India: Women lose family & shelter, plus face sexual violence from communal riots in Uttar Pradesh Print E-mail

 Sunday Magazine ~ September 29, 2013


The politics of violence

By Kalpana Sharma
Riot-affected women and children at a makeshift camp in Muzaffarnagar.(PTI)

In all the reports about the recent communal clashes in Muzaffarnagar, little has been written about the trauma suffered by women.

Imagine if you are a woman with several children and a riot breaks out. You can run, carry one child, hold the hand of the other. But what about the rest? Who do you leave behind? How can you make sure they will be safe? How do you live with the choices you made in that moment of terror and panic?

These are the harrowing choices that hundreds of women must have faced when the communal violence flared up in Uttar Pradesh’s Muzaffarnagar district last month. As Muslim families fled, leaving behind their homes, some were also forced to abandon members of their own families. And now they have no idea what happened to those they left behind, whether they are alive or dead.

This is one of the more disturbing accounts that comes through in a small report prepared by a group of 11 women working in U.P. with different non-governmental organisations whose focus has been gender. The report is impressionistic; it does not pretend to be a balanced fact-finding report. Yet, in its very simplicity, it conveys some of the trauma and immense sadness that is a reality for the thousands who continue to shelter under shaky tarpaulin shelters in the humid heat of September.

Titled “A human tragedy unfolds as the State watches”, the report describes six relief camps; three each in Muzaffarnagar and Shamli districts. Calling it a Preliminary Citizens’ Report, it narrates what the inhabitants of these camps told the team. Possibly because the team consisted only of women, the report gives us a small but essential insight into what women experienced. For instance, they quote a number of women telling them how they had to leave children behind. Yet, even after the violence ended, the district administration has not been able to help them trace missing family members or even to prepare a list of people who are missing.

Also unspoken and unwritten are stories of sexual violence. They are not easy to record. Some of the women spoke hesitatingly about rape, about having their clothes torn off. But they were afraid to go into more details or to register cases.

We cannot forget that it took a team of women to visit Gujarat soon after the anti-Muslim pogrom in 2002 to write a comprehensive report on the sexual violence perpetrated on women. Their report, “The Survivors Speak: Sexual Violence Against Women” is still relevant today even if the searing testimonies of the survivors in the report relate specifically to Gujarat. For through these testimonies we understand how women become the collateral damage during such communal conflagrations.

In Muzaffarnagar, too, such a follow up will be needed so that this ugly side of communal violence, that scars the bodies and souls of so many women, does not go unrecorded and hence unrecognised.

It is so easy to miss women’s narrative at a time of heightened political competition in the run up to the general elections next year. Yet each recording of such testimonies informs us that regardless of the location, there is a common theme that runs through them ­ that men and women experience violent conflict in different ways. And there can be no real healing or rehabilitation unless this difference is noted and recognised.

The displaced women in Muzaffarnagar have no voice at the moment. Given the status of women in that region, where men fight feuds and their women are part of an unwritten “honour” code, they might never find a voice. Yet experiences around the world have underlined repeatedly, that women must have a say in the aftermath of conflict and in building a peace that lasts.

Currently, the dominant theme of discussion around Muzaffarnagar and the fallout of the violence is politics ­ who gains and who loses, who started it, who fanned the flames, who is to blame. Yet, the real politics of such violence is the grief a mother feels when she is compelled to abandon her child; the nightmares a young woman confronts each day as she recalls sexual violence; the harsh daily reality confronting pregnant women, nursing mothers, elderly women surviving in makeshift camps without sanitation, privacy or health care. Who is bothering to address these issues?
 Sunday September 29 2013

Muzaffarnagar riots: Rape complaints registered across all violence-hit areas

By Pritha Chatterjee

Weeks after the Muzaffarnagar communal violence, four women, all from Fugana village, have alleged rape in written complaints to the police. The Fugana police station has registered two cases of rape and one case of molestation so far.

Confirming this, Kalpana Saxena, SP (Crime), Muzaffarnagar, said, "The matter has been transferred to the special investigation team of the Uttar Pradesh Police."

While two complaints were filed on September 20, the third was filed on September 24, and the last on September 28. In two cases, the husbands of the victims, now living in relief camps, filed the complaints. One victim is a 23-year-old unmarried woman, while the rest are aged between 35 and 45 years.

The Sunday Express has copies of all the complaints. Two victims, in separate complaints, have alleged that five-six men forced their way into their houses and raped them. Another victim has said her house was set on fire, and when she was fleeing, six men threatened her with weapons, forced her inside a nearby house, and raped her.

"We are receiving complaints from all over Muzaffarnagar, Shamli and other districts. Since Fugana is one of the worst-hit areas in the district, it also has the highest number of complaints," said Saxena, adding that it took time to sift through these complaints and lodge cases.

"Complaints which have been lodged as rape cases mention the actual act of rape, others speak of sexual harrasment in vague terms. Those have been registered under sections pertaining to molestation," said a senior police officer.

Saxena said the police have only examined 200 riot-related complaints so far, and there were hundreds left.

"When violence broke out on September 8, my husband was at my daughter's house. I ran out... five men blocked my path, and forced me inside my own house. They were all men I knew... They raped me till I became unconscious," said a victim.

October 2, 2013

Muzaffarnagar gangrapes: No justice for these Nirbhayas

By Danish Raza

She grew up with them ­ the three men who ganged up to rape her.

Even as she kept calling them by their first names, pleading for mercy, they continued to violate her body. Her mother, who was tied to a chair, fainted on seeing the unimaginable happening before her.

Yet, after a week, when the two women approached the police, they briefed the cops about other atrocities. They did not mention rape. As if it never took place.

This is the story of numerous women who were gang raped in Uttar Pradesh’s Muzaffarnagar district, around 150 kilometers from the national capital, which witnessed large scale riots.

Almost three weeks after communal clashes broke in the district, reports of gangrapes are finding space in the national media. Unlike the Delhi gangrape case which caught the imagination of the country, hundreds of gangrapes during riots continue to fall through the cracks.

This is irrespective of the community of the victim, the region where the riot takes place and the political party ruling the state. PTI A major reason why gender violence during riots largely goes unreported is because it becomes one of the many crimes taking place in a tense situation. PTI The anatomy of rapes and riots is the same across the country.

A miniscule percentage of actual rapes which take place during riots are reported to the authorities. Even lesser go to the trial stage, say activists who have closely observed patterns of gender violence in successive riots.

A major reason why gender violence during riots largely goes unreported is because it becomes one of the many crimes taking place in a tense situation, unlike an isolated case of rape where the crime takes place when the victim may be least expecting it. Archana Dwivedi, deputy director of Nirantar, a Delhi based resource centre for gender, visited Muzaffarnagar. She says, “Women become subjects of many forms of violence during communal violence ­ their houses being burnt, children killed and husbands getting maimed before them.

Although brutal, gangrape is one of the many forms of tortures in such clashes.” Government authorities and the police first try to bring the situation under control before taking stock of the damage done. When they reach to the victims, finally, they find that registration of FIRs related to sexual violence is not the first priority for the victims. “Very often, victims inform the authorities of other violations which they believe are more important such as loss of property and missing children. It happens, partially, because men come forward to lodge complaints,” says Dwivedi.

Riots lead to displacement of victims numbering in thousands. While some never go back to their native places, others cannot afford to relocate. For many rape victims, therefore, it is the fear of once again facing the rapist in the neighbourhood which stops them from lodging complaints. “It is particularly true in cases where the victim belongs to a lower caste and the rapist is from an upper caste.

Many such cases happened in Muzaffarnagar,” says Vimal Thorat, Hindi language professor with Indira Gandhi National Open University, who have visited riot effected areas including Muzaffarnagar, Kandhamal and Gujarat. For the minority ­ victims who can confront the men who violated them ­ aid reaches them too late, says Manshi Sharma, a Delhi based social activist. “By the time police begins the probe, the evidence is gone. What will the victim’s medical test prove 20 or 30 days after gang rape? Unusual time gaps increase legal complexities in such cases,” she says.

Others believe that in an age when it takes street protests to get justice in a gangrape case in Delhi, expecting proper follow- up of every sexual violence case during riot, sounds ambitious. “The normal wheels of justice even when you are not handicapped by your identity move very slowly for ordinary women as well. When you are of a vulnerable caste or community, your ability to access justice is considerably weakened,” says Farha Naqvi, women’s rights activist.