A few days ago, an app auctioning off Muslim women caused outrage on social media for its sadistic sexual targeting of women belonging to a particular community. But, a question arises if this is just another boys’ locker-room incident or is there a pattern to this kind of religious-based sexual targeting and harassment?
“This ‘Sulli deals’ is not an isolated incident as it is rooted in the very anti-Muslim ideology that advocates lynching and rapes, present in Hindutva literature,” said Afreen Fatima, a student-activist from Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) in New Delhi. She added that it is all connected to a larger anti-Muslim sentiment of the majority.
The term “Sulli” is an offensive slur used against Muslim women and has made the rounds time and again during communal pogroms.
In May, a right-wing Hindutva YouTube channel ‘Liberal Doge Live,’ whose real identity is reportedly Ritesh Jha, live-streamed photos of Muslim women on the festival of Eid with a description in Hindi that read “Today, we will stalk women with our eyes filled with lust.”
A few days ago, the visuals of a ‘Hindu Mahapanchayat’ in the Pataudi town of Haryana state did rounds on social media. In those videos the speakers could be seen at the congregation, calling for sexual violence and abduction of Muslim women, the audience can be seen responding with cheers and applause. In the gathering, a Hindu youth Ram Bhakt Gopal said, “Kya tum Salma ko utha kar nahi laa sakte (Can you not abduct Salma)?” Salma is a popular name among Muslim women in north India.
Critics have linked this type of religious-based sexual targeting to Hindutva icon, Veer Savarkar who justified rape as a legitimate political tool in his book ‘Six Glorious Epochs of Indian History’, written in Marathi a few years before his death in 1966.
Savarkar articulated rape as a political tool as a wish after declaring that “it was a religious duty of every Muslim to kidnap and force into their religion, non-Muslim women.” The ‘love jihad’ propaganda by right-wing, today reiterates Savarkar’s claims about the supposed ‘religious duty of every Muslim’. He asked through a question “What if Hindu Kings, who occasionally defeated their Muslim counterparts, had also raped their women.”
The Hindutva icon argued that Muslim women were to be treated as enemies for they too played their “devilish part in the harassment and molestation of Hindu women.” He then writes on behalf of dead Hindu women to “let those Sultans and their peers take a fright that in the event of a Hindu victory, our molestation and detestable lot shall be avenged on the Muslim women.”
Real-life impact of Savarkar’s ideology
Two 21st century example of targeted sexual violence against Muslim women is the 2002 Gujarat genocide and 2013 Muzaffarnagar pogrom.
2002 Gujarat mass killings stand as an exceptional example of the most vicious large-scale and systematic sexual assaults against Indian Muslim women in modern times. According to Human Rights Watch, it included gang rapes, public stripping, ripping off body parts, insertion of objects into their bodies, and burning them alive beyond recognition.
All this happened under the rule of Narendra Modi who the then chief minister of Gujarat. Critics have blamed him for intentionally not doing anything to stop the violence while some alleged partial or complete involvement.
The 2013 Muzaffarnagar pogrom throws light on the very biased approach of the authorities towards safeguarding justice for Muslim women. Rape survivors from Muzaffarnagar faced death threats, delayed trials, and inaction on the part of the authorities.
Savarkar’s ideology was also dragged into the limelight after two-state serving ministers of the BJP in Kashmir were seen attending a rally organized in support of the accused in the rape and murder of an 8-year-old girl from Kathua, who was gang-raped for days in a temple before being killed and thrown into a jungle.
Mass rapes in Kashmir
Many critics have linked Savarkar’s ideology of using rape as a political tool, to the alleged mass rapes by security forces in Kashmir during the 1990s. One such example is the incident of Kunan Poshpora in 1991, in which Indian army soldiers allegedly raped between 23 and 100 women in Kashmir’s Kunan and Poshpora villages during search operations, according to human rights watch.
The Indian army has denied the accusations and a delayed investigation of the incident concluded that the allegations were “worthless” and no one was prosecuted for the alleged crimes.