All of these are intensified with nuclearisation which is, in addition, far more committed to secrecy and notions of expertise, and is controlled by a tiny bureaucratic and scientific elite. Secrecy and lack of information in fact assists in creating media hypes that can project a false consensus around the issue. And public ignorance in turn is one of the keystones of this so-called consensus. For example, few people are aware that the costs that have been acknowledged are only the tip of the iceberg. The massive cost of maintaining and upgrading nuclear weapons remains hidden.

Secrecy also feeds the myth of scientific and bureaucratic expertise. Women, for whom even primary literacy is hard to come by, often have a common-sensical gut reaction against nuclearisation but since they are educationally the most deprived, they are less able to monitor and sift the information they get. What is more, the strange character of nuclear policy-making not only sidelines moral and ethical questions but genders them. This elite gets to be represented as rational, scientific, modern, and of course masculine, while ethical questions, questions about the social and environmental costs are made to seem emotional, effeminate, regressive and not modern.

This rather dangerous way of thinking which makes out that questions about human life and welfare are somehow neither modern nor properly masculine questions, or that men have no capacity and concern for peace and morality, can have disastrous consequences for both men and women. It trivializes human suffering. It pejoratively casts human caring as a sign of weakness or effeminacy, as the concern of the oppressed, as irrelevant to modern life. It carelessly rejects the histories of such caring in our own country or callously reverses them, as in the misuse of Buddhist symbolism. It downgrades non-nuclear countries as `backward' and as unequipped to step into the twenty-first century. In short, it breeds a politics based on relegation of the weak and a neo-Darwinian survival of the fittest.
What is more, the type of nationalism that accompanies nuclearisation demands obedience and conformity. It is repressive, silences dissent, and dubs all humane and democratic protest as anti-national. In short, it makes it more difficult to imagine and work towards a better existence.

Increase in Aggression

Nuclearisation, then, is not a matter of military and technological decision or activities alone. A nuclearised India will construct for itself a cultural and educational environment that promotes a preference for aggression, violence and revenge. There will be a systematic deployment of technologies and scientific training that are geared to this, at the cost of their peaceful, constructive or welfare deployment. In order to justify these priorities, people will be fed with more images of militaristic heroism, of brutality, of relentless pursuit of aggrandisement. On the other hand, images that grow out of peaceability, of tolerence and universal goodwill, will have to be systematically denigrated. Even the possibility of drawing upon human values and perceptions traditionally asssociated with women to develop life-affirming and -sustaining attitudes and methods for the entire social body will be reduced.

Such new cultural activity and new education will promote a mindset that enhances what are conventionally known as masculine values; to be a man is to be violent, eager to retaliate, to welcome brutality. The difference, of course, will be that now, such inclination towards violence will no longer be restricted to men alone. They will embrace the entire population. In fact women will have to be included in the new values since mothers conventionally are socialising agents and are the first to teach children about the world.

Under the auspices of the BJP-led government, this in effect will mean a wider proliferation of the values that the RSS has already been trying to establish and propagate. Of all the political formations, the Sangh had been the only one to develop a systematic training programme to teach their women how to hate single-mindedly, and how to translate that hate into martial action. Since 1936 their women's `shakhas' have worshipped the icon of the armed Goddess, recited incantations invoking war, and taught women how to handle weapons. In their `boudhik' or daily ideological training session, they have explained how every Hindu woman must hate Muslims. They have gone beyond glorifying women as mothers of soldiers. They have perfected a formidable machine for producing an ideal-type woman who is herself a fully militarised being. And she is further exhorted, in their training schedule, to pass all this on to her children.

Since the RSS provides the basic ideology of the BJP, there is a real danger of the multiplication of this ideology. It will assist their aim of filling the country with clones of the women of the Sangh Parivar. Their aggression and demand for violence againt Muslims within the country is already showing signs of extending to a country deemed to be Islamic. The dangers are more acute given state control over the educational and media apparatus, and the fact that the BJP is now in a position to overhaul it in order to extend the values and training of the `shakhas' into schools and homes. So far the qualities of preservation, peace and forbearance have been associated with women alone. A just and human social perspective surely needs to try and spread these values among both men and women. However the presence of the bomb, and the new culture that it will engender, will not allow this. The Sangh Parivar will try to detach not simply men but also women from these values and teach them to turn to beliefs that actively desire death, destruction and extinction.

Nuclearisation, more than conventional militarisation, creates an atmosphere of tension, insecurity, fear, even panic. It gains consent for weapons of mass destruction by spreading the utterly false premise that economic pressures and social problems can be redressed through an accumulation of the capacity for violence. This sense of an increased capacity for violence against so-called enemies translates into and justifies everyday aggression against women, minorities and other underprivileged sections. Consequently, women's fear of sexual violence, used even otherwise as a form of containment, increases with the celebration of masculinist violence. They are left with only two options: either to accept greater containment of their activity and mobility or to militarise themselves, either retreat from public spaces or allow themselves to be pulled into the language of violence against `others'.

There can, however, be no development without peace, without eliminating the different, inter-related types of violence to which women are subjected -- in the military and political sphere, in homes, neighbourhoods and workplaces.


We need to reject nuclearization because of its social cost, new patriarchalism, danger of state authoritarianism, damage to the environment, and erosion of our rights as citizens. And we need to reject it from the standpoint of democratic and ethical principles, from a defence of citizen's rights.


- Nuclearisation must stop.
- There should be no further tests and no weaponisation.
- There has to be a full democratisation of nuclear decision-making through:

1) transparency and honouring the right of citizens to information
2) open and informed debate across the political spectrum
3) strict and open monitoring of the environment
4) increase in education on the implications and effects of nuclear experiments even for peaceful purposes.

The government must undertake to spread information about their consequences: depletion of the ozone layer, destruction of forests, the results of radioactive fallout, the contamination of water resources, changes in the climate, damage to unborn foetuses, and the long list of diseases caused by radiation from cataract, mental diseases to cancer.

The state must provide genuine security for citizens through expansion of health, education and housing services.

Prepared for MIND by Kumkum Sangari, Neeraj Malik, Sheba Chhachhi, Tanika Sarkar


Safe, clean water                        50
Shelter for all                          21
Food for all-an end to hunger            19
Health care for all                      15
End of illiteracy                         5
Education to stabilise the population    10.5
Clean, safe renewable energy             17
Prevention of soil erosion               24

Protection of the environment :

Prevent acid rain                         8
Prevent global warming                    8
Stop ozone depletion                      5
Stop deforestation                        7
Total                                   189.5

(Source: 1991 World Game Institute)


Whereas all the things that women and children want can be achieved at a cost of approximatley 25% of the worlds total annual military budget;

Whereas military budgets have increased, programmes for education, health, housing, job creation and environmental protection have been slashed;

Whereas many countries spend more on their military than on research for breast cancer, food for pregnant women and infants, aid to poor families and childcare programs;

Whereas developing countries could have a package of basic health care servives and clinical care that would save 10 million lives a year at a cost of less than half of their military expenditures.


All governments should reduce their military budgets by 5% this year and each succeeding year until the year 2000, and transfer those saved resources to meet the human needs of women, girl children and all society.

RELEASED BY: New York NGO Committee on the Status of Women Working Group on Peace.