Losing Faith – The Muzaffarnagar gang-rape survivors’ struggle for justice
In 2013, communal violence between Hindus and Muslims in and around Muzaffarnagar and Shamli districts in Uttar Pradesh led to the deaths of over 60 people and the displacement of tens of thousands.
Over three years later, seven Muslim women who were gang-raped during the violence are yet to receive justice.
On 7 September 2013, at a massive gathering in a village outside Muzaffarnagar city, Hindu leaders from the dominant Jat community addressed a crowd of over 100,000 people. They had gathered to discuss the recent killings of two Hindu men in an altercation with Muslim men. The altercation had also prompted large gatherings previously, including by Muslim men, in other locations.
Slogans of “save your daughters” were raised at the 7 September gathering, and inflammatory speeches made, allegedly by Bharatiya Janata Party leaders, instigating Hindus to take revenge for the killings.
The gathering was followed by an outbreak of violence in the neighboring districts. Over 60 people were killed in the clashes, which ended only after three days. Thousands of Muslim families were forced to flee their homes and take shelter in relief camps.
A few days later, reports of targeted sexual violence against Muslim women began to surface. Journalists and civil society teams said that they had found scores of Muslim women in relief camps who spoke of having been assaulted, raped or gang-raped, but were unwilling to file official complaints to the police, fearing social stigma and reprisal.
Eventually, seven women came forward to report that they had been gang-raped, all by men from the Jat community. The state government constituted a special team later in September 2013 to investigate the cases, and the Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister and the chief of the ruling Samajwadi Party promised swift justice.
However, to date, there has not been a single conviction in any of the cases. Two of the women have changed their statements, following threats and intimidation. One died in 2016. And in two cases, trials have not even begun. Over three years after the violence, the gang-rape survivors continue to suffer the effects of the crimes against them. The security and compensation that the state government provided to the survivors came only after human rights lawyers led petitions on their behalf before the Supreme Court in December 2013.
In July 2016 and January 2017, Amnesty International India met six of the survivors, many of whom were unaware of the status of their cases. Researchers also met journalists, lawyers and civil society activists, and examined police and court documents.
The Uttar Pradesh government has failed to expeditiously investigate and prosecute the cases and deliver justice. The state government and successive central governments have also failed to adequately protect survivors from threats and harassment aimed at deterring them from pursuing their cases, and to provide adequate reparation to the survivors. Their failures continue to keep the survivors in a state of fear and insecurity, sceptical that they will ever get justice.
As state assembly elections commence in Uttar Pradesh, the gang-rapes of Muzaffarnagar and Shamli are at risk of becoming another forgotten human rights tragedy.
Amnesty International India urges the new state government of Uttar Pradesh to:
- Ensure that the investigations and prosecutions into the gang-rape cases are pursued vigorously without undue delay, and those responsible are brought to justice.
- Investigate reports of threats, intimidation or harassment of survivors or their relatives, and bring suspects to trial.
- Provide survivors effective legal assistance and services, keep them informed of the status of investigations and prosecutions, and address any concerns they may have.
- Ensure that survivors are provided adequate rehabilitation, compensation, and other measures of reparation, and that their economic and social needs are met.
Amnesty International India urges the government of India to:
- Enact a robust law to prevent and respond to communal violence, which incorporates international human rights principles of relief, return, and resettlement.
- Establish a comprehensive and adequately resourced victim and witness protection programme at the central and state levels.
- Undertake comprehensive police reforms to insulate the police from political interference and pressure.