| by Kalpana Mehta and  Ranjana Padhi

( December 1, 2013, New Delhi, Sri Lanka Guardian)  The explosion of communal violence in Muzaffarnagar, Shamli and adjoining districts of Uttar Pradesh is the latest in a long series. The collusion between patriarchy and communalism has been starkly exposed in Muzaffar Nagar case too. Patriarchal control of women's sexuality and opposition to the idea of women's freedom of choices in relationships has been given new dimensions by the gatekeepers of caste and community, who have created the fiction of ‘love jihad’ to camouflage the reality of sexual violence.

As the virus of communal politics gathers force once again in the countdown to the 2014 elections, sexual violence is once again being deployed as a tool to secure electoral gains. We fear that Muzaffar Nagar is only the beginning - there will be more such attempts to turn women's bodies into battlefields where contending parties vie for votes.

These sentiments were echoed in a meeting organized by Women Against Sexual Violence and State Repression a network of women's rights, dalit rights, human rights and civil liberties organizations and individuals across India, in Delhi on 30th November, Saturday.

Even though Gujarat 2002 stands out for the unprecedented explosion of sexual violence that was unleashed on minority women and despite the public outrage and the many pledges of preventing a repetition of this horrifying scenario, the violence in Muzzafar Nagar is a warning that the strategy piloted in Gujarat is still a central element of the right-wing political arsenal, rooted as it is in the age-old perception of women - whether Hindu or Muslim - as the ‘property’ of the community and as the repositories of ‘community honour’.

In Muzaffarnagar, inflammatory speeches and frenzied slogans of ‘bahu bachao, beti bachao’ and ‘beti bahu ki izzat bachao’ were used to mobilise men of the dominant castes by convincing them that “their women” were in imminent danger." The notion of protecting community honour was invoked to justify a direct call for targeted violence against minority women. A wave of sexual violence was unleashed against women immediately after the Mahapanchayat held on 7th September 2013 in Muzaffar Nagar.

Women and girls were chased down as they tried to flee the mobs, and subjected to rape and gang rape. Young girls were singled out for particularly humiliating and degrading forms of violence.

As in Gujarat, the impact of the riots has been magnified and intensified by the passivity, if not the outright collusion, of the local administration. The Mahapanchayat of 7 September was allowed to proceed despite its being a blatant violation of prohibitory orders.

Sehba Farooqui from AIDWA told that two Mahapanchayats held prior to the riots were active in spreading rumours about Muslim youth harassing Hindu women.

Farah Naqvi, member of NAC, talked about the internal displacement and absence of emergency response in such situations. “What bothers me most is the internal displacement caused by such incidents. It impacts women severely and leads to increased sexual violence.”

Even after 3 months, there are little or no arrangements for provision of even basic minimum foodgrains, health-care or sanitation in the camps where victims are housed in inhuman conditions. There has been no action on the question of return and rehabilitation of the survivors’ ghetoised in the camps. Women are being intimidated to remain silent about the sexual violence to which they have been subjected.

The Nellie massacre of 1983, the anti-Sikh carnage of 1984, the 2002 pogrom in Gujarat, the attacks on Christians in Orissa in 2007 and 2008, the communal violence in 2012 in Assam, as well as other incidents and episodes, too many to count, are still bywords for horror. The unwillingness of the political and administrative system to make itself accountable has led not only to the loss of innocent lives, but to the permanent uprooting and displacement of lakhs of people who have little hope of justice, reparation or restoration of their lives.

As women, as feminists and as citizens committed to human rights and democracy, we must and will counter the anti-women, anti-democratic methods and means being deployed by a shamelessly patriarchal, communal and violent political system that is clearly bereft of all morality.

We call on all democratic and peace-loving people to expose, condemn and oppose those who are turning women's bodies into battlegrounds for petty political gains. We demand justice and reparation for the women who are confronting and resisting the politics of sexual violence in Muzaffarnagar as well as in other parts of the country.

The meeting was addressed by Farah Naqvi (member NAC), Sehba Farooqui (AIDWA) Haseena (Awaz-e-niswan, Mumbai), Seema Mustafa (Centre for Policy Analysis), Pushpa (Vanangana), Mohan Rao (Professor, JNU), Purnima Gupta (Nirantar, Delhi), Uma Chakraborty (Feminist Historian), Kalyani Menon-Sen (renowned feminist).