Ten years after the Gujarat Genocide, Muslim women and girls live with a fatalistic acceptance of life as internal refugees, facing a future of inequality and lesser freedom
By Sheba George
Coming from Gujarat, for some of us, working here pre and post the 2002 Genocide has instinctively made us learn to look at issues from not just women’s eyes but also from the lens of what Muslims have come to accept in Gujarat and what they think and perceive.
The post Genocide phase in Gujarat, which always had and will have bearing for the rest of the country, leads us to a time when propaganda says that some (or more) Muslims will go with the BJP, even if it is for survival . This is even when the state, in a bid of promoting so-called equal treatment, overturned the pre-matriculate scholarship support meant for Muslim girls under the center’s 15 pt program. This was the only program worth mentioning in the 15pt program announced after the Sachar Committee Report.
While we battle Amniocentesis, violence and rape in our unsafe homes, cities and towns, there is a silent siege of sorts that continues vis-a-vis minorities. Time and again, the mass violence against women in the name of caste, religion and regions in conflict, rears its ugly head and the shadow does not leave the subconscious of the targeted community, within Gujarat and even in other states. It defines the limits of progress for many Muslim women, where in this case we have also seen dynamic leadership and versatility among Muslim women.
Writing about 2002 has been a Herculean task. We need to comprehend the politics of identity that ravage the gains that women make. Many people other than Muslims too have suffered displacement and hate crimes, but I write about what I am witnessing and experiencing.
We hold memories of the collective violence, through what we saw, what we heard and what we continue to live with. After 28 years of grassroots activism in Gujarat and battling communalism, one would imagine that many barriers would have been broken and walls scaled in strengthening bonds between women beyond religion, caste and class divides. The Gujarat Holocaust has shown us otherwise.
Through the 90s, we watched with trepidation the marriage between religion and politics with the rise of the BJP-RSS-Bajrang Dal combine, with the liberal mainstream currents of our society saying “what’s wrong with the BJP?”, “they are so disciplined”, “they have a grassroots cadre”, “where is the Congress?!”
Even the communal violence after the shilanyas and demolition of the Babri Masjid in Ayodhya did not ring enough warning bells to resist the high-pitched communal rhetoric that clouded the skies of the country, with minorities being either victims of hate crime or witnessing each other’s violations.
Desecration of religious places was commonplace. Christians were being targeted in Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh, Odisha and Karnataka. The rationale of the fundamentalists is that Indians are by default Hindus and those who had strayed to other religions had to understand their place. Christians were always suspected of conversions. Hence, purification programmes for return to the Hindu fold happened regularly in tribal belts.
All these social and political churnings was something that social and women’s movements were just about grappling with. In fact many of the women trained in Panchayat Raj had propensity towards the BJP. All these events led to the worst genocide in modern India.. Gujarat had witnessed a similar massacre in 1969 with Ahmedabad as epicenter and even then Muslim women had been stripped and chased.
But this is about the holocaust of 2002 in Gujarat that engulfed areas with predominant Muslim populations, who had to pay the price for the burning of 2 train bogeys at Godhra on 27th Feb. 2002 that killed 58 women, children and men. Ahmedabad and the rest of Gujarat looked normal then and look normal now. It’s only “them “, the victims, survivors and witnesses and “us”, the human rights organizations, the media and those whose conscience are stricken by the sheer depravity of violence and decimation of a people stigmatized by their religious identity who remember.
The well-chronicled testimonies, statements, reports lie before the courts of Gujarat and the Supreme Court of India. The battle for truth and justice go on. The petitions for Relief , Rehabilition and Compensation have brought respite and a sense of reparation for some while many still languish in the wretched colonies scattered across the districts of Gujarat.
What has happened to the efforts of the affected women and young girls, who were banished to the shadows of ignominy, to restore normalcy to their lives? We know of some women and girls being either burnt, mutilated or raped. In some cases, husbands and families helped them put their lives back on track. We know of women who did not file cases against their persecutors fearing public shame, protracted legal battles and doubting their ability to provide evidence to prove that they were victims of organized, mass sexual violence.
So-called ‘Normal’ life has been restored through marriage, family and community and a supportive communal silence exists in shared knowledge of the negations experienced as women, as markers of humiliation perpetrated against a community. Stories of the bestiality are a part of public memory, the communal violence of 1969 where 3000 were said to be killed and women stripped and chased are still recalled in Muslim homes. Then also justice was absent.
Today Muslim women and girls who are internally displaced due to this new holocaust of 2002, who stay in these far-flung colonies, live in fatalistic acceptance that their growth and future will be obstructed by a glass ceiling. Their education, their mobility, their enjoyment of equal opportunities has been curtailed for their security. Women are victims of stunted growth in a community of Muslim men and youth who themselves are second class citizens.
Education till 7th or 8th for girls and boys may then be end of the road for these Muslims communities living beyond the edge. They may choose not to go back to their homes to ensure their security. In the battle for survival they will be removed from the economy growth and social integration of their generation next and forgo their right to be part of an integrated mainstream in the rural or urban society (that claims be plural and hold no bias against class, caste and gender).
What really has changed? Does truth see the light of day, do we learn from history or we just delve into history to either justify retribution or make our peace to be able to exist. If historically Muslim women have been embattled within it is also because they are embattled from external threats to their dignity every several years, they have had to time and again retreat to safety of confirming. In a world where women are reaching for the sky, the ordinary Muslim woman is not far behind, she also works at the petrol pump, the call center and the shopping mall even if she comes from the ghettos in cities like her non-Muslim counterpart and if she is a young woman her mobility and liberty is also restricted like her non-Muslim counterpart, but to battle for even these opportunities is out of reach for now in distant colonies where the survivors of the 2002 violence live.
Where is restorative justice? Wrongs don’t get set right. The victim, the survivor has to reconcile to reality and accept lesser equality, lesser freedom, has to submit to living with the limits that are drawn for a community that lives within a mentality of siege as internal refugees.
Written in memory of the loss of lives, property, livestock and the sexual violence against women, after a troubled visit to Rehmatinagar Colony where internally displaced persons from Ghodasar, Mehamdabad and Kheda district reside.
Sheba George is an activist based in Ahmedabad and the founder of SAHR WARU: Women’s Action and Resource unit.