Indian women and communal violence effects in post Independent era

Bangalore, Neha Nair (Women World Wide): The study of community violence includes examining both destructive violence (usually a stranger trying to take something of value using physical threats or direct violence) and violence arising from non family interpersonal conflicts (this usually concerns acquaintances involved in an quarrel). Both types of violence may include brutal acts such as shootings, rapes, stabbings, and beatings. Women were always considered “second-class” citizens by the society. Mostly they were the victims of communal violence which seemingly, degraded their social status and made them simple physical “objects”, to be oppressed by the their own/other community, which of course is dominated by patriarchal system. This article is a birds-eye-view on the communal violence and which had taken place against women. I consider it as my personal endeavour into such an enlightening topic which has to be discussed by the today’s youth, who in turn are the future of every country.

Indian women and communal violence effects in post Independent era

The Nellie massacre took place in central Assam during a six-hour period in the morning of 18 February 1983.The massacre claimed the lives of (unofficial) figures run at more than 5,000 from 14 villages—Alisingha, Khulapathar, Basundhari, Bugduba Beel, Bugduba Habi, Borjola, Butuni, Indurmari, Mati Parbat, Muladhari, Mati Parbat no. 8, Silbheta, Borburi and Nellie—of Nagaon district.Three media personnel Hemendra Narayan of Indian Express, Bedabrata Lahkar of Assam Tribune and Sharma of ABC passing by the region were witnesses to the massacre. More interesting, maximum killed were children and women because they were unable flee from the nose of rioter. It is no need to mention that victims were from Muslim communities.

The official Tiwari Commission report on the Nellie massacre is still a closely guarded secret.Police filed 688 criminal cases, of which 378 cases were closed due to “lack of evidence” and 310 cases were charge sheeted, and all these cases were dropped by Government as a part of Assam Accord and as a result not a single person got punishment.
Television footage and reports from Gujarat have shown Hindu families, including women participating in violence and attacks on Muslims(2002). Communal violence has spread beyond the traditional geographical confines of the walled city to middle-class localities, especially in cities like Ahmedabad. ‘Spontaneous’ acts of rioting and arson that involve lumpen elements have always been suspected as the cause of many riots in India. Though targeted violence was occasionally a factor at times in some earlier urban outbreaks, large scale mobilisation for targeted violence came into its own as part of the Ram Janmabhoomi movement.

While scholars like Tanika Sarkar have provided a lot of insight into the increasing participation of women in Hindu fundamentalist bodies and movements, specific attention to the nature, prevalence and severity of women’s participation in violence is something that requires more attention1 . Much of the literature on this subject relates women’s violence to the mobilisation and wooing of women by Sangh Parivar organisations . At the height of the Ram Janmabhoomi movement, and during the destruction of the Babri Masjid, women participated in large numbers in destructive and violent activity, especially in Mumbai and several cities in Gujarat3 . But the kind of violence we are observing now, where entire families, women and children included, participate in arson, looting, and murder, points to a new situation – active and aggressive participation in violence during riots has become a ‘normal’ social activity, suitable for the participation of all family members. How else can one explain or understand women in their nighties coming out on to the terraces of their houses, egging their men on, and even throwing stones at neighbours belonging to a different community?
Newspapers have reported seeing Hindu women with weapons going around as part of mobs committing arson and attacking Muslims.
There have also been reports that closed circuit cameras have captured images of women participating in the looting of shops. Activists on fact-finding missions have also reported observing women participating in violence, and Muslim women have complained of being “betrayed” by their (female) neighbours. Citing the active participation of women in the violence against members of the Muslim community, the Head of the All India Muslim Women’s Conference termed it as a division of women along religious lines. In a society where social and family norms do not even permit women to show their faces outside of their homes, what changes have led to women participating in violent activities along with men? Has the legitimacy given to violence among groups provided legitimacy to changes in women’s behaviour as well? Has the strategy of the Sangh Parivar in bringing women into their fold also led to their greater participation in violence?
Women often bear the brunt of violence at the hands of their husbands and other kin without protection. Have their ‘collective mentalities’ been transformed by the Sangh Parivar led outbreaks of communal violence? Did it so ’empower’ them that they could have broken through the norms that usually require them to accept without effective protest, the violence inflicted upon themselves? Did it impel them to engage in acts of violence and rioting when sanctioned by these same oppressors? Is it possible to explain a significant portion of violence by a woman on members of another community as just the pent-up emotions of victims of violence being released? Did the fact that she wasn’t likely to be harmed for expressing it, rather applauded for doing so contribute in some way?
Some writers claim that when Hindu women assume militant roles they do so “without violating the norms of Hindu womanhood.”4 The implication in some of these analyses is that, while women may be part of militant outfits, provide informed consent to violence by male members of their community, and even participate in public protests, they stop short of actually indulging in violence, since that would go against the norms of womanhood, Hindu or otherwise. The sight of women actively participating in such acts as looting, arson and stone throwing leads one to question the current applicability of these interpretations.
Two discrete but interrelated streams of discourse and action seem to be at the heart of this social-political transformation in the last two decades. The first is the reactionary mobilisation of upper castes to oppose the increasing empowerment of the Dalit-Bahujans, reflected especially in the anti-reservation movements in the second half of the 1980s and the early 1990s. The first large scale violence that took place in Ahmedabad outside of the walled city and involved active middle class participation was during the anti-reservation riots in 1985, which later turned communal.
During the nationwide anti-reservation violence against the Mandal Commission report, large scale violence was mostly treated benignly by the state machinery. For the first time many middle class young people, especially women, were involved in the violence. For many, it was the first time that they had come out on the streets and participated in public protests. The transformation of anti-reservation riots into attacks on members of other communities has been observed in many areas throughout the country. It is not an accident that the rise of the BJP in coastal Andhra has occurred in those areas notorious for atrocities on Dalits.
For instance let us consider this issue in the context of India, which nourished and also was birthplace place for many religions. One of the first major communal riots took place in 1893 in Mumbai in which about 100 people were killed and 800 injured. The first major riot between Hindus and Muslims after the blood-shed of partition in 1947 occurred in Jabalpur in Madhya Pradesh in 1962. Communal riot between Hindus and Muslim erupted in Ahmedabad in 1969. At least 1000 people had died during this riot. The assassination of Prime Minister Indira Gandhi on October 31, 1984 sparked riots that lasted 15 days, over 2700 dead and many thousand injured. Killing and beating the innocent people are reported almost every day’s newspaper. Raping and killing of innocent women and children during caste feuds and gang wars get reported almost every day from some corner of the nation. Violence has always been present in society, in law enforcement and in war, and may always be so until all humankind share identical intellectual convictions.

A long-tied history is associated with the communal violence against women. In every communal riots or other communal violence, women were the one who suffered lot more than men as they were viewed just as “property” or due to a submissive gender role provided to them. The incident which takes place between two or more communities or within a single community is where the basic rights of a woman are found to be violated ‘beyond limits’. When two communities engage in a conflict, each community counts it as their best way of taking revenge by killing, raping, stabbing, or brutally harassing women of opposite community in front of their near and dear ones. These kinds of cases are not only found in west-Asian countries, but also in the recent issues of Kandhamal religious riot, Gujarat riot (India) etc…
The political linkages between the movement for the mandir and the anti-Mandal agitation are well known. Scholars have also established the ways in which the ‘Manuvadi’ forces have been working to incorporate some of the cadres from the Ambedkarite movement into their own ranks as supporters of hindutva. However we also need to understand the particular ways in which the anti-Mandal agitation marked a watershed in Indian politics. Especially to be noted is the rhetoric the agitation’s leaders used to justify the rights they claimed as a supposed meritocracy. This claim dramatically shifted aspects of reservation policy away from their previous ostensible focus on remediating bias against marginalised groups. Sections of the media, intellectuals, and politicians aided Manuvadi leaders colluded in distorting the logic behind reservations by focussing on nothing but income differences, rather than on the strong effects of social inequality and discrimination. Their proposed substitute for the previous reservation policy, which was justified as a means of achieving substantive equality, developed via a new rhetoric, a version of equality that highlighted ‘merit’ and ‘equality of opportunities’ as superior to reservations which are a recompense for historically based bias and discrimination.
More importantly, the movement actively encouraged direct violent action against other vulnerable groups. At the same time, they attacked the weak attempts by law enforcement agencies to prevent their attacks and to provide protection to their victims. They consistently regarded members of these vulnerable groups as legitimate scapegoats, eligible targets for their attacks. Through their political and social influence among those supposed to enforce the law, they confidently anticipated they would never be held to account in any way for their acts of oppressive violence.
This immunity from reproach by the law or retaliation by the victimised vulnerable groups, emboldened a new form of middleclass violence. The debased logic used to justify the attacks was assertively propagated by some middle class intellectuals who deliberately overlooked the vulgar nature of the justifications for the anti-reservation movement, and ignored its mindless violence, as well as the defiance of the law and breach of moral norms prevalent among the middleclasses. These intellectuals betrayed their vocation in support of direct, illegal, violence for what they believed were their group interests. They helped provide shape and legitimation to an ideology based on a singular and unexamined concept of ‘merit.’ They considerably shifted the national discourse away from the goal of reducing societal inequality. They made a major contribution to changing the terms of discourse as far as policies regarding equality, social mobility, and the rights of marginalised groups were concerned.
The savarna men and women who came out into the streets as part of the anti-reservation movement had little knowledge about the social structure of India, the history of its struggles to mitigate discrimination by constitutional methods, and its many other attempts to reduce social and political repression. In such a situation, Manuvadi propaganda focused on a crude and obfuscating notion of ‘merit’, created and sanc-tified by some liberal intellectuals who addressed meetings and wrote popular articles in newspapers and magazines.
This resulted in an ideological atmosphere in which traditional caste and other group based notions of hierarchy and superiority got reinforced, well reflected in the extremely derogatory statements made against Dalit-Bahujans. For example, demonstrators often taunted them by associating them with occupations Manuvadis considered shameful. They displayed their hatred and contempt of those who have been the victims of discrimination by displaying vulgar caricatures of members of these groups engaged in some traditional urban occupations such as polishing shoes and sweeping the roads.
Most young men and women who demonstrated at that time were extremely proud of their participation in their displays of hatred and contempt, and their riskless violence against weaker groups. One often heard their boastful accounts of brutal acts recounted with glee and pride. It is interesting that this was the first time that many of them had participated in any form of public protests. Interestingly, many had received parental sanction for them to participate. Many fathers were not only tolerant of their children staying out late to take part in ‘strategy’ meetings, but also approved of their throwing stones at unprotected vulnerable people and burning up buses and other public property.
It is this sanctioning of brutality that may help explain women’s violence during such demonstrations. Perhaps women are only willing to take part when and if their family legitimates their participation in violence. These women will gain approval from members of their family for expressing/redirecting previously forbidden impulses to violence they were not allowed to express toward those who brutalised them. This is one time when they find that male heads of the family cannot or will not impose restrictions against their expressing violence or participating in what are described as reprisals. Just as fear of further and more severe violence against them as well as other forms of reprisal within the family keeps many women in check and ensures their conformity to dominant norms and ensures that they do not reply in kind, the very absence of such fears during riots gives them the sanction to do things which they otherwise would not do. Perhaps, when women engage in such violence, it is just a form of catharsis or release for these women. Perhaps it also provides them with some feeling of empowerment. What is also important is that they get a sense of being included in a major public act of family and community members, an arena where they rarely participate.
This possible partial explanation for women’s participation points to a need to pay more scholarly attention to the new ways of belonging and inclusion developed for individuals by the hindutva movements . As Arvind Rajagopal has pointed out, more emphasis has been given to the disruptive effects of participation rather than to the possible role they play in generating a greater sense of inclusion. The puzzle of increased participation in the hindutva movements of groups such as Dalits, OBCs, and women who have all had to bear the brunt of Brahminical, patriarchal violence may in part be explained by this kind of analysis.
The lack of adequate support structures for women is frequently given as the reason women are afraid to confront violence within the family. What we need to understand is how the same women become active collaborators in violence committed during riots. One explanation may be related to the way in which the majority of people in this country – male and female – view domestic violence. Despite the long history of legal action to protect women’s rights, and constant attempts by women’s organisations to get laws passed and courts to intervene on issues related to violence against women, a majority of women do not perceive domestic violence as a crime that is defined by law.
This is partly an outcome of the way in which political parties have related to such issues. Even left of centre parties have ‘ghettoised’ the women’s wing of their parties, refusing to mainstream their issues, leaving them to be taken up solely by their women’s wing (AIDWA, Mahila Dakshata Samiti, etc.). Many women’s organisations affiliated to political parties have simply not had their party’s political support to launch struggles to change public awareness as well as make the laws against domestic violence more stringent and enforceable, though there has been no dearth of attempts to do so.
Thus, struggles relating to women’s issues have often been reduced to ineffectual forms of ‘social’ struggles, in the form of failed public awareness campaigns, as well as the sporadic, momentary and inconclusive attention given to individual atrocities against women. It is interesting to note that a government official in Gujarat during the recent riots stated that rape cases must be taken up by NGOs, because the government’s duty is only to look into ‘law and order’ cases, implying thereby the non-criminal nature of rape. Also, as is well known, women leaders in the Hindutva movement have themselves spoken about the ‘normality’ of male domestic violence, and the consequent need for women to ‘adjust’ to violent domestic life. Wife beating, for instance, they have said, is caused by the wife who ‘irritates’ her husband. These beatings are likened to the acts of parents admonishing their children.
Sarkar (1999) mentions one respondent who blames rapes of women on those women who protest against their victimisation; they are viewed as forfeiting their “older modes of honour and motherhood” by participating in struggles for equality and rights. The implication is that women should retreat from such forms of politics into passive forms of domesticity to avoid rape. When women who struggle for such rights meet male oppression and violence, this repression is considered justifiable. Both female and male leaders of Hindu fundamentalist organisations argue that ‘adjustment’ and obedience of girls and wives to parents and husbands will avert male domestic violence. Domestic violence is thereby removed from the public sphere of illegal behaviour, and at the same time justified by attributing its occurrence to women’s own ‘deviant’ behaviour. In their view, women should endure male violence in order to further strengthen the norms of the culture and keep the family together.
The combined effect of a) family and group legitimacy that enable attacks on members of other communities; and b) the failure to label domestic violence as criminal and illegitimate, have created a situation where women often find it much easier to collaborate with their own oppressors in inflicting violence upon others than to combat oppression within the family. Social codes relating to violence, the circumstances under which it may be legitimately inflicted on others, and the extent of enforcement of legal and other sanctions against violence, are important factors in understanding why some people engage in acts of violence more than others.
Again, while the knowledge that such illegitimate acts will not be punished is a significant factor in explaining why people are violent and in understanding socialisation practices, it is also true that levels of exposure to violence, and political mobilisation against violent oppression – all determined by one’s location in social space – are important in explaining why some people engage in violence against others. Deciding to participate in violence against others for most individuals, but especially for women, is not a simple act; it requires a coherent explanation. This is especially true of the participation of women in communal violence, which has become far more notable in recent years, and is a dangerous and disturbing development.
It is precisely at this juncture that intellectuals need to be more cautious and careful about how they explain this new development. Public space in India is already vitiated by ideologies that justify and legitimise violence, partly through the rhetoric of communal resentments and presumptions of justified exercise of special rights, and partly through recourse to some distorted versions of the traditional liberal idea of social contract. This is evident also in the rejection of the jurisdiction of courts in certain spheres of social life.
Another important point is the constant newspeak regarding past and possibly future attacks on ‘Hindus’ by members of the minority community. This propaganda is used to recruit men and women for training in physical ‘self-defence’ activities. In recent times, through rumours, propaganda pamphlets, public agitation and other such channels, fear has been created among Hindu women by providing mostly fictional accounts of attacks by male members of other communities on Hindu women. The fear is now being specifically focused on violation of women’s own bodies. This strategy is meant to bring about a radical change in the attitude of women toward willingness to sanction and even engage in violence against minorities. Those who promote such violence can then presumably claim to have a greater degree of legitimacy for its use against members of other groups.
Some intellectuals in this country seem to be similarly influenced by a distorted idea of social contract theory that results in their either ignoring or supporting organised violence against the state and other communities. This is justified by appealing to a special normative order they believe exists within the confines of their own group. What they forget is that in the context of a hierarchical, stratified society, where even basic rights are yet to be realised for some groups, justification of certain anti-state movements in the name of a putative group-defined normative order may reinforce a discriminatory and unequal social order. Violence by women as part of such a movement, and their complicity in male violence on members of other communities, reinforces their own oppression by patriarchal structures.
Some women may temporarily be given an exalted status for their participation in such movements, whether it is an anti-minority pogrom, or the movement which brought down the Babri Masjid structure. Just as fundamentalist leaders justify participation in violence in the name of a distorted normative order which justifies violence and delegitimises constitutional bodies and norms, so also some neo-liberal advocates shift the rights discourse by justifying violence either through popular groups or through the state that acts in the name of a specific unconstitutional normative order.
Such violence usually targets the weak and the marginalised, the Dalits, Tribals, and others among the poor, including pavement dwellers, street hawkers, and slum dwellers. These groups are not allowed to use their identities, their rights are abrogated whenever they clash with mainstream ‘development’ policies, and their very existence is deemed illegitimate. There is very little public outcry against their forcible illegal displacement. There is also an extreme lack of concern regarding their rights and welfare. The overall shift in the way in which rights are discussed, the condoning of violent actions targeted at the marginalised, and the refusal to recognise certain forms of social and political mobilisation among the underprivileged, all have contributed to an overall rise in the legitimisation of violent repressive actions by the powerful – be they men, upper castes, the state, or particular communities.
Some liberals are yet to learn that certain claims to group identities also are valid claims to human rights. Therefore, they differentiate among the many identities asserted by these communities for different purposes12 . Their lack of sensitivity considerably enhances the possibilities of movements by the oppressed getting co-opted by fascist and fundamentalist movements, as we are observing now. A colleague never tires of reminding me of Gandhi’s approach to public issues – it is not just enough to be right, but one must be right for the right reason, for the right cause.
Some of the communal violence against women can be briefly provided as below:
1. Rape: Mostly, group rapes where single women are sexually abused by many men of opposite community. News has been reported more on the group rape of a Christian nun during communal violence in Orissa (India). Also the raping of Hindu and Muslim women by opposite communities during Gujarat riot sparked great chaos all over India. Each community considered the weakest part of other community as its women or girls and they were brutally raped and then murdered during communal violence. Thus, the basic right of women to uphold her dignity was in turn violated by the communities.
2. Slavery: During warfare the women are often taken as slaves and are just treated merely with even less dignity than that of any domestic animal. They are taken for hard labor and for the sexual enjoyment of men. The cases have been reported of such incidents taking place even in this 21st century modern urban communities.
3. Genocide: still many of the communities preferably go for a male child than a female and this is a shadow of women’s value in this modern era. When it is found that a girl-child is born, certain communities go up to the extent of killing them or are killed within the womb itself as they consider girl-child as a burden. Thus it is found that the ratio of female to male in most of the Indian communities is low.
4. Trafficking and Prostitution: News has been reported on women sold out to brothels, which is found to be more in number during any riots or communal violence. The sexually exploited woman then finds no way to escape from the strong-clutches of brothel-owners or local criminals and thus is subjected to live as prostitutes throughout their entire life.
Some of the necessary measures which can be taken are:
1. Necessary steps should be taken by the government to uphold the dignity of woman in every streams of society.
2. Image of women-status as a “sub-category” has to be removed basically from the mentality of modern students and they should be taught to give equal status to woman.
3. Medical aids as well as necessary mental treatments should be given to the women those who are victims of community violence.
4. Communally violent elements must be subjected to judicial authority and must be sentenced to proper treatments.
5. Women-groups must actively come forward to safe-guard the rights and esteem of every victims.
6. Essential strategies must be adopted to stop any community violence against women to be occurred in future.
The major flaw any system of governance occurs when the members of its community are not equally treated. This happens in all most all civilizations. Taking the case of any secular, democratic country, they has not been exempted from the age-old traditional thinking that woman is a “sub-category”. Even in United States, there are cases against considering women, lower in status at work places, especially at Silicon Valley. Any action or laws supporting the women has not been possibly implemented for status-upliftment in relation with men in many countries. Constitution may guarantee every woman an equal position and status with that of man but how far it has been made into practice is still a desolating question which each harassed or abused women of any country thinks every day. Almost every area a women is abused. In relation with communal violence it is even more. She even may curse her birth into this very world, when she finds herself sexually assaulted beyond her thinking, destruction of her family before own eyes and her predictable-future that, she is going to be butchered in the cruel hands of opponents.
Violence against women is a most discussed issue but less-actions are taken to irradiate it. A communally violated woman is more psychological, physical, and sexual assaulted than a normally abused woman. She requires more care and concern and also adequate measures are to be taken by the government to bring them back into normal life. Every communal violence and its women-victim should be an eye-opener for the authorities, so as to take measures to stop such incidents to be occurred in the future. Indeed every community is responsible for safe-guarding and saving the women belonging to them.

Reference /sources:

1. D. Parthasarathy , Manushi, issue 129, 2002
2. Tanika Sarkar, “The Gender Predicament of the Hindu Right” -1994
3. Madhu Kishwar, Religion at the Service of Nationalism, Oxford University Press, Delhi, 1998
4. Amrita Basu, “Feminism Inverted: The Gendered Imagery and Real Women of Hindu Nationalism”
5. D. Parthasarathy, Department of Humanities and Social Sciences , Indian Institute of Technology, Mumbai.
6. Austin, Granville (1999). Working a Democratic Constitution – A History of the Indian Experience. New Delhi: Oxford University Press
7. Mander, Harsh (14 December 2008). “Nellie : India’s forgotten messacre”. The Hindu. Retrieved 9 October 2012.
8. Goel, Rekha. “25 years on…Nellie still haunts”. The Statesman. Retrieved 2011-12-08.
9. Escherle, Nora Anna (2013). Gabriele Rippl, Philipp Schweighauser, Tiina Kirss, Margit Sutrop, Therese Steffen, ed. Haunted Narratives: Life Writing in an Age of Trauma (3rd Revised ed.). University of Toronto Press
10. Murphy, Eamon (24 March 2011). Richard Jackson, Eamon Murphy, Scott Poynting, ed. Contemporary State Terrorism: Theory and Practice. Routledge
Posted by on March 16, 2015. Filed under Editorial. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

One Response to Indian women and communal violence effects in post Independent era

  1. When ever communal riot occurs in India assault, sexual assault, physically torture etc are directly gone towards the woman , there is no bar either Hindu, Muslim , Christian, Sikh or any which are already proved in various occasion. Eg- Noakhali , Nellie, Gujarat, Mumbai, Bhagalpur, Muzaffarnagar and many more