Whether Aleppo or India, regardless of who may win the war, women in conflict zones only lose. Does anyone care?
It’s getting cold in most parts of India and in ways more than one. There’s another part of the world that’s getting colder too. A 2000 miles away, the city of Aleppo is being burnt to ashes. There’s some warlike thing going on, yes we remotely remember reading something like that.
“But Aleppo is a city in Syria, so what more do you expect. And what’s new in all this?”
Because it’s been 5 years and 2 months since Syria has been burning. Of course, we remember the 5-year-old Syrian boy sitting shell shocked on the back of an orange chair in an ambulance, that had managed to make headlines even here.
The war is on between Bashar al-Assad (the president of Syria) and ISIS (the radical terrorist organization) who want Assad to quit. Bashar al-Assad has inherited power in Syria over 10 years after succeeding his father. There are severe cases of corruption, opening fire and throwing bombs on civilian localities and absolute mindless dictatorship while the ISIS is said to have funded by the US to dethrone Assad and get Syria under its control.
The death count in Syria until now has been around 4,50,000 out of which 50,000 are children. The past few months have been deadly for Aleppo. You could have many different versions of who’s the wrong one in this; but between the two, it is difficult to find the lesser evil, while what is not in doubt is that the civilians of Aleppo have paid the toughest price. Especially the women.
On 16th of December, 20 Syrian women in Aleppo committed suicide to escape rape. A woman wrote in her suicide letter which was retrieved and then shared on Facebook by Abdul Lateef, the Founder of a Syrian Non-Profit Organization.
“I am one of the woman in Aleppo who will soon be raped in just moments. There are no more weapons or men that can stand between us and the animals who are about to come called the ‘country’s army.”
“Sad. But now, there’s UN intervention in this. It will be better soon. Nevertheless, with all due respect, there’s nothing new in this either. These countries are born for war. Why should we care so much about Aleppo?”
It will take a little more effort to draw parallels from Aleppo to India; to see why should we care. The whole world since the beginning has seen women as the tools of their worst vengeance. Of course, we’ve not been mere spectators to it. We have been a part of it.
The swear words that we use, for instance, are very symbolic of the greatest tool that we use to hurt a person, a man, a family or a community. Rape as a war crime in India brings historical images of the Mughals who would rape Hindu women: brides, ordinary women, princesses and queens when they would attack. A lot of traditions in the royal families of Rajasthani communities like ‘ghoonghat’ and ‘parda’ also seem to date back stories of the same period. In spite of these traditions being absolutely irrelevant today, these women are still paying a cost for the mistakes they never made.
Another historic incident of mass rapes in India is the 1947 Partition where the women saw the worst of a collective and mutual Hindu-Muslim vengeance. There are tonnes of books and films depicting the tragic stories of partition.
“Sure. Anything else? This is sad history. But India hasn’t been at war for years now!”
A study done by Medecins Sans Frontieres in mid-2005 reveals that Kashmiri women are among the worst sufferers of sexual violence in the world. Kashmir has been a war zone for Kashmiri women. Between the cold battle between the militants, the stone pelters, the Indian army and Pakistan; Kashmiri women have been nothing less than an object for violence.
The study further mentions that since the beginning of the armed struggle in Kashmir in 1989, sexual violence has been routinely perpetrated on Kashmiri women. 11.6% of respondents in this study said that they were victims of sexual abuse. (This figure, by the way, is much higher than of our beloved neighbours, Sri Lanka). The Kashmir home department has no specific data in this regard for the last 17 years. Do you know about Kunan Poshpora?
On the night of February of 1991, the army men of Rajputana Rifles had allegedly mass raped 31 women of Kunan Poshpora village in Kashmir. It has been 25 years and there’s no justice to that. Bastar (town) in Chhattisgarh is a war zone between the Maoists vs the police and the government. Soni Sori, the human rights activist in Bastar speaks bloody tales of women who were raped and then put in jail, labelled as a Maoist without any trials and then were raped again; there are, in fact, stories of babies being delivered in the jail. Similar stories in Irom Sharmila’s Manipur, the same in Nagaland.
Who hasn’t heard about the genocide (oops: riots) of 2002 in Gujarat? Where women saw the worst of blatant sexual violence (in the name of provocation to the Godhra train burning and sparks being flown by the local media) where the women victims were stripped and paraded naked, then gang-raped, and thereafter quartered and burnt beyond recognition. These rapes include that of minor girls, infants and pregnant women too.
Whether or not we like to hear or accept the fact, but women of particularly from the minorities whether Hindu/Non-Hindu, have seen the worst of all the political, communal and religiously motivated riots. What is uglier is that it hasn’t seen protests or sympathies from the majority women either.
Of course, there have been many more riots that have happened in our country and many more wars and invasions by the external forces.
It is essential to note that the rapes committed during wars (whether external or internal) has in most cases little to do with sexual satisfaction. It is perceived as an achievement of power and thus used to humiliate the enemy.
The men (and the community) who are unable to defend and protect their women are considered to be inferior. Discrimination against women during war can be very extreme and different at the same time, from the times of peace.
To quote Kamla Bhasin from her work in Women Unlimited,
“Discrimination, that women often have to face in times of peace, gets reinforced in war as the community becomes militarised. Militarism and masculinist values, such as domination, aggression and assertiveness, are closely intertwined. In patriarchic societies, men enjoy control over women’s productive power, reproduction, sexuality and/or mobility as well as over property and other economic resources. 5 It is very common that women are restricted to their homes and have to ask for permission to leave their house. They are also frequently denied ownership and inheritance of property. In fact, women themselves are commonly seen as the property of men.”
Imagine being in that part of the world that no one cares about. Where not only the external enemies but also your own people, your army men can rip you off any day, any moment. And in spite of that, no media is interested to show your tragedy or appeal for you. You are screaming out aloud but there is no one to listen. These women are at war every day. These women are everywhere in the world.
I remember reading a recent article about Aleppo on YKA which was addressing the question, ‘Who is at war with who in Syria’. I would say, whoever is at war, women are the worst victims.
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First published here.
Pic of a girl amidst bombed out buildings via Unsplash