Dealing with Dangerous Women: Sexual Assault Under Cover of National Security Laws in India
26 Pages Posted: 3 Sep 2015 Last revised: 26 Oct 2017
Date Written: August 1, 2015
This article examines violence against women suspected of being security threats in India’s internal conflict zones, one of the very few scholarly works to do so.
In 2004, Thangjam Manorama was arrested by paramilitaries on suspicion of belonging to a violent separatist group, and found raped and murdered several hours later. I look at her family’s attempts to hold the armed forces accountable for her death. I also look at the ongoing criminal prosecution of Soni Sori, an indigenous rights activist in central India who was arrested in 2011 for alleged security offences, tortured and raped in police custody, and denied bail until very recently.
Through my discussion of these two cases, I argue that women suspected of security offences are disproportionately vulnerable to sexualized forms of extra-legal violence by State actors. While soldiers and the police can seek to justify other types of coercive force, such as restraining an individual, or even shooting to kill, they can never, under any circumstances, seek to justify sexual violence. This should mean that when sexual assault by State personnel is revealed, it is punished diligently – there can be no doubt that the violence in question is unlawful. I show that, instead, Indian governments have strategically misinterpreted the law to shield soldiers and the police from prosecution. I argue that this refusal to prosecute perpetrators is compounded by serious and highly gendered gaps in the law. The State’s tolerance of violence combines with the law’s failings to facilitate further violence against women. Furthermore, since victims are perceived as dangerous, and therefore dubious, women, they receive little sympathy or support and are forced to petition the courts for accountability on their own, a tenuous endeavor that elicits meagre gains.
Keywords: India, national security, terrorism, violence against women, sexual violence
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