How Hindu Mobs Used Rape As a Weapon Against Women Such as Bilkis Bano During the Gujarat Riots

07 May 2017

On 4 May 2017, the Bombay High Court upheld a sessions court decision convicting 11 people of committing the gang rape of Bilkis Yakub Rasool, a 19-year-old pregnant woman often referred to as Bilkis Bano, and the murder of 14 members of her family, during the Gujarat riots of 2002. The sessions court had sentenced the convicts to life imprisonment, which the high court upheld. The court also set aside the acquittals of others who were accused in the case, including Gujarat police officers.

In Splintered Justice: Living the Horror of Mass Communal Violence in Bhagalpur and Gujarat, Warisha Farasat, a lawyer practising in Delhi, and Prita Jha, a legal activist and researcher based in Ahmedabad, closely examine the state’s accountability in two instances of mass communal violence. Farasat writes on the carnage in Bhagalpur district, in Bihar, in 1989, and Jha on the riots in Gujarat in 2002. In the following extract from the book, Jha recounts how the Hindu mobs attacking Muslim neighbourhoods used rape as a weapon against women—including the Hindu women they believed were guilty of associating with Muslims. “The struggles of Gujarat’s rape survivors were not, and still are not, limited to the courts of law,” Jha writes. “These women had to also fight for their dignity in their own communities.”

Widespread evidence of sexual violence is found in several reports brought out by civil society and concerned citizens’ groups, but data gathered by CES [The Centre for Equity Studies] through RTI queries suggested that few rapes were reported, and even fewer registered by the police. The reluctance of women, particularly in rural areas, to report their ordeal, stemmed from their fear of being ostracised by a society that looks down upon survivors of rape. The fact that impunity for perpetrators was the order of the day in the Gujarat of 2002 would have further persuaded the victims to not approach the police, in whom the Muslims had little, if any, confidence.

Prita Jha is a legal activist and researcher based in Ahmedabad. She works on justice for survivors of mass violence and violence against women. She has co-edited, with Surabhi Chopra, On Their Watch: Mass Violence and State Apathy in India.

Keywords: 2002 riots rape Gujarat riots communal violence Communal riots Bilkis Bano