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Girls & Women

Gang Raped Years Ago, Muslim Women in India Face Intimidation, Threats, Waiting for Legal Justice

By Nita Bhalla

NEW DELHI, Feb 9 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Three years after religious riots in India, Muslim women who reported being gang raped during the violence are still waiting for their cases to be investigated while facing death threats and harassment for speaking out, Amnesty International said.

More than 60 people were killed and over 50,000 forced to flee from their villages when clashes between majority Hindus and minority Muslims erupted in the state of Uttar Pradesh in September 2013.

Seven Muslim women came forward to report complaints of rape during the riots in Muzaffarnagar and Shamli districts, but to date there has not been a single conviction, the Indian branch of the rights group said on Thursday.

Over the last three years, two of the women changed their statements following threats. One victim died during child birth in 2016. One case resulted in an acquittal, one trial is currently underway and in two cases, trials have not begun.

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"The Uttar Pradesh government has failed to expeditiously investigate and prosecute the cases and deliver justice," said Amnesty International India (AII) in a report.

"Their failures continue to keep the survivors in a state of fear and insecurity, sceptical that they will ever get justice."

Government and police officials from Uttar Pradesh were not immediately available to comment on the reports findings.

THREATS

The violence was triggered on August 27, 2013 when a Muslim youth was stabbed to death by two Hindu youths after being accused of sexually harassing their sister. A Muslim mob then stoned the two Hindus to death, government officials say.

Neighbours - Hindu and Muslim - turned on one another with machetes and set alight homes and places of worship.

"All three of them threatened me, saying that if I did not do what they asked, they would kill my son. They took turns to rape me," said one of the victims, named as Ghazala in report, who was raped in a sugarcane field in Shamli on Sept. 8, 2013.

Violence between Muslims and Hindus has been a defining feature of Indian politics since the separation of Pakistan in 1947, when hundreds of thousands of people were killed and millions displaced.

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AII's research - based on police and court documents and interviews with victims, police and government officials - found that the police refused initially to register the complaints and then failed to investigate allegations.

The slow pace of the justice has meant victims and their families have been threatened and intimidated by the accused, AII said.

Due to India's under-resourced, archaic judicial system long delays in trials are common, but lawyers say delays in this case are due to discrimination against Muslim women who are accusing men from the dominant Hindu Jat majority.

"This is not because the system is inefficient. And it is not because the police and courts do not know how to work," said human rights lawyer Vrinda Grover at the launch of the report.

"This is a matter of institutional bias within the police."

The report comes at a sensitive time as Uttar Pradesh, India's most populous region, begins state elections on Feb. 11.

Religion and caste violence play a central role in politics in Uttar Pradesh and fanning communal tension often brings political gains to parties that claim to protect different religious and caste groups, analysts say.

(Reporting by Nita Bhalla @nitabhalla, Editing by Katie Nguyen. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's rights, trafficking, property rights, climate change and resilience. Visit http://news.trust.org)