Wednesday, March 21, 2007

The Gujaret Tragedy

The following essay was written after reading several essays depicting the horrendous and ongoing religious turmoil in India, Bangledesh and Pakistan that has been fought on the bodies of Hindu, Sikh and Muslim women.

A Massive Exercise in Human Misery
On February 27, 2002 the Sabarmati Express leaving the train station in the town of Godhra in the Indian state of Gujaret caught fire. Fifty eight Hindu pilgrims, including fifteen women and twenty children were burned alive. Most of the dead were Hindus. Several official bodies have been commissioned to investigate the tragedy. Some ruled the deaths accidental and others were inconclusive. What we know from our readings is that religious violence was prevalent in India and Gujarat was no stranger to religious turmoil. Religious riots had occurred in Godhra in past years including: 1948, 1953-55, 1965, 1969, October 1980, 1985 and 1992.[1] In the days that followed retaliation killings resulted in more than 2,000 Muslim deaths.[2] No one was immune to the wanton killing spree. Young children were the set on fire along with their families Mass rapes and mutilations of women too place, much like the incidents described during the exodus of 1947 described in our readings. Nussbaum described these acts:
The typical tactic was first to rape or gang-rape the woman, then to torture her, and set her on fire and kill her. Although the fact that most of the dead were incinerated makes a precise sex count of the bodies impossible one mass grave that was discovered contained more than half female bodies. Many victims of rape and torture are also among the survivors who have testified. The historian Tanika Sarkar, who played a leading role in investigating the events and interviewing witnesses, has argued in an important article that the evident preoccupation with destroying women’s sexual organs reveals “a dark sexual obsession about allegedly ultra-virile Muslim male bodies and over fertile Muslim female ones that inspire(s) and sustain(s) the figures paranoia and revenge. This sexual obsession is evident in the hate literature circulated during the carnage.[3]

Nussbam’s and Sarkar’s account of rape and torture evokes Mattie K. Pennebker all over again.[4] Their analyses, while slightly different, share a common theme of women’s bodies being the battle grounds on which males wage their wars. Bangladeshi sources cite 200,000 women raped with thousands giving birth to “war babies.” I was confuse how Sarmila Bose could dispute the veracity of this fact if such living breathing evidence exists. Susan Brownmiller purports that the number of women raped during the exodus is over 400,000. Nussbaum reminds us that it is possible for men to “beat, abuse, burn, even break up at will: it’s yours to use, and to abuse” to do these things because they have objectified women. This is in keeping with Pennebaker who also reminds us that it is not just violence directed toward women of other faith traditions, but domestic violence exists with males using violence to control their women who they view as their property. Leela Visaria, from the Gujarat Institute of Development Studies conducted research on violence against women in rural Gujarat among a sample of 346 women. Two-thirds of the women surveyed reported some form of psychological, physical, or sexual abuse from their partners.[5] Of the total sample, 42 percent experienced physical beatings or sexual assault. An additional 23 recent suffered abusive language, belittlement and threats. While these findings of violence might appear “mild” in contrast to the massive rapes, mutilation and deaths experienced by women during the exodus and partition of Pakistan period, the information is presented to demonstrate the continuum of violence that is always operating as a means to control women and ensure that they comply to male dictates.
Furthermore, Nussbaum believes that the Hindu, Muslim and Sihk males view women as “a symbol of the nation, which its men must control n order to preserve manly honor. The struggle of the men within each group not to cede to women any sphere of rule that might weaken hem in relation to the men of any other group is a major impediment to feminist reform.”[6]
Sanjeev Sriastava, British Broad Casting (BBC) correspondent in Bombay questions why Gujarat is so violent? What our readings did not reveal is that Guarat, is the adopted home town of Mahatma Gandhi. However, for the sake of these reflection it does not matter whether the violence was the result of religious conflict or not, what is at issue is the unpardonable way in which women were and are treated. Sriastava contends that in 1969, nearly 2,500 people were killed in Gujarat. Then in the 1980s and again in 1992 communal riots shook the city following e destruction of the Babri mosque by Hindus. Social worker, Achyut Yagnik, claims the following factors are the source of the violence: 1) urbanization and 2) rising prosperity. Rapid economic growth in the 1960s and 1970s resulted in Gujarat becoming one of India’s richest and industrially developed provinces. However, a recession in the 1980s resulted in the closing of a number of mills that put 50,000 individuals out of work. According to Yagnik, Gujarat has also developed a thriving underworld that is linked to Bombay as a result of frustration and unemployment. Huge sums of money have been made smuggling guns, contraband ad silver from Pakistan to Bombay via Gujarat. Two dangerous factors appear to fuel the riots, much of the illegal money is now in the hands of “religious extremists,” both Muslim and Hindu and these criminal elements openly participate in the religious war, making confrontations even more bloody and vicious. It seems Gujarat is rocked with man made and natural disasters of violence. In 2001 20,000 people were killed by a earthquake.

[1] Wikipedia. Godhra Train Burning http://en.wikipedia.orgwiki/Godhra%20Train%20Burning%20p.1 and Sanjeev Srivastgava. Analysis: Why is Gujarat so Violent? BBC News, asisa1856049.stm
[2] Martha C.Nussbaum. Body of the Nation: Why Women were Mutilated in Gujarat Boston: Boston Review, 29 July, 2004) 1.
[3] Martha C. Nussbaum. Body of the Nation. 2.
[4] Mattie K. Pennebaker. The Will of Men: Victimization of Women During India’s Partition.
[5] Leela Visaria. Violence against Women in India: Evidence from Rural Gujarat in Domestic Violence in India: A Summary Report of Three Studies.Center Washington, DC: International Center for Research on Women, 1999, 9-17.
[6] Martha C. Nussbaum. Body of the Nation. 4.

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