Help women riot victims overcome the trauma | Opinion
The phrase “return to normalcy” is being bandied around a lot in the context of the riot-affected areas in Delhi. It sounds soothing, comforting, almost as though normalcy has returned as soon as the overt violence has ended. While no one is unaffected by a communal riot, this is not a situation where things become normal quickly. In fact, in this uncertain milieu, it is women who face a much greater burden of fear and trauma, faced as they are with loss on multiple levels.
All the facts about the Delhi riots, and its effect on the women affected, are yet to be ascertained. But in many reported instances, they were attacked by mobs, their clothes torn, and were subject to vile abuse and beatings.
Women tend to suffer disproportionately in conflict situations such as communal violence, and the aftermath impacts them at various levels. Women find themselves as the main providers in the event of the death or incapacitation of their husbands, fathers or brothers, a role many have few skills for. The trauma of losing their homes and loved ones is compounded by the uncertainty of what lies ahead. In the sudden absence of support systems and facing displacement, mental trauma among women manifests itself in several ways — anxiety, stress, depression and suicidal thoughts.
After each riot, we have seen very little effort to institute counselling services for women and children. It is as though just getting them some shelter, food and compensation is all they need, and all that the State is prepared to do. Even well-meaning civil society groups feel that the task ends at delivering medicines and clothing, and, sometimes, food, to rehabilitation centres.
The State has the responsibility to help women overcome the trauma of sudden and unprovoked violence, which turns their worlds upside down in a split second. The police, seen as authority figures despite many lapses, should be far more proactive in making provisions for counselling to survivors. In many cases, the victims are women who have known little beyond their homes and immediate surroundings.
Such women victims of violence also become easy prey for unscrupulous touts, and even relatives who prey on them, both physically and in order to dupe them of compensation. Here again, the State and civil society groups need to help these women with legal assistance as most of them have no idea how to access their rightful compensation.
The endeavour should be to help the victim fight back, and reclaim her life and home, and not be forced to stay in camps, like so many women riot victims have been forced to do. The more the women stay in camps or with relatives, the more the loss of self-esteem and dignity they face.
We have seen many gratuitous observations about how resilient women are when it comes to picking up the pieces. Actually, they have no choice. A far greater effort should be made to give them the skills to become independent, and not live out their lives as burden on others, leaving them vulnerable to abuse. Those women who have faced sexual violence are further stigmatised, rather than sympathised with. So great is the so-called indignity of being subject to sexual abuse that the women themselves feel ashamed and demeaned. Many women in the camps after the 1984 riots spoke of recurring nightmares, reproductive health problems, psychological illnesses and deteriorating mental health, thanks to living in a state of fear. Many of the women victims of communal violence are from marginalised minorities. The violence diminishes them further.
Helping them rebuild their lives would help them come to terms with their loss, and would restore faith in a system that has let them down so badly.