Communal violence and a woman’s body Testimonies of survivors and witnesses of sexual violence during the Gujarat 2002 carnage

25, Feb 2022 | CJP Team

The communal violence that broke out in Gujarat in 2002, was characterised by widespread and brutal sexual violence against women. The most common sequence of events seems to have been stripping and public humiliation, rape, beating, mutilation and finally incineration.

Communalism Combat had documented the testimonies of many such survivors and witnesses in the Nov-Dec 2002 edition in a special report titled Violence Against Women. Today we are sharing a compilation of some of these horrifying memories from our archives.

All stories before and after the Gujarat carnage of 2002, that were published in Communalism Combat, were the result of intrepid reporting and painstaking research by Teesta Setalvad. In 2002, she visited the various sites of carnage as well as the shelter camps, and spoke to survivors and the families of victims. Setalvad, a journalist who has been tracking Gujarat since the mid-1980s, often had limited or no resources compared to other reporters from mainstream media, and yet managed to get some of the most stark and heart-rending stories from one of the darkest periods in Indian history.


CJP has been fighting for justice alongside the survivors of the Gujarat 2002 carnage for 20 years. The legal battle has moved back and forth between the trial courts and the Supreme Court. We have taken up, in all, as many 68 cases from the Magistrate Court upwards to the Supreme Court, and ensured 172 convictions at the first stage, with 124 being to life imprisonment. Though some of these have been overturned in appeal, CJP’s unique legal journey has pioneered criminal justice reform whether it is the right of Survivors/Victims to participate in criminal trials or Witness Protection. CJP is committed to continuing its quest for exemplary justice, so that the healing process can begin. To support us, please Donate Now.

On the 20th anniversary of the Gujarat carnage, we are coming together to reflect on this struggle for justice. Watch it here:

***TRIGGER WARNING: Description of sexual assault and graphic violence***

Naroda Patiya

On February 28, 2002, the Muslim neighbourhoods in Naroda Patiya were engulfed in violence perpetrated by armed mobs. It may have started with sloganeering, but soon turned to stone pelting. Then the mob started hurling acid and petrol bombs, and matters escalated to full-scale looting, destruction and killing. Naroda Patiya also became infamous after this day for the mass rapes, object penetration, mutilation and incineration of the Muslim women and girls in the neighbourhood. The police remained indifferent or actively supportive of the violent mob.

I was an eyewitness to the shameful rape of Khairunnisa, daughter of Mahrukh Bano. It was an animal-like mob of 11 who gang raped her. I saw as many as 120 persons burnt alive and had the misfortune of witnessing four rapes.”

-Nasir Khan Rahim Khan Pathan

Principal, Sunflower School

Place: Noorani Masjid, Naroda Patiya

Interviewed at Shah Alam Relief Camp on March 22


That terrible day, I was hiding with some others on the roof of my house. From there, I saw my dearest friend Kauser Bano (resident of Pirojnagar, opposite Noorani Masjid, Kumbhajini Chawl, Naroda Patiya) raped, her unborn baby slashed out from her womb before being tossed into the fire to be roasted alive. Thereafter, she too was brutally cut up and torched. She was 9 months pregnant. Kauser had a slight deformity on her upper lip, which I had helped her rectify at the Civil Hospital. It was her dream to get married and have a baby.

There is not a single woman resident of Hussain Nagar whose dignity was left intact. They were all raped, cut to pieces and burnt. Hamaree aurton aur bachchon ko antim sanskar ke kabil bhi na rakha. Mai aap ko puchti hun, ye zameen kiske liye hai. Kya Musalamanon ka haath Hindustan ki azadi ki ladai mein nahin tha? (Our women and children were denied even the possibility of a decent burial. Tell me, to whom does this land belong? Have Muslims not played a part in the freedom struggle?)”

-Amina Aapa

Place: Hussain Nagar, Naroda Patiya

Interviewed at Relief Camp on March 4 and March 22


“Our three children who are missing are Ruksana (10), Kaneez (8), Nazneen (4). After what I saw happen to other women and girls, I shudder to think of what may have happened to them.”

-Aarif Khan

Place: Naroda Patiya

Interviewed at Shah Alam Relief Camp on March 4


The above testimonies were first compiled in the story titled Naroda Gaon and Naroda Patiya, in the March-April 2002 issue of Communalism Combat.


Panchmahal was the site of the shocking case of Bilkees Bano. She not only watched her entire family, included her child, die, she was also sexually assaulted. This is perhaps the only case where some amount of justice and close appear to have been achieved, with eleven of the nineteen accused convicted. Bilkees Bano was also offerred monetary compensation, but that painstakimg process also took 17 years!The below testimony of Bilkees was taken in 2002, in the immediate aftermath of the violence.


“On the highway just outside the village we were set upon by a mob and 14 persons from my family were butchered and killed — 7 from my father’s family and 7 from my in-laws’ side. All the women and young girls, including my 3 1/2 -year-old baby, were raped before being killed. They did the same thing to me, and if I am alive, it is only because after attacking me, they left me, thinking I was dead.”

-Bilkees, age 19

Randhikpur, Panchmahal district

Interviewed at Godhra Relief Camp on March 22


A transcript of the original FIR filed by Bilkees may be read here:

“All had lethal weapons in their hands — swords, spears, scythes, sticks, daggers, bows and arrows. They started screaming, “Kill them, Cut them up!’ They raped my two sisters and me and behaved in an inhuman way with my uncle and aunt’s daughters. They tore our clothes and raped eight of us. Before my very eyes they killed my 3 ½-year-old daughter.

“The people who raped me are Shailesh Bhatt, Lala doctor, Lala Vakil and Govind Navi, all of whom I know very well. After raping me, they beat me up. Having been injured in the head, I fainted. They left, assuming I was dead.

“After two to three hours, when I regained consciousness, on seeing the corpses of my family members, I was terrified. I climbed up the hill and stayed there the whole night.

“In the morning, when the police came to know about this attack, they came to take the corpses and found me alive. As all my clothes were torn, they brought me some clothes from the house of an adivasi staying at the foot of the hill. Then they brought me to Limkheda and from there I was brought to the relief camp at Godhra.

“The above-mentioned people raped my deceased sisters and me, as well as the daughters of my maternal uncle and my paternal aunt. They killed all the people except myself. For which reason I say that legal action should be taken against the above-mentioned people.”

The above appeared in the March-April 2002edition of Communalism Combat in the story titled Panchmahal


The trauma caused by the sexual violence of the Gujarat 2002 riots did not end with the end of the rioting. Survivors either had to flee their homes or remain in neighbourhoods surrounded by the very people who had assaulted them. Those who chose to pursue justice through legal processes faced both, internal and external struggles, such as their own civic ignorance, the pain of recounting their trauma and inadequacy of the state machinery, even outright sabotage of the process by members thereof. Examples of the latter include lack of plans and implementation of financial compensation for victims, alleged destruction and tampering of evidence and lack of legal provisions to address rape cases. Communalism Combat documented such instances in Sitting on the truth (March 2010) and Betrayal by the state (June 2007).


Ham majboori mein reh rahe hai, we have to because we have homes here. Where else can we stay? We are terrified. Every 15 days or two months when there is tension, we flee our homes. Is this living?Yeh koi zindagi nahin hui? This is no life… my young girls, they are taunted at by the same —s who performed those acts on so many girls and women… They roam scot- free. Guddu Chhara, Suresh Chhara, Bhavani Chhara…They taunt us that ‘we will rape you.’ We want justice even if we remain hungry…Roti mil jati hai; lootne ke baad aadha pet se bhi aadmi ji sakyta hai. Hame sirf insaaf chahiye (Food we can get; someone who has been looted of all their worldly belongings can live with hunger. But we want justice).”


Survivor of Naroda Patiya massacre


These are from the piece titled Gujarat – One Year Later, published in Communalism Combat in April 2003.

Being a witness is a surreal act because all those who raped you, murdered people close to you, walk normally around you. The rapist looks you in the eye and jokes with the policeman sent to protect you. Justice is the battle of memory against indifference. You pick up the courage to file a first information report (FIR) and it becomes an act of torture. You have to file your affidavits in two languages, tell the world how you were raped in two dialects. Lower courts demands two languages whereas higher courts are content with one. As you work hard with telling your story, you realise citizenship is a skill, a form of literacy you never practised. You rebuild yourself by finding yourself. In constructing yourself, you construct a community. Witness demands company and we women learn to be witnesses together. You realise that everydayness after a riot is a form of courage. The policeman, the clerk, the majority treat you as a joke.”


This extract is from a piece titled In Search of Justice, a first person account by an unnamed survivor published in Communalism Combat in Feb – Mar 2012

“Their” women bear their “honour”

Rape as a tool of war and oppression during riots, pogroms and genocides is unfortunately not new, nor is it exclusive to a few countries or regions. Mass rape of women of a particular community has often been wielded as a weapon against that community as a whole. This has been true in many international and national conflicts such as World War II, the Rwandan genocide, the Bangladeshi struggle for independence and even parts of North Eastern India where the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) gives undue impunity to the Indian Army.

There have been some measures taken to recognise rape and sexual violence as a weapon of war under international law:

Article 27 of the Geneva Convention Relative to the Protection of Civilian Persons in Time of War (1949) says, “Women shall be especially protected against any attack on their honour, in particular against rape, enforced prostitution, or any form of indecent assault.”

In 1993, the United Nations (UN) Commission on Human Rights (replaced in 2006 by the UN Human Rights Council) declared systematic rape and military sexual slavery to be crimes against humanity punishable as violations of women’s human right. The Declaration on the Elimination of Violence against Women proclaimed by General Assembly resolution 48/104 of December 20, 1993 looks at the issue of Violence against Women in great detail, especially with respect to it being a gross violation of their human rights.

In 1995, the UN’s Fourth World Conference on Women specified that rape by armed groups during wartime is a war crime. In 1998, the Rwandan tribunal in a landmark case ruled that “rape and sexual violence constitute genocide.” UN Special Representative on Sexual Violence in Conflict, Ms. Zainab Hawa Bangura wrote a detailed background note titled Sexual Violence: A tool of War. It may be read here.

The International Criminal Court has jurisdiction over a range of women’s issues, including rape and forced pregnancy. In 2008, the UN Security Council affirmed that “rape and other forms of sexual violence can constitute war crimes, crimes against humanity or a constitutive act with respect to genocide.”

However, this has done little to prevent the weaponisation of rape and sexual violence against women. International law is not enforceable in most nations’ courts of law, and the taboo nature of sexual violence often prevents such cases from being filed and fought, or even brought to light.

It need not be only the military who weaponise rape. In India, the major violent outbursts of communal tension have also been characterised by multitudes of instances of sexual violence against women: the Partition of India, the 1984 anti-Sikh riots, the 2002 Gujarat riots and the 2013 Muzzafarnagar riots. In these cases, the perpetrators were mostly civilians, often neighbours of the people they assaulted.

Why is this special type of violence reserved for women and girls during these conflicts? In the world at large and especially in South Asia, women are considered the bearers of the honour of their community, and rape is viewed less as an act of violence in which the woman is assaulted and more as an act of staining the woman’s dignity, honour and purity and by extension that of her community. Her sexual assault is emasculating to the men of the community to which she belongs, in that they are powerless to protect her.

While the military have their own protections which enable them to assault women with little to no consequences, communal rioters have had the approval and social sanction of the communities to which they belonged, In the case of Gujarat, they allegedly had tacit support of the State. Thus, women’s bodies and minds cease to be perceived as their own– they are the sites where the communities are attacked, the arenas for patriarchal and communal forces to play out.


Gender-based violence and murder

Bilkees Rasool Case, CBI charge sheet


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