KAUSER BANO’S story has become a familiar one by now. It has been talked about time and again in various reports and accounts about the Gujarat pogrom and has come to represent the worst face of the evil that’s become commonplace in the state.
Kauser Bano, was nine months pregnant that day. Her belly was torn open and her foetus wrenched out, held aloft on the tip of a sword, then dashed to the ground and flung into a fire. Bajrangi recounts how he ripped apart “ek woh pregnant… b*******d sala”; how he showed Muslims the meaning of wrath—“If you harm us, we can respond — we’re no khichdi-kadhi lot”.
~ From the Tehelka report on Gujarat 2002
Babu Bajrangi, her killer, was arrested in 2002 but is out on bail and is hastily trying to amend the statements made in such bravado.
No amount of writing or talking about the horrific sexual violence unleashed on Muslim women during the Gujarat pogrom will ever be enough. We will never fully understand, never really empathise, never be entirely sure that it will not happen again. Because the scale of the horror is such. It defies imagination. It leaves us gasping for words that suddenly seem small in the mouth and meaningless.
What makes it more horrifying is that these were not stray incidents of barbarism. The rapes were pre-planned, deliberate and systematic, an integral part of the battle. According to this report, groups of women were herded into fields by men who instructed each other to “not let a single one remain untouched”. On the streets, fourteen-year-old girls were raped by Hindu men shouting ‘Har Har Mahadev’ through the hideous act.
Wherever one looks, there is evidence of depravity. A Citizen’s Initiative report on sexual violence during the Gujarat massacre runs into many pages. Significantly, it points out the strange silence of the media at the time about the heinous crimes that were being committed against women.
We find that, yet again Muslim women are being victimized twice over. They have suffered the most unimaginable forms of sexual abuse during the Gujarat carnage. And yet, there is no one willing to tell their stories to the world. Women’s bodies have been employed as weapons in this war – either through grotesque image-making or as the site through which to dishonour men, and yet women are being asked to bear all this silently. Women do not want more communal violence. But peace cannot be bought at the expense of the truth, or at the expense of women’s right to tell the world what they have suffered in Gujarat.
This older article talks about how, sickeningly, rape became both a feather in the cap of the rapists and a method of keeping victims in line before and after the assembly elections of 2002.
Before and after the assembly election of 2002, rapists swaggered about and threatened their victims with the repetition of their act. They do it to this day. The act itself is seen as one which brought glory to them, and obscene songs are sung to keep its memory alive. Even the police, staunch defenders of a law perverted beyond recognition, use the threat as a means of keeping Gujarat’s Muslims cowed and silent.
Elsewhere, the Gujarat genocide has been compared to the ethnic cleansing carried out against Muslims in Bosnia in terms of the murder of men and the rape of their women.
According to this UNFPA paper on Sexual Violence Against Women and Girls in War and Its Aftermath, sexual violence during times of conflict takes place because of multiple reasons — as a random by-product of the collapse in social and moral order, to destroy community bonds, to instill fear or for ethnic cleansing. In the case of Gujarat, all these motives came into play.
The report also points out that:
In a world where sex crimes are too often regarded as misdemeanors during times of law and order, surely rape will not be perceived as a high crime during war, when all the rules of human interaction are turned on their heads, and heinous acts regularly earn their perpetrators commendation…. The rules of war can never really change as long as violent aggression against women is tolerated in everyday life. In a world where thousands of women suffer sexual violence committed with impunity in the context of conflict, the message needs to be made clear: A single rape constitutes a war crime.
After a point, the horrors of the Gujarat genocide can get too much to fathom. The individual voices melt to one shriek. The faces blur into one entity. Too often, words like pogrom and genocide cloud the true meaning of things, make them digestible little pieces of information to be consumed with the morning chai. But the women raped and killed in Gujarat were not a homogenous mass, a category of victimhood or a clever academic term. They were individuals like you and me. Raped, shamed, tortured and slit, cut or broken where it hurt most. Women who laughed, cooked, sang, played with their children, knitted, read. Girls with soft voices or loud laughs, large smiles or small hands, who dreamed of love, freedom and success. Sisters who giggled under the covers after lights out. Daughters who sometimes pouted when they didn’t get their way. Mother. Wives. Friends.
Not only do the perpetrators of the Gujarat violence need to be brought to book, they need to be charged with the individual crimes they have committed. They need to be punished for every single rape that they have so proudly recounted — each one a separate crime.