Monday 23 December 2013

Muzaffarnagar riots: Three months on, women worse off

Comment: the country is just a hell-hole for women :(
Hindu women protesting the arrest of their men and the 'false' cases lodged against them; horrified Muslim gang-rape survivors in relief camps; harassment on way to school forcing Hindu girls to stay at home; mass 'panic' marriages of Muslims girls from victim families.
Women have borne the brunt of the September riots in western UP, which were perpetuated in the name of saving their honour. The communal violence, in which 65 people were killed and over 60,000 displaced, only reinforced the region's deep-rooted patriarchy.
Over a dozen women panchayats have taken place in Muzaffarnagar, Meerut and Shamli in the past one month. "Such panchayats are adding to the tension and we cannot stop them because any mishandling of women will only deepen the crisis," says a police officer.
While local leaders justify these 'armed' panchayats, saying the women are only protesting against the injustice being meted out to their men, some dailies have published photographs glorifying the women who brandished countrymade pistols and swords as 'chandis' (goddesses) out to protect their honour.
"Women with weapons standing along with their children not only shows the sense of insecurity among them but also how divisive forces have successfully penetrated into the society," said Manju Bharti, a Muzaffarnagar-based activist. "Communalisation of women means the rift will last for generations."
In sharp contrast to these armed women are the scores of those who were sexually assaulted during the riots and who are now living in relief camps. Activists who visited these camps say rape survivors are devastated and do not want to go back to their native villages, where they were violated and their family members were killed.
Over 600 weddings have taken place in the relief camps so far. People claim, somewhat dubiously, that most of the marriages were fixed before the riots and are being solemnized now. Post-riots, new restrictions have also being imposed on the movements of girls. Attendance of girls in schools has registered a huge drop.
For the past two years, instances of sexual assault and harassment were used selectively to whip up communal passions, eventually leading to the horrific violence.
"Men are constructing 'fear' in the name of 'honour' and then using it to impose their decision on women," says activist Roma Malik, who visited the affected areas recently. "Violence against women is common in both the communities, but this time it has been given a communal colour, making it a double whammy."
Muslim rape survivors are keeping quiet, fearing stigma. Many Hindu women, their men behind bars, fear they may be targeted now. And the fear of something untoward happening is making Hindu girls drop out of schools and forcing Muslim families to marry off their daughters.
"The communal forces which instigated the riots have hijacked the khap panchayats infamous for issuing Talibani diktats against the women," says Madhu Garg, state secretary, All India Democratic Women's Association, who has prepared a report on the riots after visiting the affected areas.
All this does not bode well for the status of women. The sex ratio in Muzaffarnagar is an abysmal 889 females per 1,000 males and the child sex ratio is a pathetic 863. Female literacy is 58.69% against the average of 69.12%. Most girls drop out of school after Class 10. Crimes against women are common in the region.

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