Gender-based issues have been a salientfeature in communal violence over the reporting period, both in terms of targetedviolence against women during communal riots as well as the growth of campaignswith specific gendered dimensions. Strongly identified as ‘symbolic bearers ofnational identity’, women in India are frequently ‘literal and figurative battlegrounds’during social instability and violence, often with particularly severe implicationsfor minority women.
This is highlighted by the presence of communalmobilization around questions of ‘honour’ and sexual violence at Partition, andmore recently during communal riots in Gujarat in 2002 which saw the systematictargeting of Muslim women, as well as Hindu women with associations to Muslims.The case of communal riots inMuzaffarnagar and Shamli in 2013 is particularly instructive. Calls to ‘protectwomen’s honour’ helped trigger communal riots, including allegations of aMuslim man harassing a Hindu (Jat) woman from a village nearby – evidence ofwhich has been questioned, but a narrative which continues to be perpetuated,including by politicians linked to the BJP.1During the riots, Muslim women were systematic targets of sexual violence, withreports 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 challengesfacing victims, many of whom have lost homes and family members.Although the Criminal Amendment Act2013 provides greater scope to seek justice for sexual violence during communalviolence, the seven victims of gang rape who have pursued cases have facednumerous obstacles, such as threats and intimidation, lack of adequatereparations, and excessive delays with no convictions having yet been secured.2These challenges are exacerbated by the fact that each of these women are fromworking class, Muslim minority backgrounds, while the accused – all menbelonging to the Jat community – are more influential, reportedly with betterlinks to the state machinery. Communal violence also has longer term impactsfor minority women in particular.
In the case of Muzaffarnagar, there have beenreports that higher insecurity and attempts to ‘protect’ women have resulted inhigher drop-out rates and more frequent marriages of under-age girls fromaffected families.Many incidents of communal violencehave been linked to disputes over marriages, relationships or so called ‘eveteasing’ – the widespread problem of sexual harassment of young girls and women– between communities. While it is a pervasive problem for women of allreligious communities that reflects the persistence of gender inequalities andpatriarchal norms in India, sexual harassment has increasingly been framed as acommunal issue, meaning that it can often serve as the trigger for massviolence. 1 ‘UP elections: BJP promised anti-Romeo squads. To stop love jihad,says its Meerut leader2 Amnesty International, Losing Faith: The Muzaffarnagar Gang-RapeSurvivors’ Struggle for Justice, February 2017