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Khushboo Sharma

IWB Blogger

Suchitra Vijayan On How #MeToo Can Bring Attention To The Sexual Abuse faced By Refugees In India

  • IWB Post
  •  June 20, 2019

As the #MeToo movement gives women a platform to raise their voices in India, we wonder what it might have in store for the ones hitherto rendered voiceless?

As per surveys conducted by Human Rights Watch in November 2016, an “estimated two-thirds of the women who had experienced sexual violence in Myanmar had not reported it to authorities or aid groups in Bangladesh.”

Torn by war (both literal and political) and tainted by the memories of the exodus, refugees struggle with an identity tainted by what they have lost and what they yearn to find – a safe haven, a home.

No matter what kind of a discourse is developed around the situation, refugees remain the most unheard, the most unwanted, and the most unimportant part of a country. Thus, when it comes to raising their problems and seeking justice, all goes in vain for these people. Despite having suffered severe abuse the refugees continue to wriggle unheard.

The refugee women, like in the case of Rohingya refugees, face a unique sort of repression here. They are raped, abused, harassed, and left alone to deal with the consequences and yet don’t even have the proper words to describe what they have been through because that is how repressed they are.

A December 2017 column in The New York Times highlighted how many of them even failed to realise how to comprehend what had actually happened to them. The question now is how will these women ever get justice if they don’t have a voice or a proper understanding of their predicament, especially when their silence is only encouraged amidst the politically manipulated scenario?

We thus recently reached out to barrister Suchitra Vijayan whose work largely concerns the refugee situation in India and the world. In an expansive Twitter dialogue with her, we talked about the refugee situation in India and tried finding out the right way to channelise the #MeToo conversation in bringing light to sexual abuse faced by women in these communities.

Here are excerpts from the interaction:

On channelising #MeTooIndia in bringing attention to the sexual abuse situation in the refugee communities

 

Suchitra Vijayan on Twitter

@indianwomenblog According to the latest UNHCR figures an “unprecedented 68.5 million people around the world have been forced from home”. Among them are nearly 25.4 million refugees, over half of whom are under the age of 18.

Suchitra Vijayan on Twitter

@indianwomenblog There are also an estimated 10 million stateless people who have been denied a nationality and access to basic rights such as education, healthcare, employment and freedom of movement. @indianwomenblog

Suchitra Vijayan on Twitter

@indianwomenblog Among these number women and children are often vulnerable to sexual violence, and this violence has persists among all refugee populations.

Suchitra Vijayan on Twitter

@indianwomenblog I am not sure if #Metoo is even the language we use for these places, even though the struggle to be heard, the struggle for justice and the struggle against patriarchal violence are the same. / End.

On the refugee community in India and the prevailing situation

Suchitra Vijayan on Twitter

@indianwomenblog Sure. India has had many refugee communities starting with the partition. Tamils who left Burma, Bangladeshi refugees, Afghan, Srilankan Tamils, Tibetans , some Nepali refugees, Ofcourse the rogingya’s who have been fleeing in waves.

Suchitra Vijayan on Twitter

@indianwomenblog Another important thing to note — India is not a party to the 1951 Refugee Convention or its 1967 Protocol and does not have a national refugee protection framework. However, we still have a large number of refugees from neighboring states.

On the major problems faced by refugees in India

Suchitra Vijayan on Twitter

@indianwomenblog As refugees, finding jobs and homes are huge problems. They don’t have documents which restricts where they can work and live. If the violence they fled was grotesque, the poverty and lack of stability is equally paralyzing. /End.

Suchitra Vijayan on Twitter

@indianwomenblog The list is long. But women are often the most vulnerable and the most affected. ISIL’s treatment of women in the territories it held in Iraq and Syria are a terrible and recent example of women’s bodies being used to subjugate an entire community. / End

On the politicization the refugee situation in India

Suchitra Vijayan on Twitter

@indianwomenblog I don’t think they are a priority for anyone, except for political rhetoric. The recent #NRC in Assam is a good indicator of what we have become as a nation – politically and socially. Here we were willing to exclude 4 million people who have lived histories in Assam.

 

Suchitra Vijayan on Twitter

@indianwomenblog Many of them Muslims and by their paper record citizens. When xenophobia has become the rallying call, and when the BJP president @AmitShah calls migrants termites it is clear what we think about migrant and refugees.

 

Suchitra Vijayan on Twitter

@indianwomenblog @AmitShah India deported its first #Rohingya Muslims back to Myanmar despite last-minute asylum plea. How we continue to treat the Rohingya refugees has been appalling. These communities constantly speak, but we refuse to hear them./ End

 

On the need for India in being a party to the 1951 Refugee Convention or its 1967 Protocol 

Suchitra Vijayan on Twitter

@indianwomenblog Refugee Convention of 1951 despite its flaws and much needed update still remains crucial. The treaty defines who is a “refugee” and enumerated the rights they’re entitled to receive, as well as the responsibilities of states that grant them asylum.

 

Suchitra Vijayan on Twitter

@indianwomenblog A refugee, is defined as someone with “a well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, (or) membership of a particular social group or political opinion,” in their own country.

Suchitra Vijayan on Twitter

@indianwomenblog A key part of the treaty makes it clear that refugees have the right not to be sent back to a country where they face threats to their life or freedom. Which INDIA recently did by sending Rohingya refugees back. /End

On the legal & political barriers in making a legal case from the usually volatile refugee community

Suchitra Vijayan on Twitter

@indianwomenblog I can only speak of my experience in Cairo, where I co-founded and ran a legal aid clinic for Iraqi refugees. Often the national legal system is not conducive to any kind of due process.

Suchitra Vijayan on Twitter

@indianwomenblog I have stopped excepting or thinking about Justice in these cases. Often am left with a deep sense of impotence. Any future worthy of Justice requires that we re- haul and remake the system. But are we going to ? I don’t know. / End

On the approach that women refugees can take within these communities to lead a resistance

Suchitra Vijayan on Twitter

@indianwomenblog I think women continue to fight and speak up, it’s just that we don’t listen to them. The act of leaving your home in search for another home is the bravest act anyone can ever undertake.

Suchitra Vijayan on Twitter

@indianwomenblog These women’s life is a testament to that resistance. They are inivisible despite their screams. Every year UNHCR produces important data and reports about protection for women and children from sexual violence – on the ground realities are bleak.

Suchitra Vijayan on Twitter

@indianwomenblog I honestly do not know how to. I think it’s time we shifted to burden of resistance from them to the civil society. /End

 

On the Polis Project and how does it reach out to India

Suchitra Vijayan on Twitter

@indianwomenblog We are working on two major India project. First, out @ViolenceLab dataset that logs all instances of collective public violence in India and what happens to these cases as it travels through the justice system.

Suchitra Vijayan on Twitter

@indianwomenblog @ViolenceLab It’s headed by my dear friend and data ninja @vsirnate – who is our director of research. We also just launched a global sexual violence survey that tries to understand the nature of silence around sexual violence. @vsirnate and a researcher @Nithya designed the survey.

Suchitra Vijayan on Twitter

@indianwomenblog @ViolenceLab @vsirnate @nithya We also have a robot editorial mandate headed by @nawazqanungo where we try to dig deep and bring in scholars, writers and thinkers. I am particularly proud of the series we did around NRC with scholars like @MaliniSur and Kalyani Ramnath.

Suchitra Vijayan on Twitter

@indianwomenblog @ViolenceLab @vsirnate @nithya @nawazqanungo @MaliniSur Our most recent long form interview REPUBLIC OF FEAR: with @SagarChoudhary_ was an important intervention about the nature of caste and violence in India in relation to media representation. https://t.co/9ojHoabbi4

 

 

On #MeTooIndia shaping up and reaching out to people beyond the corporate sector

Suchitra Vijayan on Twitter

@indianwomenblog I think it’s time women came together to speak our truth and if we create an open inclusive space for conversation and action there is much we can do.

Suchitra Vijayan on Twitter

@indianwomenblog I am very grateful to women from Raya to @AnooBhu who are crucial to this and the many other who have continued this fight for a long time much before #Metoo. I want to shout out to @ZEisenstein who recently spoke to us about the radical Feminist struggles.

Suchitra Vijayan on Twitter

@indianwomenblog @AnooBhu @ZEisenstein Zillah continues to be in the trenches and teach us. Having said that yesterday I read an important critique by @DivyaKandukuri_ about a #Metoo gathering in an art gallery.

Suchitra Vijayan on Twitter

@indianwomenblog @AnooBhu @ZEisenstein @DivyaKandukuri_ This event was so problematic. The language, geographies we pick are crucial. We are not going anywhere unless be break the class and caste barriers.

 

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