Gender-based Strongly identified as ‘symbolic bearers of national

Gender-based issues have been a salient
feature in communal violence over the reporting period, both in terms of targeted
violence against women during communal riots as well as the growth of campaigns
with specific gendered dimensions. Strongly identified as ‘symbolic bearers of
national identity’, women in India are frequently ‘literal and figurative battlegrounds’
during social instability and violence, often with particularly severe implications
for minority women. This is highlighted by the presence of communal
mobilization around questions of ‘honour’ and sexual violence at Partition, and
more recently during communal riots in Gujarat in 2002 which saw the systematic
targeting of Muslim women, as well as Hindu women with associations to Muslims.

The case of communal riots in
Muzaffarnagar and Shamli in 2013 is particularly instructive. Calls to ‘protect
women’s honour’ helped trigger communal riots, including allegations of a
Muslim man harassing a Hindu (Jat) woman from a village nearby – evidence of
which has been questioned, but a narrative which continues to be perpetuated,
including by politicians linked to the BJP.1
During the riots, Muslim women were systematic targets of sexual violence, with
reports of numerous incidents of mass rape between 8 and 9 September 2013. Yet,
majority of cases of sexual violence from these riots have gone officially unreported,
linked to associated societal pressures and stigma, as well as material challenges
facing victims, many of whom have lost homes and family members.

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Although the Criminal Amendment Act
2013 provides greater scope to seek justice for sexual violence during communal
violence, the seven victims of gang rape who have pursued cases have faced
numerous obstacles, such as threats and intimidation, lack of adequate
reparations, and excessive delays with no convictions having yet been secured.2
These challenges are exacerbated by the fact that each of these women are from
working class, Muslim minority backgrounds, while the accused – all men
belonging to the Jat community – are more influential, reportedly with better
links to the state machinery. Communal violence also has longer term impacts
for minority women in particular. In the case of Muzaffarnagar, there have been
reports that higher insecurity and attempts to ‘protect’ women have resulted in
higher drop-out rates and more frequent marriages of under-age girls from
affected families.

Many incidents of communal violence
have been linked to disputes over marriages, relationships or so called ‘eve
teasing’ – the widespread problem of sexual harassment of young girls and women
– between communities. While it is a pervasive problem for women of all
religious communities that reflects the persistence of gender inequalities and
patriarchal norms in India, sexual harassment has increasingly been framed as a
communal issue, meaning that it can often serve as the trigger for mass
violence.

 

 

1 ‘UP elections: BJP promised anti-Romeo squads. To stop love jihad,
says its Meerut leader

2 Amnesty International, Losing Faith: The Muzaffarnagar Gang-Rape
Survivors’ Struggle for Justice, February 2017

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