THE NANDIGRAM situation once again brought to the fore the political demons that have been unleashed on this country. I am not only angry about what happened and continues to happen in Nandigram, but on how it has yet again carved out its violent path on women’s bodies and lives. The first few stories of sexual assault trickled in early this year with news of a 14-year-old girl who had been raped and hung from a tree. The stories have only become more sickening.
A recent report on Nandigram, prepared by a team of concerned citizens from Kolkata including teachers, social activists, researchers and students, said:
Extensive physical abuse and sexual abuse of women, ranging from rape and forcing of rods into women’s vaginas, to rampant sexual harassment, as well as abduction of girls has been reported since March this year, but not much has been done to provide relief to the women, or to initiate investigation against and punish the perpetrators.
According to the report, hundreds of women who had fled Kalicharanpur, Adhikaripara, Simulkunda and Satengabari in fear of sexual assault were still in the Nandigram camp. Not only had their homes been looted and burnt down but they had also been severely threatened by CPM cadres , who came around saying “We’ll come back at night – light your lamps and wait for us with open doors. Send your men away, we’ll come back to you at night.”
In one horrific incident, Akhreja Bibi who had been gang raped in Satengabari by 6-7 men is now in Tamluk hospital. The report goes on to say:
Women of these villages are still living in fear of being sexually abused, and young girls have been sent to relatives’ homes elsewhere. The fear and insecurity of the villagers and specially the women at the Nandigram camp has been so high that they have refused to go back to their villages till the CRPF is posted their to ensure their safety and protect them from the violent vengeance of the “Harmad Bahini” comprising CPM cadres. Some of the people who had participated in the unarmed march to Maheshpur on 10th November were arrested and locked up for three days in the school building. The women were subject to repeated sexual harassment by male CPM cadres who claimed the women were were Maoists.
Recommendations have been made that the political parties involved put an immediate stop to such incidences, register all cases, set up counseling centers or authorize NGO’s to do so for the purpose of trauma alleviation. But no action has been taken so far. Even more shocking is the fact that all this is happening in a state known for its gentility and culture and ruled by a leader who one wouldn’t have thought had anything in common with Narendra Modi. Yet, the stories are shockingly similar to Gujarat in 2002.
Any kind of emergency and conflict situation increases vulnerability of civilian populations and exacerbates the possibility of violence, especially towards women. The experience that women have in such situations is not only as bad as that of men, but far worse because of the sexual violence they are subjected to. Seen as ‘spoils of war’, a means of exacting revenge and humiliating an entire community (as witnessed in Gujarat), women are subject to various forms of sexual assault and harassment. Vulnerability reaches an all time high because social relations and restraints are eroded in these abnormal situations.
The loss of homes and livelihoods only serves to compound the problem. Women and children are forced to flee, often without the traditional protection of their families and spouses, therefore putting themselves at greater risk. Trying to register cases with the police is a never-ending nightmare given their complicity in the violence. I recall a friend narrating an incident of how she was shoved out of a police station in Gujarat by the inspector who yelled at her saying ‘nikal ja randi (get out you prostitute)’ — and she was only trying to register a case on behalf of someone else! She could fall back on the resources of the NGO supporting her, including good lawyers. What chance does a poor woman with no knowledge of the law have?