Zara Ismail


This article examines the measures taken under the various iterations of India’s Communal Violence Bill to tackle sexual violence in communally charged areas. It focuses on the 2002 violence in Gujarat to illustrate ‘sexual impunity’ in India, the workings of izzat (honour) within the discourse around communal violence, and to argue that citizens of India are not always equal before the law. Using decolonial, feminist and postcolonial theory, the author builds on a rich history of activism and scholarship to argue that not only are the measures proposed under the government’s draft of the Communal Violence Bill inadequate, but also that they buy into problematic oversimplifications reliant on ideas of communal honour, thus neatly sidestepping institutional complicity in communal violence and foreclosing any potential for efficacy. When women are reduced to keepers of communal honour—their bodies the battlefields upon which party and communal politics play out—justice is put out of reach. The author argues that the policing of communal lines through the logic of izzat also results in a very peculiar construct of the concept of ‘rapist’ in times of communal violence, resulting in a distinction between ‘men who rape’ and ‘men who are rapists’. Rape is very much a politico-legal issue in India. It has a history and a context. The sexual impunity that runs rampant in the country today is a result of both. The author argues that there is a need to deeply interrogate who matters in Indian politics—and, more importantly, who does not. Justice, in cases of sexual violence is heavily influenced by the rapist’s position vis-à-vis the victim/survivor, and Gujarat has shown us that to be sidelined in Indian politics can often mean a denial of justice. This article seeks to trouble the divide between state and society, calling for a recognition and interrogation of state complicity and for the decentering of honour as the central paradigm of communal violence. It is only through the deconstruction of this façade that the underlying causes and contributors can be addressed, allowing us to move towards a more equitable and just system.

Author Biography

Zara Ismail has recently completed an MSc in Gender (Sexuality) from the London School of Economics, Zara Ismail is currently residing on a mango orchard in India.