Political Science Now

Positionality, Personal Insecurity, and Female Empathy in Security Studies Research

Vasundhara Sirnate, University of California, Berkeley

“He is a very nice man. There is no need to be scared or worried,” said Mr. Saikia1 , the driver of the car that was carrying me to a high-profile interviewee. He had correctly guessed that I was worried about an impending meeting with a known Assamese ex-insurgent. A woman traveling alone in India can confront a high level of personal risk, and, I was seeking interviews with people whom the state had routinely described as “terrorists,” “insurgents,” “militants,” and “murderers.” I had been asked to be present at a predetermined pick-up location with instructions to bring no one else and not to mention this meeting to anyone. It was only 5 pm. We came to a halt before a white gate that was guarded by large men carrying assault rifles and holstered handguns. Three SUVs were parked outside in the dirt track that led to this dwelling. I spent the next three hours interviewing a former militant of the United Liberation Front of Assam, who was one of its highest-ranking officials during the 1990s. He surrendered for personal and ideological reasons and was granted freedom from prosecution under the Government of India’s surrender policy for insurgents. This pattern repeated itself a few more times over the next three years, and almost always involved all male environments with heavily armed men. My research is on differential counterinsurgency strategies of the Indian state. Northeast India, the “field” for my project, is a region that has seen up to 56 tribal insurgent groups operating during the last 60 years with varying degrees of success and longevity. My task was to study perceptions of the Indian state about its insurgent adversaries. For this, I began by gaining access to local police and paramilitary organizations that were heavily engaged in counterinsurgency. I documented their interviews and the small bits of information they provided about how insurgencies are conducted. [Read more.]

Positionality, Personal Insecurity, and Female Empathy in Security Studies ResearchPS: Political Science & Politics / Volume 47 / Issue 02 / April 2014, pp 398-401