Violence against women during the partition of India

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During the Partition of India, violence against women was an extensive issue,[1] it is estimated that during the partition between 75,000[2] and 100,000 women were kidnapped and raped.[3] The rape of women by males during this period is well documented,[4] with women also being complicit in these attacks,[4][5] it has been estimated that twice as many Muslim women were abducted compared to Hindu and Sikh women, due to the actions of organised Sikh jathas.[6]

India and Pakistan later worked to repatriate the abducted women. Muslim women were to be sent to Pakistan and Hindu and Sikh women to India.[6]

Background[edit]

The communal fury which engulfed the Punjab at the time of partition is said to have produced a human tragedy of almost "unimaginable" proportions. All sections of Punjabi society were affected by displacement, looting, murder and assault. Women were singled out for humiliation at the hands of the rival community. Actions against women included abduction, rape, forcible conversion, molestation, mutilation and death (which included honor killings by men from the same community). Indian Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru candidly described women as the chief sufferers of the partition event,[7] the violence also affected women in other parts of the region such as Jammu and Kashmir and the Rajputana states.

Violence against women[edit]

Systematic violence against women began in March 1947 in Rawalpindi district, over an eight day period many cases of rape and abduction took place as Sikh villages were attacked by Muslim mobs. Many women committed suicide while at other places Sikh women were put to the sword by their own men before an attack by Muslims was imminent.The violence spread from Rawalpindi to the neighboring Attock and Jhelum districts.[8]

Apart from mob violence, abductions also took place on an organised basis, especially in situations where large numbers of inadequately protected refugees were travelling.[8] Women were separated from their menfolk and taken by groups of Pathans in the Jhelum district while an estimated four thousand women in Gujrat district had been openly abducted from refugee trains. One observer who witnessed the movement of a Muslim refugee column from Kapurthala to Jullunder, guarded by a few military sepoys, stated that groups of armed Sikhs would periodically drag out Muslim women in small numbers from the column and kill the men who resisted, while military sepoys would not make any serious attempt to stop these attacks. By the time the refugee column reached Jullunder, no women or girl was left. Where Sikh jathas would allow Muslim women to pass to West Punjab they would frequently be stripped naked before being released.[9]

At times revenge was also a motive behind attacks on women. Refugee men whose women had been taken by Sikhs in East Punjab perpetrated the same acts against the opposite community in Sialkot district. Sikh leaders also claimed that atrocities upon Muslim women was retaliation for the treatment of their own women by Muslims. According to scholar Andrew Major, the large-scale abduction and rape of girls seemed to have been a part of systematic 'ethnic cleansing' in the Gurgaon region on the outskirts of Delhi.[10]

Many influential men such as deputy commissioners and police officials vigorously tried to prevent abductions or rescue the victims. However, many such men abused their position of authority. A Muslim League member of the Legislative Assembly was known to be keeping 500 non-Muslim women and the Maharaja of Patiala was holding an abducted Muslim girl from a reputable family. Other known perpetrators included police officials, landed magnates and Muslim League members as well as criminal elements. Armed Pathans in particular have been considered the worst offenders, particularly in the Rawalpindi district, the Pathans abducted a large number of non-Muslim women from Kashmir and sold them in West Punjab and these sold women often ended up as 'slave girls' in factories. By early 1948, Pathans started abducting even Muslim women.[11]

In East Punjab, local police and the Indian military frequently engaged in the abduction and distribution of Muslim women besides the Sikh jathas and refugees from West Punjab. According to Anis Kidwai, the 'better stuff' would be distributed among the police and army while the remaining were distributed among the rest of the attackers;[12] in the villages around Delhi, police and army soldiers participated in the rape of Muslim women.[13]

Estimates of abductions[edit]

There are no exact figures for the numbers of women abducted. Leonard Mosley wrote that in total 100,000 girls were abducted on all sides, the Indian government estimated that there were 33,000 Hindu and Sikh women in Pakistan and the Pakistani government estimated that there were 50,000 Muslim women abducted in India. Gopalaswami Ayyangar, the head of the Indian delegation at the Inter-Dominion conference, later called these figures 'rather wild'.[12] Andrew Major estimates that 40-45,000 women in total were abducted during the Partition riots, with approximately twice as many Muslim women as Hindu and Sikh women having been abducted.[14]

Recoveries[edit]

In a joint tour of riot-torn districts of Punjab in September 1947, Nehru and the Pakistani Prime Minister Liaquat Ali Khan, vowed to condemn abductions and refuse recognition to forced marriages and conversions which took place after 1 March 1947; in January 1948, Nehru stressed in one of his private letters that the recovery of women was one of the most urgent problems being faced. His government declared that 16-22 February 1948 would be 'Rehabilitation of Abducted Women and Children Week' with the aim of giving momentum to the task of recoveries. Both the Indian and Pakistani governments decided to use various mediums such as religious figures, radio announcements and mobility vans to publicise the recovery message to the public. Leading political figures and their spouses in both countries took part in this program.[15]

The two countries ratified their September declaration by an Inter-Dominion Conference in December which established the recovery procedure; in both countries the Central Recovery Offices were given the job of compiling claims by relatives concerning abducted women. The primary responsibility for locating the abducted women rested on the local police, assisted by guides (relatives of abducted women), social workers and District Liaison Officers (DLOs) who were appointed by the Liaison Agency of the opposite Punjab government. District transit camps were setup for recovered women on both sides of the Punjab with a central camp for non-Muslim women at Lahore and a similar camp for Muslim women at Jullundar. Following the disbandment of the Punjab Boundary Force, the Indian and Pakistani Military Evacuation Organisations (MEOs) were established to provide guards and escorts in transit camps for recovered women being transferred to the other side of the border.[15]

Nehru's government encouraged cooperation between a range of agencies, such as female social workers, for the success of the recovery operations. However, the recoveries were slow. Nehru said in January 1948, 'Neither side has really tried hard enough to recover them', the reason for this included that the Hindu and Sikh refugees in India mistakenly thought that the number of abducted non-Muslim women exceeded the number of Muslim women abducted. These refugees mounted a public campaign, demanding a tougher line against Pakistan and that Muslim women be held up from recoveries as hostages. Nehru rejected this, saying it would be counter-productive; in May 1948, the two governments agreed to stop publicizing the figures of abducted women yet to be recovered. Rivallry between the two countries was another factor for the slow speed of recoveries.[16]

As cooperation between the two Central Recovery Offices lessened, Pakistan claimed that the slow recoveries was because of the pervasive refusal of non-Muslims in India to take back their women because they were considered 'defiled'. Nehru accepted this argument but also said accused Pakistan of being uncooperative; in January 1948, Pakistan prevented Indian officials from entering the districts of West Punjab which adjoined Kashmir. Heavy rains and flooding also hampered the pace of recoveries in West Punjab.[17]

Another issue was that many women refused to be rescued, the reasons for these refusals were complex. Some feared a rejection by their families. Others felt a personal sense of shame and guilt, some women had adjusted comfortably into their new lives as wives and mothers. Since the two governments agreed to restore women to their 'rightful' communities several families were broken up as women were forcibly repatriated. Public concern mounted over children left behind by the recovered women. By 1954 both governments agreed that women should not be forcibly repatriated.[18]

According to Andrew Major, contrary to earlier propaganda, most of the recovered women were happily reunited with their families. However, this did not apply in all cases.[19]

For the women who had lost all their relatives during Partition or could not find any trace of them, the Indian government set up a women's section of the Ministry of Relief and Rehabilitation and between 1947 and 1953 twelve homes and infirmaries were established for these women who represented 'the most helpless victims of the tragedy of partition'.[19]

Number of recoveries[edit]

Between December 1947 and December 1949, 6000 females were recovered from Pakistan and 12,000 from India. Most recoveries were made, in order of succession, from East and West Punjab, Jammu, Kashmir and Patiala, over the eight year period 30,000 women had been repatriated by both governments. The number of Muslim women recovered was significantly higher; 20728 against 9,032 non-Muslim women. Most recoveries were made in the period between 1947 and 1952. although some recoveries were made as late as 1956.[20]

Between 6 December 1947 and 31 March 1952, the number of non-Muslim women recovered from Pakistan was 8,326. 5,616 of them were from Punjab, 459 from NWFP, 10 from Balochistan, 56 from Sind and 592 from Bahawalpur. After 21 January 1949, 1,593 non-Muslim women were recovered from Jammu and Kashmir.[21]

In the same time period the number of Muslim women recovered from India had been 16,545. Of them 11,129 were from Punjab, 4,934 from Patiala and East Punjab Union and after 21 January 1949 the number of Muslim women recovered from Jammu and Kashmir was 482. 200 Muslim women were recovered from Delhi.[22][23][24]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Žarkov, Dubravka (2007). The Body of War: Media, Ethnicity, and Gender in the Break-Up of Yugoslavia. Duke University Press. p. 172. ISBN 978-0822339663. 
  2. ^ Aftab, Tahera (30 November 2007). Inscribing South Asian Muslim Women: An Annotated Bibliography & Research Guide (Annotated ed.). Brill. p. 224. ISBN 978-9004158498. 
  3. ^ Butalia, Urvashi. Harsh Dobhal, ed. Writings on Human Rights, Law and Society in India: A Combat Law Anthology. Human Rights Law Network. p. 598. ISBN 81-89479-78-4. 
  4. ^ a b Kabir, Ananya Jahanara (25 January 2010). Sorcha Gunne, Zoe Brigley Brigley Thompson, ed. Feminism, Literature and Rape Narratives: Violence and Violation (1st ed.). Routledge. p. 149. ISBN 978-0415806084. 
  5. ^ Chowdhry, Geeta (2000). Sita Ranchod-Nilsson, Mary Ann Tétreaul, ed. Women, States, and Nationalism: At Home in the Nation? (1st ed.). Routledge. pp. 107–110. ISBN 978-0415221726. 
  6. ^ a b Barbara D. Metcalf; Thomas R. Metcalf (24 September 2012). A Concise History of Modern India. p 226, Cambridge University Press. ISBN 978-1-139-53705-6.
  7. ^ Andrew J. Major (1995) ‘The chief sufferers’: Abduction of women during the partition of the Punjab , South Asia: Journal of South Asian Studies, 18:s1, 57-58, DOI: 10.1080/00856409508723244
  8. ^ a b Andrew J. Major (1995) ‘The chief sufferers’: Abduction of women during the partition of the Punjab , South Asia: Journal of South Asian Studies, 18:s1, 59, DOI: 10.1080/00856409508723244
  9. ^ Andrew J. Major (1995) ‘The chief sufferers’: Abduction of women during the partition of the Punjab , South Asia: Journal of South Asian Studies, 18:s1, 60, DOI: 10.1080/00856409508723244
  10. ^ Andrew J. Major (1995) ‘The chief sufferers’: Abduction of women during the partition of the Punjab , South Asia: Journal of South Asian Studies, 18:s1, 61, DOI: 10.1080/00856409508723244
  11. ^ Andrew J. Major (1995) ‘The chief sufferers’: Abduction of women during the partition of the Punjab , South Asia: Journal of South Asian Studies, 18:s1, p 62, DOI: 10.1080/00856409508723244
  12. ^ a b Andrew J. Major (1995) ‘The chief sufferers’: Abduction of women during the partition of the Punjab , South Asia: Journal of South Asian Studies, 18:s1, p 63, DOI: 10.1080/00856409508723244
  13. ^ "The Hindu : Do women have a country?". The Hindu. Retrieved 2017-05-09. 
  14. ^ Andrew J. Major (1995) ‘The chief sufferers’: Abduction of women during the partition of the Punjab , South Asia: Journal of South Asian Studies, 18:s1, 69, DOI: 10.1080/00856409508723244
  15. ^ a b Andrew J. Major (1995) ‘The chief sufferers’: Abduction of women during the partition of the Punjab , South Asia: Journal of South Asian Studies, 18:s1, p 64, DOI: 10.1080/00856409508723244
  16. ^ Andrew J. Major (1995) ‘The chief sufferers’: Abduction of women during the partition of the Punjab , South Asia: Journal of South Asian Studies, 18:s1, p 65, DOI: 10.1080/00856409508723244
  17. ^ Andrew J. Major (1995) ‘The chief sufferers’: Abduction of women during the partition of the Punjab , South Asia: Journal of South Asian Studies, 18:s1, p 66, DOI: 10.1080/00856409508723244
  18. ^ Andrew J. Major (1995) ‘The chief sufferers’: Abduction of women during the partition of the Punjab , South Asia: Journal of South Asian Studies, 18:s1, pp 67-68, DOI: 10.1080/00856409508723244
  19. ^ a b Andrew J. Major (1995) ‘The chief sufferers’: Abduction of women during the partition of the Punjab , South Asia: Journal of South Asian Studies, 18:s1, pp 69-70, DOI: 10.1080/00856409508723244
  20. ^ Bina D'Costa (4 October 2016). Children and Violence: Politics of Conflict in South Asia. Cambridge University Press. pp. 24–. ISBN 978-1-316-67399-7. 
  21. ^ Sukeshi Kamra (2002). Bearing Witness: Partition, Independence, End of the Raj. University of Calgary Press. pp. 316–. ISBN 978-1-55238-041-3. 
  22. ^ Anis Kidwai (1 March 2011). In Freedom’s Shade. Penguin Books Limited. pp. 183–. ISBN 978-81-8475-152-9. 
  23. ^ Ashraf, Ajaz (2017-08-12). "How Sunil Dutt's uncle and Inzamam-ul-Haq's family were saved during Partition violence". DAWN.COM. Retrieved 2017-10-24. 
  24. ^ Sukeshi Kamra (2002). Bearing Witness: Partition, Independence, End of the Raj. University of Calgary Press. pp. 316–. ISBN 978-1-55238-041-3. 

Further reading[edit]