Subjugating women of the enemy or of ‘the other', through sexual violence is a commonly used tactic, which implies that the women are no more than chattel. This is as much true of inter-State Conflicts as of intra-State conflicts. Yet what was recently witnessed in India in the recent genocidal attacks by Hindus against Muslims in 2002 passes all belief.
Reports of these attacks, especially of the sexual violence perpetrated contain details of unprecedented beastliness. Families of victims running for safety were chased by killer crowds. Not only did they kill the women, they stripped them, paraded them naked, raped, gang-raped them, pushed rods or wooden pieces in their vagina, beat them and then burned them.
The bestiality of the attacking crowds knew no bounds. The crowds did not desist from gang-raping a five month pregnant young woman or stabbing a nine-month pregnant woman's stomach with a sword, cutting open her womb and severing the foetes from the mother. This pogrom has also been unparalleled in destroying evidence, because after torturing women they burned them alive. Never has there been this depth of perversion, sickness and inhumanness.
It took them some time to land in relief camps so they could not immediately reach police stations to get crimes against them registered nor could they get medical check up done mandatory for a rape victim. When they did reach police stations to get their First Information Reports (FIR) registered, the police did not respond positively. In the FIRs the police either did not name the criminals or crime of rape was camouflaged in non-legal phrases.
Ten years later in Gujarat, victims are getting justice. Interventions by various NGOs like organising human chains, or submitting petitions in upper courts made it possible. Special Investigation Teams were appointed by the apex court in India. A couple of ngos have gone on to support the victims and witnesses in courts.
Courts have pronounced sentences of rigorous imprisonment on the criminals. Since these were not ordinary crimes, as rapes were not ordinary rapes, the courts have taken cognisance of these and so pronounced sentences that run sequentially and not concurrently. So the worst criminals are imprisoned for 28 – 31 years.
Ten years later, the Muslim community has reacted to rape in a progressive way. Ayesha Khan, a journalist, writes: “Rape is a double edged sword, first leading to physical violation and second to social ostracization in most societies . . . Strangely during the 2002 riots, Muslim women . . . never betrayed the kind of shame or guilt that rape victims are expected to show. What was their fault? Why should the victim feel shame and guilt? And so it was that many of them did not cloak their identities, and instead chose to come out publicly to demand justice”.
It is a dramatic step forward for the community. It is the step that we, all women across the globe, will appreciate.
By Ila Pathak, WILPF India