“Purity” and “Pollution” in Patriarchal Violence against Women

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Violence against women continues unabated during conflicts!

Rape as a weapon of war was gruesomely demonstrated during World War II, when both Allied and Axis armies committed rape as a means of terrorizing enemy civilian populations and demoralizing enemy troops.

Sexual enslavement of women in territories conquered by the Japanese army, and the mass rape committed against German women by advancing Russian soldiers are all well documented in history. Terrorist groups like Boko Haram of Nigeria kidnaped girls, continuously raped, and sold them to brothel owners!

Rape happened in large scale in our own neighborhood too during the 1947 partition of India, the 1971 Bangladesh independence war, and the civil war in Sri Lanka. Rape is used as a weapon in several localized conflicts too – like in 2002 Gujarat riots, 1984 anti-Sikh riots in Delhi and so on!

Rape and murder are used to create fear, to cower, and to subjugate! Susan Brown miller once said: “Man’s discovery that his genitalia could serve as a weapon to generate fear must rank as one of the most important discoveries of prehistoric times, along with the use of fire, and the first crude stone axe.”

Though rape and murder are infused in patriarchy’s consciousness across the world, it is important to note a special dimension of using rape as an instrument of subjugation by patriarchy in India.

In Indian context, Principles of ‘Purity’ and ‘pollution’ add an additional dimension as these decide rules of interactions and existence, almost everywhere in the country. Under this, people in general are under pressure to prove ‘purity’ of their patriotism, chastity, virginity, nobility etc.

The moral codes of our society compel us to remain “pure” always and insist that ‘purity’ is lost if one contacts “impure people” or eats “impure food”. Subjugating enemies or dissenters by making their women “impure” through rape is also a time-tested method to subjugate and control!

The role played by ‘principles of purity and pollution’ in the ongoing patriarchal violence against women in India remains as an unexplored area of research.

Kandathil Sebastian is a Delhi based social Scientist and author

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