Al Jazeera just published the first in a four-part series examining why UN Peacekeepers rape women in the conflict zones they’re deployed to. The piece talks about the UN’s “worst kept secret” of sexual violence, how the UN is one of the few bodies in the world that operates with a peculiar and bizarre sense of impunity because it isn’t meaningfully and actually responsible to any body, and how this culture and international legal system of impunity allows Peacekeepers to get away with gross violence against women and children.
That piece also talked about how, when the UN first started deploying Peacekeepers in 1948, they “didn’t consider the rights of women and children in the militarised environments in which the peacekeepers would be operating”. This is pretty important, I think: when looking at war and conflict zones, we’re used to thinking about armies and soldiers in terms of the violence they inflict upon each other, ignoring the fact that women face different impacts from war, and extremely different threats from armed forces, than men do.
I couldn’t help but think of this piece when I read the infuriating reports coming out of Chattisgarh about a Raksha Bandhan celebration held in Dantewada on July 31st. Around 500 female students gathered at the function to tie rakhis to CRPF soldiers. Later, when three of the girls went visit the toilet, they were allegedly stopped and molested by CRPF jawans, who claimed to be “frisking” them. “Unidentified suspects” have been booked under Section 354 IPC and POCSO (Protection of Children from Sexual Offenses Act), as the survivors were all minors, studying in Class XI.
It’s uniquely infuriating, but I feel like it’s an incredibly loaded and meaningful reflection of how inane it is to consider the armed forces your brothers who are just looking out for you. Nothing about war, militarisation and excessive weaponry, and the culture of impunity that comes with it, benefits women: in fact, history tells us that it’s uniquely threatening to women and children, and there are numerous examples from all over the country to prove it. We’ve been trained and taught to romanticise the armed forces and all that they do, but we’ve also been trained to think about war and violence in terms of the effect it has on men. If you were to look at the impact that a global culture of militarisation has created over time, you’d probably see a more realistic and less rosy picture that indicates, over and over in a hundred different ways, that war is not good for women.
Arming men to the hilt and setting them loose in areas whose inhabitants don’t want them, as is the case in Chattisgarh, can only spell different forms of disaster: it creates a situation where the population is terrified and resentful, and increases the likelihood of soldiers thinking they can get away with anything they do. Unleashing armed forces on a civilian population creates a situation where soldiers will feel, soon enough, that they can get away with the worst crimes against the weakest victims by virtue of their power. The longer we allow it to happen, the worse it’s going to get. And all we’ll be able to do is marvel at the sheer irony of being molested in the toilet by your rakhi brother.