India: Stand in solidarity with the women of Gujarat on 8th March

As you are probably planning activities around International Women’s Day, 8th March, WLUML strongly urges you to refocus international attention, protests and solidarity on the ongoing genocidal process taking place in the Indian state of Gujarat since late February 2002.
The last year has been characterized by countless instances of continuing violence and pressure against the Muslim community, especially women. In the meantime, the Sangh Parivar (a network of extreme right Hindu supremacist organisations) pursues its Hindutva agenda with the support of state authorities. They are denying that atrocities took place, rewarding perpetrators and obstructing any attempt to secure justice.

In Gujarat, as in many other conflict situations, women have been targeted as members of the 'other' community, as symbols of the community's honour and as the ones who sustain the community and reproduce the next generation. This has become an all too common aspect of larger political projects of genocide, crimes against humanity and subjugation. In Gujarat, sexual violence against Muslim women as well as against women in inter-religious marriages is central to the organized political project of Hindutva.

Because the 8th of March marks 12 months since the pogroms against the Muslim community began in Gujarat, WLUML feels this is a crucial opportunity for women across the world to demand accountability for the perpetrators and justice for the survivors. While the world’s attention is focused on other crises, we should not allow these crimes against humanity to remain unaddressed. It is also vital to express continuing solidarity with all those who have suffered and continue to face daily humiliation and violence. Equally important is to also support those within and outside the Muslim community who are taking personal risks to provide them support. Global progressive forces must make their position loud and clear on the threat posed by the implementation of the Hindutva agenda, the lack of an appropriate response by mainstream political parties in India, and the shrinking space allowed for secular voices to be heard. The very existence of minorities in India is at stake. The current situation is strengthening all extremist forces in India, including within the Muslim community, as they each seek to exploit communal and ethnic identities for their own political gain.
Note the term ‘Hindutva’ refers to the extreme right ideology promoted by a network of Hindu supremacist organisations collectively know as Sangh Parivar. The Sangh Parivar includes, among others, the RSS (Rashitriya Swayamsevak Sangh), the BJP (Bharatiya Janata Party), the VHP (Vishwa Hindu Parishad). I. December 2002 - The International Initiative for Justice in Gujarat Redressing Violence Against Women Committed by State and Non-State Actors The recent International Initiative for Gujarat (IJJ) was organised by a coalition of women's organizations in India that includes Citizen's Initiative (Ahmedabad), People's Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL) - Shanti Abhiyan (Vadodara), Communalism Combat, Awaaz-E-Niswaan, Forum Against Oppression of Women (FAOW) and Stree Sangam (Mumbai), Saheli, Jagori, Sama, and Nirantar (Delhi), Organised Lesbian Alliance for Visibility and Action (OLAVA, Pune).

In early January, WLUML circulated the Interim Report drafted by a panel of jurists, activists, lawyers, women’s rights activists and academics from various parts of the world who had been invited by the IIJ. The panellists included Sunila Abeysekara, Director of Inform, Colombo, Sri Lanka, Rhonda Copelon, Professor of Law, City University of New York, Anissa Helie of Women Living Under Muslim Laws Algeria/France, Gabriela Mischkowski, Historian and co-founder, Medica Mondiale, Germany, Nira Yuval-Davis, Professor of Gender and Ethnic Studies at the University of Greenwich, UK, and several other prominent feminists.

Keeping in mind the many reports of independent agencies and statutory bodies, the IJJ Panel, which visited Gujarat between 14th and 17th December, investigated the violence, particularly the physical and sexual, inflicted upon women since 27th February 2002 specifically in light of existing international laws, conventions and norms. The Panel also addressed the complicity of the State in the violence, the lack of effective redress for the victims and the implications of the recent BJP victory in the state on December 15th 2002.

During their confidential meetings held with various affected people, support workers, lawyers, and women survivors, the IIJ panelists found evidence of the following aspects of ongoing violence and persecution against the Muslim community as a whole and especially women:

· The lack of adequate relief, rehabilitation and compensation measures;

· The failure of the national legal system, especially of the police, and of the political system to ensure justice for the victims;

· The systematic economic boycott and deprivation of the means of livelihood;

· The exclusion and harassment in all areas of life (education, access to water, grazing rights for livestock, etc.);

· The continuing harassment and sexual violence against women;

· The destruction of traditional support systems among the displaced;

· The damage to women’s physical, reproductive and psycho-social health and the threat posed to an entire community.

The panelists, who noted the "frightening exacerbation of the genocidal conditions prevailing in Gujarat with the potential of spreading to other parts of India" and called "for an urgent and concerted international and national response", are currently finalising the full report.

For more detailed background information, please refer to the IIJ Interim Report and extensive coverage on the Online Volunteers website at http//

II. January-February 2003 - Recent Issues for Concern Continuing violence against the Muslim minority

- incidences of heavy stone-pelting and arson in various districts, leading to curfew and police using tear-gas shells;

- recurring physical violence limiting freedom of movement;

- explicit threats against individuals (members of the Gujarati Muslim community and the people who lend them support, such as social workers, human rights and women’s rights activists, media persons, etc.);

- "samjhauta" continuing pressures exercised on survivors to compromise (displaced Muslims allowed back into their towns/villages only on condition that they withdraw their complaints, do not name those who committed violence against them);

- climate of fear and insecurity, also fueled by false accusations in the local Gujarati press;

- sustained economic boycott endangering basic survival (Muslim-owned businesses are boycotted, services are shunned, street vendors are prevented to set up their stalls, farmers are prevented to tend their fields or cattle, employees are arbitrarily dismissed);

- increased ghettoisation (those identified as Muslims are denied the right to rent houses, to register their children in local schools, etc);

- exodus (Muslim families leaving their birth places and relocating in district headquarters in search of alternative livelihoods and homes);

- cultural takeover;

Denial of violence/denial of justice

- communal biases in the police police continue to refuse to register complaints or keep producing distorted, erroneous and incomplete complaints;

- misuse of power by the police (combing operations are carried mostly out in Muslim neighborhoods, detentions are arbitrary and often politically motivated, violence occurs in police stations);

- distorted police claims are related by biased media ("The situation is peaceful, normal and under control" Press Trust of India, February 12th 2003);

- on the other hand, progressive media are accused to "carry a misinformation campaign" ("Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi was at his abrasive best, targeting the media. It was time, he said, they did something to restore their credibility after 10 months of consistent attempts to "tarnish Gujarat's image" ­ Times News Network, January 10th, 2003);

- consistent failure of national legal mechanisms to provide justice to survivors and hold perpetrators accountable (despite evidence of the direct involvement of BJP, VHP and Bajrang Dal leaders as instigators and perpetrators of the violence in Gujarat, none has been indicted to this date) - perpetrators are protected or even rewarded (e.g. "Chief Secretary G. Subba Rao, who drew criticism for failing to provide crucial bureaucratic leadership during the post-Godhra riots [in 2002], has been rewarded by Chief Minister Narendra Modi" ­ Express News Service, February 3rd 2003);

- while perpetrators continue to enjoy impunity, hundreds of Muslims remain in prison on false charges (the emphasis is on arresting Muslims allegedly involved in the February 27th 2002 train coach burning - in which 59 Hindus died. With the arrest of Hussain Umarji, a priest holding top-most position in Godhra and refugee-camp organiser, the Muslim community is given a warning that even the most prominent and respected members of their community are at risk ­ February 6th 2003).

Threat of Hindutva spreading to other parts of India

- Human Rights Watch warns of "the increasing volatile consequences of a broad and government supported Hindu nationalist agenda in the country." (Human Rights Watch World Report 2003)

- "Addressing the first state executive meeting of the BJP after the party's poll victory in Gujarat, Deputy prime minister LK Advani indicated that Hindutva would be made the BJP's poll plank during the elections in Himachal Pradesh, Rajasthan, Maharshtra and Madhya Pradesh, as also the Lok Sabha polls in 2004." (Times News Network, January 5th 2003)

- "Calling for repeating the "Gujarat experiment" elsewhere, BJP general secretary Arun Jaitley said, "The Opposition has been criticising us for making Gujarat a laboratory for Hindutva. We must take that as a challenge to prove it was indeed a laboratory." "(Times News Network, January 5th 2003) - [West Bengal] "State BJP president Tathagata Ray took a first-hand lesson from VHP general secretary Praveen Togadia on how to successfully implement the "Modi line" and repeat the Gujarat experience in West Bengal. Top leaders of the state BJP, apart from the state president, attended the meeting along with senior VHP and RSS leaders. Claiming that Gujarat could be turned into Hindu Rashtra' after the VHP set up units in 10,000 villages in the state, Togadia said, "The entire country will follow suit once we build an organisation in around 100,000 villages in India. Ignore the Delhi line. We need to follow the Gujarat line." (Times News Network, January 21st 2003)
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