PUCL Bulletin, September 2002

Gujarat violence - concern over plight of women victims
-- By Neelofar Haram

A Meeting on 'Gujarat Carnage and Women' was held at the Indian Social Institute, Delhi on July 26, 2002.

Women delegates who had visited Gujarat recently expressed their deep concern over the plight of victims particularly rape victims. They had met these victims at various relief camps, hospitals, and other sensitive areas that were clearly divided on communal basis. The division was such that the members of a minority community cannot cross the border where the members of the majority community stay and vice versa.

After the introductory session, Ms Manimala, a well-known journalist and editor, talked about the ground realities.

Talking about her own experiences, Ms Manimala gave the examples of 1980 Jamshedpur riots, and 1992 Bombay riots, and Bhagalpur riots. She said, "We also know that the Bhagalpur riots were believed to be the worst of all. Over there, some people came to the rescue of the sufferers, but Gujarat riots were completely different. Mostly, in the rural areas, tribals and Dalits were involved in the carnage." She further added that earlier outsiders used to indulge in the attacks, but here victims' own neighbours and friends indulged in the killing, which is the main reason why relief and rehabilitation had become so difficult.

At the same time it was observed in Gujarat that the people belonging to upper caste used tribals and Dalits for criminal purposes. It was gathered that large numbers of tribals were rendered unemployed before the riots erupted and therefore they were readily available for such nefarious purposes.

Commenting over the peculiar situation with regard to rehabilitation in Gujarat, almost all speakers expressed similar views. According to Dr. Alka Srivastav, a member of a team that had recently met the victims of Gujarat violence, said that those women did not want to return to the same place; they feel insecure and had told her, "We don't feel safe anymore and want to remain in minority dominated areas". It was also revealed in the meeting that these victims did not know even the location of Godhra asked the team members "where does Godhra lie? What happened there? We have never been there, why are they connecting Godhra incident with us? Why the hell are they targetting us?"

It was further informed that women and children were targeted specially because woman is the backbone of the family and children are the future. The fanatics tried to scare women by saying, "If you send your sons to school, we will get them addicted to drugs. Your daughters will also be made to suffer."
Seema Durrany of the Indian Social Institute's legal branch asserted that no concrete FIR's were found in police records and that the police records did not mention rape, culpable homicide, etc., which carry a harsher punishment. It was also added that due to such reasons, justice appeared to be a far-flung notion.

The women speakers shared similar views regarding administrative and legal breakdown and lawlessness, which has been prevailing in the State. According to Ms Swati, a young lawyer of the Women's Rights Initiative, the police have not filed any complaints of rape victims and where they have done their duty; mostly they have filed complaints against those who allegedly already figure in FIRs registered with a different name, time, and place of the commitment of the crime under a separate police station.
Another significant thing, which was revealed, was that each FIR begins with Godhra incident no matter where the crime had taken place. Ms Swati said, "It is as though all the policemen had held a meeting and preplanned the format of the FIR."
The last speaker, Ms Jaya Srivastav of the Ankur, began her narration by saying that "there was ritualistic demon in Gujarat". She said, "Don't call it a dangaa, it was a proper genocide in which attempts of ethnic cleansing were made; at the one side was police and on the other side were Muslims."
She said that the highest number of rape cases was found in Fatehpur, but as usual, women folk under pressure of social taboos attached to rape victims, were withdrawing information.

She talked about some of the touching incidents and efforts to understand and tackle the problems of victims. She said that together with other social Activists and NGO's, they organised a community based 'get together' in Rajasthan, where women victims of Gujarat violence were invited. They enjoyed the Rajasthani folk dance performed by village women and also the Mehndi session. It was done to relieve them from trauma and agony they went through. She emphasised that women victims needed to be loved and cared. Also necessary confidence building measures have to be taken to bring back their trust, which has been lost over the past few months due to continuous violence.

As the situation in Gujarat has taken a political turn with Mr Narendra Modi's resignation and the dissolution of the State Assembly, all the women speakers looked forward to a better future.

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