A session on sexual violence entitled A Body of Evidence: Sexual Violence and the Search for Justice in South Asia at the Jaipur Literature Festival in Jaipur on Sunday managed to be visceral and illuminating at the same time. Talking about Kashmir, author Essar Batool said, “We live in a place where every other day is an anniversary of a massacre or a rape.” Batool talked about the struggle to get justice for victims of atrocities like Kunan Poshpora. “Every act of justice was met with resistance from the Indian state,” she said at a session that was very well attended.
Bangladeshi academic Meghna Guhathakurta spoke of her own experience in the aftermath of the Bangladesh war of Liberation. “Women were shamed into silence” on their horrible experiences during the conflict, she said.
Approaching different histories of war and violence, the panelists delved into the “gaze of the state”, which plays a large role in the suppression of the voices of victims. Talking of the Sri Lankan war, writer Sumathy Sivamohan commented that “our war of 30 years has left a community of victims but no perpetrators.” She spoke about how rapes committed then continue to be “shrouded in mystery” because it is next to impossible to recognise the perpetrators. This, she said, leads to a rethinking of the “idea of justice” and also a rethinking of “the idea of yourself”.
Guhathakurta quoted a woman who had faced “sexual slavery” during the war: “No one can take away my survival, my struggle, my identity.” The session was full of grisly stories, among them one about women who were compelled to remove their clothes before they moved from one safe territory to another. “Forgetting our shame, we walked to our survival,” the women said.
Batool brought up a very important point when she stated that men too are often victims of sexual violence but it often goes unreported or unnoticed. She stressed that Kashmir was “filled with the cries of women and men”. “Oppression doesn’t have any gender,” she added.