TW: Mentions of sexual abuse and violence
June 19 is observed as the International Day for the Elimination of Sexual Violence in Conflict. In the following series, we take a look at how sexual violence continues to be used as a weapon of war against people are who are especially vulnerable during instances of conflict.
What is conflict-related sexual violence?
The UN defines conflict related sexual violence as “rape, sexual slavery, forced prostitution, forced pregnancy, forced abortion, enforced sterilization, forced marriage, and any other form of sexual violence of comparable gravity perpetrated against women, men, girls or boys that is directly or indirectly linked (temporally, geographically or causally) to a conflict.”
Conflict-related sexual violence in India
According to a 2019 Armed Conflict Location and Event Data project (Acled) report, there has been in an increase in sexual violence in or out of wartime contexts, with women and girls being the primary victims. The report identified regional political militias and state forces as the primary perpetrators of public and political sexual attacks. In both 2018 and 2019, India was amongst the top countries where women are highly vulnerable against conflict related sexual violence.
Legislations such as the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act (AFSPA), which gives immunity to the Indian Army from law for human rights abuses, have proved to be a major hindrance against the elimination of sexual violence in conflict in India.
Past instances of sexual violence in conflict in India
Kunan Poshpora mass rapes
On 23rd February 1991, soldiers of the Fourth Raj Rifles of the Indian Army, launched a search and interrogation operation in the Kashmiri village of Kunan Poshpora. Under the guise of a search operation, men and women in the village were separated. While men were dragged out of their homes at gunpoint and taken to military camps, over the next few hours, the soldiers raped at least 23 women in their own homes – the actual numbers still remain unclear. The Army has consistently denied the occurrence of the mass rapes over the years.
Custodial rape and murder of Thangjam Manorama
On July 11, 2004, 32-year-old Thangjam Manorama’s brutally mutilated body was found near her house after she was picked up in the night from her home in Laiphorak Maring in Manipur by members of the 17th Assam Rifles unit of the Indian Army. An autopsy later revealed that she was raped and assaulted. According to the army, Manorama was picked up because she was a member of the separatist group People’s Liberation Army (PLA) and was responsible for several bomb blasts. This was consistently disputed by Manorama’s family.
Sexual violence against Adivasi women in Chattisgarh
In 2015 and 2016, multiple Adivasi women in at least five villages of Chhattisgarh were sexually assaulted and raped by Chhattisgarh Police. After a report by activists was submitted to the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC), it urged the Chhattisgarh government to give monetary relief to the women, but no move was taken to prosecute the perpetrators. Even after this, more reports of large scale sexual violence came out of Bastar and Bijapur in March 2016.
Sexual violence during anti-CAA and NRC protests
There were multiple instances of sexual violence during anti-CAA and NRC protests. During one protest, Police lathi charged multiple women from Jamia Millia Islamia University, some of whom reported being hit in their genitals. Reports of similar gendered violence came out of Aligarh Muslim University too.
According to the UN, combatting impunity for sexual violence is a ‘central aspect of deterring and preventing such crimes.’ Additionally, fear and cultural stigma hinder the majority of survivors of conflict-related sexual violence to come forward and report it. Increased advocacy efforts, reducing stigma around surviving sexual violence, supporting needs and demands of survivors of conflict-related sexual violence, and improving systems of accountability- might be the first steps towards the elimination of sexual violence in conflict.