And Muslim Women
By Asghar Ali
for Study of Society and Secularism
22 January, 2004
Gujarat Carnage after the Godhra train burning incident in early 2002
brought disgrace to India. Such brutal communal carnage had never taken
place before in the post-independent India. It attracted world- wide
attention and number of countries including the European Union and United
States sent its official representatives to find out what went wrong
and why such carnage took place at all.
From within India
also several human rights groups, women's groups and human rights activists
rushed to Gujarat to express their sympathy and solidarity with the
victims of Hindutva aggression against helpless minority victims. Never
before so many activists had rushed to any communal violence scene in
India. So many reports were prepared of the ghastly crime against humanity
and still that work is going on. There are several aspects to be probed
and every probe raises cries of shame.
The crimes against
women were really unspeakable. The women particularly those who are
working for women's rights and empowerment were greatly perturbed at
what happened with them in Gujarat. Many women activists went and interviewed
the victims in refugee camps. Yet so much needs to be explored. The
wounds inflicted on minority women can hardly heal especially when they
were subjected to such unspeakable crimes. Still they are living with
sense of shame and agony.
Recently a team
of women activists from different countries like France, Germany, U.K.,
The Netherlands, Sri Lanka and India visited Gujarat and wrote a report
Threatened Existence- A Feminist Analysis of the Genocide in Gujarat.
This report comprising 244 pages is a must for all those who want to
know of festering wounds two years after the carnage. The report has
been written after months of pains-taking research.
In the introduction
to the report these anguished women say, " The specific targeting
of women, as part of a conscious strategy to terrorise the Muslim population
of Gujarat, also particularly concerned the panellists (of women). According
to Rhonda (one of the panellists), sexual violence played a fundamental
role and was used 'as an engine of the mobilisation of hatred and destruction.'
It further says, "The scale and brutality of the sexual violence
unleashed upon women was new, or felt as it was new, to the panellists
who could not be prepared for the testimonies they heard even though
they were aware of the centrality of this method in the violence of
Meera, who lives
in Gujarat and was acutely conscious of what had happened in Gujarat
in February-March 2002 described it as follows:
arise in your mind [about the erosion of citizenship] particularly when
you come face to face with women who have undergone brutal sexual attacks
and mass rape. For first time married women broke their silence on the
sexual attacks they suffered. A mother spoke of her two daughters but
did not say that she herself was a victim?.testimonies were often given
with young children looking on, punctuated with long silences. None
of us could sleep that night; a community was being held to ransom ?
accept your citizenship or?.We exchanged experiences of Bosnia, Palestine,
Israel but the extent, brutality and the varied methods of Gujarat were
Thus these women
panellists Sunila Abeyeskera of Sri Lanka, Rhonda Copelon of City University
of New York, Anissa Helie of France, Gabriela Mischkowski of U.K., Uma
Chakravarti of Delhi University and Wahida Nainar of the Netherlands,
Farah Naqvi of Delhi and Meera Velaydan of India came to conclusion
that sexual violence that took place in Gujarat was really unheard of
and such things were not to be found even in places like Bosnia, Palestine
On their Gujarat
wide tour these women heard story after story of sexual crimes at the
hands of supporters of Hindutva. Yasmin, a woman survivor from Panchmahal
district told the panellists "They cut off breasts of her (neighbour's)
daughter, it is difficult to forget, it still swims in my vision. I
have lost my mental peace."
Another woman survivor
Sabah from the same district said, What had those kids done to them?
I cannot forget those girls [who were raped]. We have to try and arrest
them [the rapists]. Quoting Sabah's testimony the report says, "We
ran in different directions and hid in the field. But the mob found
some of us and started attacking?.I recognised two people from my village
Gano Baria and Sunil ? pulling away my daughter. She screamed, telling
the men to get off her and leave her alone. The screams and cries of
Ruqayya, Suhana, Shabana, begging for their izzat [honour] could clearly
be heard. I could do nothing to help my daughter from being assaulted
sexually and tortured to death."
In Tanika Sarkar's
words, "The pattern of cruelty suggests three things. One, the
woman's body was a site of almost inexhaustible violence, with infinitely
plural and innovative forms of torture. Second, their sexual and reproductive
organs were attacked with a special savagery. Third, their children,
born and unborn, shared the attacks and were killed before their eyes."
And despite such
sexual savagery perpetrated against Muslim women in Gujarat, the NDA
Government at the Centre, not to speak of Narendra Modi Government in
Gujarat not only remained silent spectator but occasionally justified
it. Remember Defence Minister Mr. George Fernandese justifying this
in a debate in Parliament on Gujarat said that this is nothing new,
it has been happening in India for ages. Even the Prime Minister, though
a poet and claiming poetic sensitivity remained silent, if not justified
it a-la Fernandese.
The panellists in
the report make one very pertinent point about Muslim women being sexually
assaulted to such a degree as in Gujarat. The report says, "The
women of the community suffer attacks in two ways. In the first case
they are members of the collective, like any other, and are liable to
be attacked. At the same time, they are the biological and cultural
reproducers of the community and their bodies symbolize the body of
the community and its boundaries. In the Hindutva project, the control
of the Muslim other through gender and sexual domination is at the forefront
of the political strategy in Gujarat and elsewhere."
Thus it would be
seen that sexual assault is not simply fulfilment of ones lust; it is
much more than that in such cases. By sexually violating the women of
the 'other' you are destroying their honour and humiliating them as
a community and treating body of women as body of the community. Woman's
honour must be destroyed to destroy the honour of the community.
this view the report says that the sexual assault incidents were not
just random or isolated incidents. They were widespread and pre-planned.
For many cases ? Gujarat, Rawanda, the former Yugoslavia ? such wide
scale violence could not have been conducted without a significant measure
of complicity, if not participation, by the State. In Gujarat, it is
clear that all events, including the mass use of rape and sexual assault,
occurred with the knowledge of highly placed State actors, and in many
instances, were carried out with full participation and support of the
There are many witnesses
to the fact that the police often hit the stomachs of pregnant women
in so called combing operations. A police officer of the rank of DCP
himself entered the house and beat up small girls and women. One woman
who was six month pregnant had an abortion. He said to these women "We
will keep all your men and make you prostitutes." Besides this
there was lot of suggestive sexual violence, hitting women on breasts,
targeting private parts and targeting pregnant women.
and VHP women themselves were participating in this violence against
Muslim women. Safia, a woman from Ahmedabad testified that the daughter
of a Bajrang Dal leader was pulling women by hair and throwing them
in fire. Other eyewitnesses also alleged that another woman was catching
Muslim women and passing them on to the VHP and Bajrang Dal men to be
This writer has
also visited Gujarat number of times and heard similar testimonies which,
are indeed hair raising. The idea of recounting these stories is not
to ignite fire of revenge but to understand what the Hindutva agenda
is and what counter measures to fight this menace are required. India
is a secular nation and it is duty of all of us to keep it secular and
to promote peace and harmony.
The secular forces
have to draw up their own strategies so that Gujarat like events do
not repeat and we are able to keep violence away from our secular democracy.
We will have to remember Gujarat to ward off fascism from our land.
Unfortunately the communal forces are united and secular forces are
divided thus giving enough opportunities to communal forces to play
havoc with our secular system. It is for the secular forces to keep
Gujarat violence before their eyes so that the consequences of allowing
political space to communal forces remains before them.
All of us who believe
in secularism and humanism should spare no efforts to unite secular
forces in the country.