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Double Insecurities For Women Survivors Of Communal Violence

By Anamika Gupta

05 December, 2013

The UN Security Council adopted resolution 2122, its latest and seventh resolution on women, peace and security on 18 October 2013. It highlighted the threats and human rights violations and abuses experienced by women in armed conflict and post-conflict situations, especially those belonging to vulnerable or disadvantaged communities. Although the resolution deals mostly with armed conflict and post conflict communities, the plight of women in any type of violence is much the same, irrespective of the legalese.

India has seen several spates of communal violence in the past few decades. Careful study of these violence indicates that most communal violence are carefully planned with the intent to sow permanent seeds of discontent and hatred in the community, and draw political mileage out of it. The recent communal violence in Muzaffarnagar in Uttar Pradesh in north India has deepened the divide between the majority Hindu Jats and the Muslims. Over 62 people were killed and around 40,000 people, including pregnant women, children and old people, were displaced during the violence that occurred from 6-13 September 2013. Many people took shelter in 58 odd makeshift relief camps in areas such as Tawli, the Jat-dominated Bavrala and Khanjpura, Bassi Kalan, Basai, Kairana, Dharampur, Kandla, Badwala, Meerut, Baghpat and Saharanpur, Kharad, and Dongar

The fact that most of the victims belonged to poor Pasmanda (dalit) Muslims castes such as dhobi, ansari teli, lohar, julahe, faqir, jogi and lilgar, and that sexual violence of heinous proportions was inflicted on the women, indicates the unique vulnerability experienced particularly by women belonging to marginalized communities. The rape of a young woman survivor by two men in a relief camp at Jogya Kheri village, in early November 2013, is another painful reminder that life for women survivors of the violence is far from secure, and worse their vulnerability is least recognized.

This is clear from the religion-wise data released by the Home Ministry on communal violence in India in September 2013, according to which until 15 September 2013, 479 incidents of communal violence took place. Out of the 107 people killed, Muslims accounted for 66 and Hindus for 41. It also put the number of injured at 1647, including 794 Hindus, 703 Muslims and 200 policemen. Besides grossly under-reporting the number of victims, it does not give any gender-based breakup of the victims which would be extremely useful for preventative or remedial action. Yet, the fact remains that even after surviving a lethal violence, women and girls continue to suffer from various forms of violence.

Many women, including minor girls, were raped, gang-raped and sexually assaulted while fleeing from their villages to save their lives. It took them more than three weeks after the violence, to overcome their fear of reprisal and file a police complaint, without which no action can be taken against the rapists. There are no provisions to file a ‘First Information Report’ (FIR) in the camps, including on cases of sexual violence, and the victims are expected to go to the police station in their village to file complain. Even in cases where FIRs have been filed, it is reportedly done in a haphazard way, without naming the real perpetrators or without interviewing the witnesses, wherever applicable.

At the same time, women living in the makeshift camps risk insecurities on a daily basis. Initial factfinding reports prepared by NGO and civil society groups such as ANHAD reveal the appalling conditions in the camps. There are no separate bathing or toilet facilities for women. In many camps, the toilets are situated away from the camps, and are not lighted, greatly increasing the risk of sexual assaults at nights. There are no female policewomen or security officials in the camps. There are many pregnant women living in the camps without proper pre- or post-natal care, nutrition or medical facilities, many without their husbands. Several babies have been delivered in the squalid camp conditions, some with severe complications. For example, in the Khurman Road camp, in Mallakpuram a new born baby died as there was no ambulance to take him to the hospital, and by the time the mother was taken to the hospital, she too succumbed.

The women survivors are traumatized, and are suffering from anxiety, depression, nightmares, social phobias, physical complaints, and post-traumatic stress disorder. There is an urgent need for gender-sensitive medical facilities, trained female medical staff, as well as psycho-social and legal counseling to safeguard the health and well-being of these women. Their situation is aggravated by the loss of family members, uprooting of home, and loss of source of sustenance.

There needs to be a greater deployment of trained female security personnel, adequate lighting facilities especially near bathrooms and lavatories, which also should be separate for women and girls, trained and gender-sensitive medical staff including gynecologists and pediatricians. In addition, conducting the necessary examinations and evidentiary procedures by trained female personnel are just some of the recommendations to make the camps more gender-sensitive. Besides, immediate action needs to be taken to bring the perpetrators, including complicit state actors to book. Providing relief, rehabilitation and reparation to the victims, too, have to be done on a war-footing.

India’s habitual failure to protect the rights and dignity of women from marginalized communities flies in the face of any back-patting on increasing women’s representation in politics, and is reflective of a mindset that lusts for power, fame or gain at all cost. Transformation of this patriarchal mindset into one that recognizes the inherent dignity and humanity of women will be the bedrock of any effort to restore trust and justice in a society torn with communal violence.

Anamika Gupta has been a journalist in print, broadcast and online media. Her key interest areas are gender, peace and security, peace education, human rights and food security. She is currently pursuing her Masters in Peace and Conflict Studies from the European Peace University. She also holds a Post Graduate Diploma in Social Communications Media. Email: [email protected]


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