Refugees during the partition of India in 1947.
Refugees during the partition of India in 1947. Creative Common

Among the many unspeakable crimes that have occurred in Libya since the revolt erupted months ago was an act that did not directly involve soldiers on either side of the conflict.

Rather, it involved a family in which the father murdered his three daughters after they were raped, reportedly by loyalists of Moammar Gaddafi, during the brutal siege of the port city of Misurata.

According to a report from Physicians for Human Rights group on war crimes in Libya, the father slit the throats of his daughters (who were aged 15, 17, and 18) in order to erase the ‘shame and humiliation’ the rapes caused him and his family.

In many countries of the Middle East, South Asia and elsewhere, the rape of a woman, particularly a young daughter, brings shame not only to the perpetrator, but even more so to the victim herself.

In places like Turkey and Pakistan, there have been innumerable reports of girls who have been murdered (or pressured to kill themselves) after they have been raped. An unmarried girl who is no longer a virgin (even if it is not her fault) is viewed as a stain on her family and community and she must bear full responsibility for it by paying with her life.

It is a double-edged horror that has likely victimized thousands of girls.

That the particular tragic incident in Libya happened during wartime reminded me of tales I had heard of similar atrocities in 1947 when the Partition of India and Pakistan created one of history’s greatest forced migrations of people.

Amidst the chaos of sudden displacement, ethnic and religious hatreds, murders, rape and robberies – women (Muslim, Sikh, Hindu) bore the brunt of the violence.

Richard Lee of Open University in Britain wrote of Partition: “Women were arguably the worst victims of the Partition of India in 1947 and endured… violence, abduction, prostitution, mutilation, and rape.”

Justice Teja Singh, a member of the Punjab Boundary Commission, said that during the riots in Rawalpindi (in present-day Pakistan): A large number of people were forcibly converted, children were kidnapped, and young women abducted and openly raped.”

Singh also added: “The women were subjected to maximum humiliation and torture. Their agony can be judged by the fact that a number of women jumped into wells to save their honor. It is as unbelievable today as it was at that time.”

Thus, not only were women abused and sexually assaulted in large-scale across the sub-continent, but many (who may not even have been physically abused) were also forced to commit suicide (in advance of an expected rape) in order to preserve the honor of the girl’s family. (In this case, by jumping into a well and drowning).

The fathers and mothers of these girls were so certain that the communal violence would lead to the rapes of their daughters, they sought to prevent this from happening by taking the most drastic step possible.

Untold numbers of Hindu, Sikh and Muslim girls of that terrible era died this way.

Amazingly, almost sixty-five years later, such terrible acts are still happening.