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From Aleppo To India: Whoever Is At War, Women Are The Worst Victims

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It’s getting cold in most parts of India and in ways more than one. Although it’s much more than just winter. There’s another part of the world that’s getting colder. Just 2000 miles away, Aleppo is being burnt into ashes. There’s some warlike thing going on, yes we remotely remember reading like that.

“But Aleppo is a city in Syria so what more do you expect. And what’s new in all this?”

Because it’s been 5 years, 2 months that Syria has been burning. Of course, we remember the 5-year-old Syrian boy sitting shell shocked on the back of an orange chair in an ambulance, that had managed to make headlines even here.

The war is on between Bashar al-Assad (the president of Syria) and ISIS (the radical terrorist organization) who want Assad to quit. Bashar al-Assad has inherited power in Syria over 10 years after succeeding his father. There are severe cases of corruption, opening fire and throwing bombs on civilian localities and absolute mindless dictatorship while the ISIS is said to have funded by the US to dethrone Assad and get Syria under its control. The death count in Syria until now has been around 4,50,000 out of which 50,000 are children. The past few months have been deadly for Aleppo. You could have many different versions of who’s the wrong one in this, but between the two, it is difficult to find the lesser evil, the wronged are the civilians of Aleppo have paid the toughest price. Especially the women.

On 16th of December, 20 Syrian women in Aleppo committed suicide to escape rapes. A woman wrote in her suicide letter which retrieved and then shared on Facebook by Abdul Lateef founder of a Syrian Non-Profit Organization.

“I am one of the woman in Aleppo who will soon be raped in just moments. There are no more weapons or men that can stand between us and the animals who are about to come called the ‘country’s army.”

“Sad. But now, there’s UN intervention in this. It will be better soon. Nevertheless, with all due respect, there’s nothing new in this either. These countries are born for war. Why should we care so much about Aleppo?”

It will take a little more effort to draw parallels from Aleppo to India; to see why should we care. The whole world since the beginning has seen women as the tools of their worst vengeance. Of course, we’ve not been mere spectators to it. We have been a part of it. The swear words that we use, for instance, are very symbolic of the greatest tool that we use to hurt a person, a man, a family or a community. Rape as a war crime in India brings historical images of the Mughals who would rape Hindu women: brides, ordinary women, princesses and queens when they would attack. A lot of traditions in the royal families of Rajasthani Marwari communities like ‘ghoonghat’ and ‘parda’  also seem to date back stories of the same period. In spite of these traditions being absolutely irrelevant today, these women are still paying a cost for the mistakes they never made.

Another historic dent of mass rapes in India is the 1947 Partition where the women saw the worst of a collective and mutual Hindu-Muslim vengeance. There are tons of books and films depicting the tragic stories of partition.

Syrian migrants cross under a fence as they enter Hungary at the border with Serbia, near Roszke, August 27, 2015. REUTERS/Bernadett Szabo

“Sure. Anything else? This is sad history. But India hasn’t been at war for years now!”

A study done by Medecins Sans Frontieres in mid-2005 reveals that Kashmiri women are among the worst sufferers of sexual violence in the world. Kashmir has been a war zone for Kashmiri women. Between the cold battle between the militants, the stone pelters, the Indian army and Pakistan; Kashmiri women have been nothing less than a plate of cold meat. The study further mentions that since the beginning of the armed struggle in Kashmir in 1989, sexual violence has been routinely perpetrated on Kashmiri women. 11.6% of respondents saying they were victims of sexual abuse (This figure, by the way, is much higher than of our beloved neighbours Sri Lanka). The Kashmir home department has no specific data in this regard for the last 17 years. Do you know about Kunan Poshpora?

“Kunan what?”

On the night of February of 1991, the army men of Rajputana Rifles had allegedly mass raped 31 women of Kunan Poshpora village in Kashmir. It has been 25 years and there’s no justice to that. Bastar (town) in Chhattisgarh is a war zone between the Maoists vs the police and the government. Soni Sori, the human rights activist in Bastar speaks bloody tales of women who were raped and then put in jail, labelled as a Maoist without any trials and then were raped again, in fact, babies being delivered in the jail. Similar stories in Irom Sharmila’s Manipur. Same is Nagaland.

Who hasn’t heard about the genocide (oops: riots) of 2002 in Gujarat. Where women saw the worst of blatant sexual violence (in the name of provocation to the Godhra train burning and sparks being flown by the local media) where the women victims were stripped and paraded naked, then gang-raped, and thereafter quartered and burnt beyond recognition. These rapes include that of minor girls, infants and pregnant women too.Whether or not we like to hear or accept the fact, but women of particularly from the minorities whether Hindu/Non-Hindu, have seen the worst of all the political, communal and religiously motivated riots. What is uglier is that it hasn’t seen protests or sympathies from the majority women either.

Of course, there have been many more riots that have happened in our country and many more wars and invasions by the external forces. It is essential to note that the rapes committed during wars (whether external or internal) has in most cases little to do with sexual satisfaction. It is perceived as an achievement of power and thus used to humiliate the enemy. The men (and the community) who are unable to defend and protect their women are considered to be inferior. Discrimination against women during war can be very extreme and different at the same time, from the times of peace.

To quote Kamla Bhasin from her work in Women Unlimited,

“Discrimination, that women often have to face in times of peace, gets reinforced in war as the community becomes militarised. Militarism and masculinist values, such as domination, aggression and assertiveness, are closely intertwined. In patriarchic societies, men enjoy control over women’s productive power, reproduction, sexuality and/or mobility as well as over property and other economic resources. 5 It is very common that women are restricted to their homes and have to ask for permission to leave their house. They are also frequently denied ownership and inheritance of property. In fact, women themselves are commonly seen as the property of men.”

Imagine being in that part of the world that no one cares about. Where not only the external enemies but also your own people, your army men can rip you off any day, any moment. And in spite of that, no media being interested to show your tragedy or appeal for you. You are screaming out loud but there’s no one to listen. These women are at war every day. These women are everywhere in the world.

I remember reading a recent article about Aleppo on YKA which was addressing the question, ‘Who is at war with who in Syria’. I would say, whoever is at war, women are the worst victims.

You must be to comment.
  1. Prabodh Gedām

    You penned down the reality which is often side-cornered. thank you to share

  2. Prabodh Gedām

    You penned down the reality which is often side-cornered. Thank you for sharing.

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

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Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

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MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

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A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

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A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

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A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

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A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform Change.org, demanding that the Government of Assam install
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