One thing was distinctly rotten about 2002 Gujarat riots: use of rape as a form of terror

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Harsh Mander writes about women and children who were subjected to the most sadistic and vicious forms of violence during the 2002 massacre

Extreme public cruelty and brutality has characterised all the big communal massacres of post-Independence India: Nellie in 1983, Delhi in 1984, Bhagalpur in 1989, and Bombay in 1992–93. But the Gujarat carnage stands out for its extensive and specific targeting of women, young girls and children, who were subjected to the most sadistic and vicious forms of violence. As reported by Tribunal, women suffered the most bestial forms of brutality, sexual violence, including rape, gang rape, insertion of objects into their bodies, stripping, and molestation. A majority of the women who suffered this violence were then burnt alive. Amongst the survivors, many have spoken about the assaults but many have been silenced for fear of further attacks and for fear of censure from their own families and community. Besides the lack of faith in the system of justice, the humiliation faced by women who dare to challenge taboos and demand punishment for gender crimes like rape have silenced the natural cry for retribution and justice.

There was a distinct, tragic and ghastly feature of the state sponsored carnage unleashed against the Muslim minority in Gujarat, which was the systematic sexual violence committed against young girls and women. Rape was used as an instrument for the subjugation and humiliation of a community. A chilling technique, absent in pogroms unleashed hitherto but very much in evidence this time in a large number of cases, was the deliberate destruction of evidence. Barring a few, in most instances of sexual violence, the women victims were stripped and paraded naked, then gangraped, and thereafter quartered and burnt beyond recognition.

The ‘sexual violence consisted of forced nudity, mass rapes, gang-rapes, mutilation, insertion of objects into bodies, cutting of breasts, slitting the stomach and reproductive organs, and carving of Hindu religious symbols on women’s body parts’. An international fact-finding committee comprising gender activists from US, UK, France, Germany and Sri Lanka reported that ‘sexual violence was being used as a strategy for terrorising women belonging to minority community in the state’.

There were several wrenching testimonies of unprecedented cruelty of mass sexual violence on women. Sultani, for instance, from village Eral in Panchmahals, speaks of how, escaping from a mob,

[I] fell behind as I was carrying my son, Faizan. The men caught me from behind and threw me on the ground. Faizan fell from my arms and started crying. My clothes were stripped off by the men and I was left stark naked. One by one the men raped me. All the while I could hear my son crying. I lost count after three. They then cut my foot with a sharp weapon and left me there in that state.

A mother, Medina, from the same village testifies that, ‘two villagers pulled away’ her own daughter.

My mind was seething with fear and fury. I could do nothing to help my daughter from being assaulted sexually and tortured to death. My daughter was like a flower, still to experience life. Why did they have to do this to her? What kind of men are these? The monsters tore my beloved daughter to pieces. After a while, the mob was saying cut them to pieces, leave no evidence. I saw fires being lit. After some time the mob started leaving. And it became quiet.

Many reports refer to the horror experienced by Kausar Bano. In the words of Saira Bano, ‘What they did to my sister-in-law’s sister Kausar Bano was horrific and heinous. She was nine months pregnant. They cut open her belly, took out her foetus with a sword and threw it into a blazing fire. Then they burnt her as well.’

The Survivors Speak report describes this as a ‘meta-narrative’ of the carnage, a story told many times over.

Sometimes the details would vary—the foetus was dashed to the ground; the foetus was slaughtered with a sword; the foetus was swung on the point of the sword and then thrown into a fire. In all instances where extreme violence is experienced collectively, meta-narratives are constructed. Each victim is part of the narrative; their experience subsumed by the collective experience. Kausar is that collective experience—a metanarrative of bestiality; a meta-narrative of helpless victimhood. There are a thousand Kausars. Members of the fact-finding team have seen photographic evidence of the burnt bodies of a mother and a foetus lying on the mother’s belly, as if torn from the uterus and left on the gash. We do not know if that was Kausar Bano.

In a recent account, Splintered Justice, lawyer Prita Jha recounts that the rioters of 2002 did not limit their acts of sexual violence to Muslims. They also targeted fellow Hindus who had any association with Muslims.

Gauri was in love with a Muslim man and was living with him when the violence began. When the Hindu mob attacked her village, Gauri said, she persuaded her partner to leave the house and hide in the fields, believing that since she was a Hindu, the rioters, her co-religionists, would not harm her. If only! Gauri was gangraped by seven Hindu rioters, in front of 30–40 fellow villagers, none of whom even tried to help her. Her ordeal was also witnessed by her minor daughter, who later testified in court as the only eyewitness. Going through the trial process was traumatic, Gauri said.

Many reports also describe the use of children as instruments of terror.

In what is surely the most perverse dimension of the violence, children were used to torture and terrorize victims. In one particularly tragic incident in Tarsali, an old Muslim man was shown the head of his beheaded son on a tray before he was brutally slewed [sic] himself. Another woman surrounded by a mob had to watch as her son, who had climbed up a tree to escape the mob, be brought down, his fingers cut off, and the rest of his body dismembered in her presence, all before she herself was killed.

The impact of such merciless violence on children is excruciating even to imagine. Thirteen-year-old Azharuddin testifies,

I saw Farzana being raped by Guddu Chara. Farzana was about thirteen years old. She was a resident of Hussain Nagar. They put a saria [rod] in Farzana’s stomach. She was later burnt. Twelve-year-old Noorjahan was also raped. The rapists were Guddu, Suresh and Naresh Chara and Haria. I also saw Bhawani Singh, who works in the state Transport Department kill five men and a boy.

Eight-year-old Saddam described how men attacked and ‘then…then they stripped my mother naked…usko nanga kar diya’. A nine-year old volunteered to explain to another women’s team what balatkar [rape] means. ‘Balatkaar ka matlab jab aurat ko nanga karte hain aur phir use jala deta hain (Rape is when a woman is stripped naked and then burnt)’. It goes on to observe: ‘Only a child can tell it like it is. For this is what happened again and again in Naroda Patiya—women were stripped, raped and burnt. Burning has now become an essential part of the meaning of rape.’

For children, the sense of loss is more innocent but no less profound. For example, seven-year-old Shaheen can’t understand why her loss is less important than others. Resentment is barely concealed in her innocent eyes. Because the looters who attacked her village snatched away her most prized possessions—her toys. She says, ‘Ek cycle thi (I had a cycle).’ But lest we don’t appreciate the full extent of her loss, she quickly adds, ‘Doosri cycle bhi thi (I also had another cycle).’ Thereafter, in barely audible tones, the list starts pouring out of her mouth— ‘Ek kursi, ek vimaan. Ek choolah bhi tha. Chooleh pe roti banate the. Gudiya bhi thi. (One chair, one aeroplane, one stove. I used to make rotis on my stove. I also had a doll).’ When asked are Hindus bad? ‘Yes,’ she nods, followed by a quick, ‘No.’ She is thinking of Anita and Kamal, her friends in the village school in Atasumba. They are Hindus. She misses them.

This excerpt from ‘Between Memory and Forgetting: Massacre and the Modi Years in Gujarat’, written by Harsh Mander, has been published with permission from Yoda Press.

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