Cost of being bearers of honor Sexual violence during community riots in India

Credit: Hishan Allam / IPS
  • by the IPS correspondent (New Delhi, India)
  • Inter Press Service

In one of the rare cases where the law was enforced, the victim of gang rape Bilkis Bano waited 15 years to see the perpetrators brought to justice. At the 2017 press conference, she told reporters: “I want justice, not revenge.”

In 2002, Bano, 19, was six months pregnant when she was gang raped. She saw 14 members of her family killed in one of the most horrific large-scale violent anti-Muslim riots to sweep Gujarat.

The pogrom saw 2,000 people, mostly Muslims, killed statewide after a train fire, in which 60 Hindu pilgrims were burned alive.

Bano said she wanted to see an India where her daughters were safe. But evidence suggests that gang rape at community protests and the lack of justice for these heinous crimes has continued in the nearly 20 years since his ordeal.

What binds Bano, survivors of gang rapes Muzaffarnagar riots, the women allegedly sexually abused in Delhi community violence in 2020, and the rape victim of Hathras is that all women come from marginalized communities.

Sexual violence against women has been a recurring feature of community violence in India since independence.

The recurrent sexual violence inflicted on women during community violence in India is a testament to how perpetrators use rape and sexual violence as a means to “dishonor” the community or group and use rape as a means of revenge. Women are the “bearers of honor” of a community, and the violation of their “honor” or chastity is considered successful because it shames the community as a whole that is targeted, say the women. lawyers and human rights activists.

Bano’s attorney, Shobha Gupta, told IPS in an exclusive interview that Bano’s rare victory exposed authorities’ efforts to cover up and derail the investigation.

“The incident happened in 2002. The final verdict in the Supreme Court criminal case came after 17 years in 2019. He was awarded compensation 17 years after the incident – after 17 years of suffering.” , Gupta said.

The Supreme Court noted that she and her family have lived a nomadic life for those 17 years, unable to find a safe place to live.

“There is a specific finding in the court verdict that police personnel and doctors in Bilkis’ case were guilty of deliberately frustrating the investigation and destroying evidence,” Gupta said.

“There has been a failure of law and order on two levels. First, when this incident took place and second, when the officials involved abused their position by deliberately frustrating the investigation, all of which were ultimately convicted by the High Court and Supreme Court.

From the largely anti-Muslim violence in Gujarat in 2002 to the Muzaffarnagar riots of 2013, Muslim women have been targeted. Their authors, mostly from dominant communities, have benefited from impunity.

It is only in rare cases like Bano’s that justice has been served.

In the community violence that ravaged Muzaffarnagar in western Uttar Pradesh in 2013, seven Muslim women filed First Information Reports (FIRs) for a gang rape they alleged was perpetrated by men who came for most of the dominant Jat community.

A review of their case shows how the legal system let down these women, who, despite their poor socio-economic backgrounds, “dared” to press charges against their perpetrators, say human rights lawyers.

“This incident happened in September 2013, their indictment cards were filed in April-May 2014, but the trials did not begin until the end of 2015-2016,” said Vrinda Grover, a lawyer for human rights who was the women’s advocate.

“This deadline has been used by the defendants to pressure, coerce and incite women to make statements saying that the defendants arrested in these cases are not the men who raped them. This resulted in acquittals.

Six of the seven registered FIRs resulted in an acquittal, she said.

With the stigma attached to rape, security concerns and life at stake, what recourse can one take when even the courts do not seem to adhere to basic rules and procedures?

Grover says she believes the Muzaffarnagar District Court was either ignorant or willfully ignoring all of the procedural mandates that apply to rape trials.

“The warrant for a closed-door trial, the disclosure of the identity of the rape victims, the completion of the trial within two months of the filing of the indictment or the prohibition of cross-examination on the victim’s past sexual behavior was ignored until insisted by the women’s council.

Anti-Muslim sentiment in India has increased and concepts such as Love-Jihad on the rise. Hate speech and slogans directed against women and their action are common features before and during community tensions.

Slogans of “bahu lao, beti bachao(“Bring the daughter-in-law, save the daughter”), for example, were heard at rallies leading up to the violence in Muzaffarnagar. These were brought up to encourage men from the majority community to ensure that their daughters do not marry outside the community. Instead, they brought women from other communities to their homes and converted them.

An example of the impunity and support enjoyed by those who spread this terror is the presence of the current Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh, who shared the stage during a Meet where her supporter demanded that Muslim women be dug up from their graves and raped.

The lack of outrage over Muzaffarnagar’s violence and the failure of the justice system for rape survivors is a stark reminder that Indian society may not be so offended or affected when victims belong to minority groups.

Why did the rape of a Muslim or Dalit woman spark the same moral scandal and nationwide protests as the Nirbhaya case well received?

Gupta says the financial aid compensation of Rs. 50 lakhs (approximately US $ 68,023), a government job with accommodation of Bano’s choice, perhaps the highest compensation ever awarded by an Indian court in a case of rape. However, she thinks Bano should have received a lot more.

“Not only given the particular facts of the case, her suffering, the inability of the system to rehabilitate her, to heal her wounds, but also to send a very strong message to all the States that they cannot. fail and also to the public at large. “

While the sexual violence inflicted on women to “punish” their communities continues even with the success of the Bano case, most rapes go unreported.

In Delhi, for example, no cases have been officially reported for fear of backlash, say lawyers and activists who have heard testimonies from women victims of sexual violence in the capital. They attribute this to a lack of confidence in the system and fear that their families will be harmed.

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© Inter Press Service (2021) – All rights reservedOriginal source: Inter Press Service

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