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The Unrecognised and Underlying Violence against Women amidst the Crisis of Displacement: The Identification of Women Abuse in the Refugee Lives Battling for the Identity and Living in Duality


The Unrecognised and Underlying Violence against Women amidst the Crisis of Displacement: The Identification of Women Abuse in the Refugee Lives Battling for the Identity and Living in Duality


Ritesh Kumar Singh

Ph. D. Research Scholar

Department of English

School of Humanities & Languages

Mahatma Gandhi Central University, Bihar, India




The prolonged vulnerability of our society in the form of abuse and violence against women is taking a grimmer turn. The forms of violence may have changed down the ages but at the streamline, the trauma and terror of domestic violence are still the same. It is evident that any kind of violence emerge from the rigidity and the lack of agility in human behaviours, be it men or women, but the one who suffers most is the women, as the superstructure of power and politics favour the patriarchy, and eventually, the women are subjected to the sub-human treatments in the society. The Violence against women in the post-modern era is not limited to the physical tortures but advances to the psychological, economical, and spiritual spaces. The violence which starts from the home serves as the foundation for a larger crime against the women, as it is not limed to the four walls of the houses, it goes beyond. The threat to women’s life and dignity, in adverse scenarios like the refugee crisis, multiply and makes the lives of women more vulnerable. Amid the crisis of displacement, the wrongs with the women slip down from the so-called parameters of crime or injustice and it goes unrecognized, the refugee women face dual kinds of violence, one is domestic and the other during the displacement, in the outside world. The objective of this paper is to access the unrecognized forms of violence against women in the displaced domestic settings and, in the external world.

Keywords: abuse, displacement, identity, refugee-women, violence

General Introduction

The post-modern world is known for destabilizing the very notion of single superiority, and breaking down of meta-narratives that pushed back the development of humans as a civilization, be it any conservative institution or rigid centralized power structure, post-modernism has discarded such fixities, but it has its limitations; the complexities borne out of post-modernism are proving to be even more destructive than ever. The men women's relationship has fallen into one of such devastating complexities of the post-modern world, the element of violence against women were always there in our society, but the kind of turn it has taken is a real threat to any rational and civilized society. The violence against women is not limited to physical and sexual, but it has transformed; from physic to psychic, from breaching of basic human rights to assassinating them, from the closed domestic space to external abuse and suppression, along with all these the women is subjected of constant trials, on contrary men are not answerable in general. This situation of violence against women becomes grimmer in adverse circumstances like the refugee crisis and internally displaced masses. As per, 1993, General Assembly of the United Nations, Declaration on the Elimination of Violence against Women, gender-based violence against women can be defined as: 

Any act of violence that results in, or is likely to result in, physical, sexual, or mental harm, or suffering to women, including threats of such acts, coercion, or arbitrary, deprivation of liberty, whether occurring in public or in private life.

UN has defined violence against women precisely as anything which goes against women is unacceptable, be it physical, mental, sexual; even threatening women is considered violence. United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees also finds this definition apt regarding the violence against women. Hardships in the lives of women are mounted with the harassment coming from the men. India and the world are struggling to provide a sustainable and safe environment for women. The condition of women is not at all sound around the globe, especially in underdeveloped and developing nations. The private and public life of women are highly encroached, sexual or unwanted intimidations, physical and mental harassment to the girls and women, leads to a compromised future for upcoming generations. Such violence is done under the vile of domestic integrity and false or pseudo- sense of male superiority.

Domestic violence is now well recognized, and for prevention, various majors are being taken by the government at the same time society is also getting conscious and vocal about it, however, we still have a long way to go.  As per the global data of WHO, there are more than 730 million women who faced violence worldwide, and unfortunately, this number is increasing day by day. The violence against women comes in different forms and shapes, the women suffer from physical and sexual violence, unwanted pregnancy, violence during pregnancies and post-pregnancy, torture for unwanted intimidation, labouring and under the menaces, and baring the mobility, and many such cruelties. As far as domestic violence in India is concerned, it is a real crisis, Indian women are forced to live in packed walls, and face domestic violence mainly emerged from marital disagreement and spousal violence, and one of the prominent problems is the Dowry system; for its preventions government has made strong laws, and another is martial sex which is becoming a severe problem in India; this has emerged as one of the biggest threat to the married women, now the government is also intervening as the women have raised their voices and become vocal about it. Domestic violence is indeed a kind of curse in such a modern and so-called civilized society.

Violence against women in a normally operating society is so harsh than imagine the situation of refugee women, who are forced to leave their homes, displaced from their native land, and struggling hard to make a life in extreme adversities, where there is no guarantee of life in the very next second, no guarantee of food and shelter, no guarantee of anything normal. Then what would be the situation of women masses that have to deal with all these along with the violence and torture against them coming from their own people and also from the victimizers. The condition for the women becomes unlivable. The cases of gender-based violence are growing rapidly among the refugee and internally displaced women in the world, they are being targeted by the war inflicting bodies, women are their first target, apart from physical torture, sexual harassment, and molestation and eventually, rape is used as a weapon. As per the reports of UNHCR, Mariastella Pulvirenti & Gail Mason, describe the situation of refugee women and internally displaced women as, “Refugee and internally displaced women are especially vulnerable to gender-based violence during armed conflict, during the fight from that conflict, and in refugee camps” (819). The violence against refugee and internally displaced women usually go unrecognized or doesn’t give a place in the trials and discussions of justice, as it should be discussed, this is greater than any crime. And to make it worse, the crisis of identity stands as an added enemy against the existence of women.

The post-modern seminal text of refugee literature like The Odyssey of Kashmiri Pandits by Dr. M.L. Bhat, which narrates the terror and horror of violence against Kashmir women, The Ungrateful Refugee of Dina Nayeri, gives the written testimony of traumas of victims of violence of all kinds and The Sympathizer of Viet Thanh Nguyen, gives us an eye-opening portrayal of violence, especially the sexual violence, which even women sometimes fails to understand that what has happened with them. All these, refugee crisis shows how women becomes an easy target of the hate mongers and how they got exploited in the public and also in private, without any fault of their own, the crime happened to them, only for just being a woman.

The current situation, even after so many advancements, raise a question to us, that where we had gone wrong, why there is a need to even discuss this, be it domestic violence or violence against the refugee and internally displaced women, we need to give a check to our institutions and agencies.

Recognition of forms of Violence against the Refugee and Internally Displaced Women: Domestic and Public

There is a dual struggle in the life of refugee women, one is being the refugee itself and another is the gender-based violence, both domestic and public. The violence in refugee camps and during the making of a refugee doesn’t get recognized as the focal length of discussion doesn’t focus on the women as the victims of violence but as a refugee.  The underlying violence against the refugee women is more dangerous than the problems of displacement, a woman who just bears the burden of supposed liabilities of women, has to go through physical and sexual extortion on the daily basis, no matter their body allows it or not, they have to do it willingly or unwillingly. And what makes it worse is that there is no one to hear them, there is no mouth that can speak in their favor, ironically, the magnitude of violence grows and the consequences lead to compromised life or in some cases, death appears easier than life in violence.

Globally, 1 in 3, women experience violence in their lifetime and if we responsibly add the violence against refugee women, the frequencies go higher, however, UNHCR lacks statistically sound data. As far as the condition of India is concerned, as per the data of the National Family Health Survey- 5 (2019-21), 30% of women in India face spousal violence. These data show that at what extent women are suffering from violence around the globe. However, this data doesn’t speak for the refugee women because; we are negligible about it for a long time. However, a sign of change is visible, as the voices from the different spheres are rising in support of the rights of refugee women. Jane Freedman, in her scholarly work, Sexual and Gender-based Violence against Refugee Women: a Hidden Report of the Refugee “Crisis”, unfolds the true situation of violence against European refugee women, she has put stress on the recognition of such violence and the need of separate discussion.

The new refugee writes such as M.L. Bhat, Dina Nayeri, Viet, and others, are giving their due palace in the literary space, they have portrayed the real scenarios without filtering out anything, they have discussed the violence in real terms and left us to think about it, that what should be done to safeguard the life and dignity of the women. These three authors are contemporary and very much aware of the circumstances of refugee life, as they are a refugee and displaced, one of the three is a woman, her mother and she herself got victimized.

The forms of violence that a woman has to deal with are no less than a capital crime, it's crucifying all the rights of women and treating them just like an object for labour and pleasure. The prominent one is Sexual Abuse and sexual torture; these get demonised at the lowest level, which a normal human being can’t even imagine. The barbarism of Nirbhaya Kind happens with the refugee women often, but unfortunately, it skips from the sights. Next in the series is Physical torture like beating, cutting, whacking, and damaging the body, by cracking the bone and tearing the ligaments. 

Psychological and Spiritual violence, these two distinct kinds of violence are the product of all other violence, psychological and spiritual violence is widely neglected and in any society, these aren’t considered violence, so, again there is a need for identification of such violence against the women.

Kashmiri Women and violence

In the history of India, the biggest refugee crisis is missed out from history significantly, more than 62, 000 thousand families were forced to leave their motherland and thousands of women becomes the victim of jihad at the hand of jihadists. In modern Islamic invasion, humanity dies every next second, the women were their first prey, and eventually, they got succeeded on January 19, 1990, with the ethnic cleansing of Hindu Kashmiri pandits from the valley.

            Kashmiri Women were raped in gangs before the eyes of their families, they got killed in a Halal manner, in bits and pieces, they were stone plated till death, and many such brutalities happened to them only for the cause of Islam. The scale of violence is such huge that it needs a separate discussion. Dr. M.L Bhat, writes, “The most common spoils of tribal warfare are women. Raiders kill the men, abduct the nubile women, gang-rape them, and allocate them as wives” (46).

Violence against Kashmiri women was public and community violence, very systematic and well thought out. A whole lot of Jihadists did this and they are proud of it, slogans like “we want Kashmir with panditayin”, write Dr. Bhat, “The Soldiers of the “Holy War” in Kashmir want Kashmir and that too with the Kashmiri Pandit Women” (47).  Sexual violence was used as a weapon of war, the refugee women suffer the most, Michelle Hyne, Writes in the scholarly work Sexual Violence against Refugee Women, that “the preparations of war find women an easy target, and sexual exploitations of the women give them an advantage, they use sexual violence rather say rape as the weapon of war”(819). A harsh but apt example of the use of this weapon can be seen in the Exodus of Kashmiri Pandits:

A Kashmiri Pandit nurse working at the Soura Medical College Hospital in Srinager was gang-raped and then beaten to death. Another woman was abducted, raped, and sliced into bits and pieces at a sawmill……And ten thousand Kashmiri pandits across the valley take a painful decision: to flee their homeland to save their lives from rabid Jihadis. Thus takes place a 20th century Exodus. (62-63)

Violence against women is not limited to domestic violence but it is being used as a weapon even in this era and the Violence against the Kashmir women are the victims of such violence, waiting for justice for years.

Iranian women and violence 

The lives of Iranian women are no lesser than lifelong impressments, where they have very limited liberty and basic human rights, the orthodoxy controls their much of lives and those who rebelled against it had to leave the country in order to save their lives. The Iranian revolution of 1979, created millions of such women, who were the subject of domestic and public violence. Even today, the Iranian women have to live according to the law prescribed for them, and if they violets any rule, they have to bear the consequences. Dina Nayeri, the author of The Ungrateful Refugee is a product of such wrongs to the women; firstly her mother suffered from domestic violence, even though she was educated and her husband was Dentist. Nayeri’s mother belonged to another faith, she converted to Christianity and her husband never liked it, she faced religious violence along with physical, describe one such incident, Nayeri, writes, “he smoked opium and beat my mother” (36).  Along with domestic violence, Nayeri’s mother also experienced physical violence in the public by the moral police administrated by the government:

(H)er, scarf slipped back a few inches revealing half a head of loose hair. Then we heard the shouting, a pasdar was pointing and ranting at Maman. ‘Watch your hijab, woman! As he crossed the asphalt, his shouting grew louder, anger. He began to curse, calling her vile names… But he towered over her, threatening, spitting. (Nayeri 36)

To have a violence-free life, she eventually left her country and become a refugee, but the gender-based violence didn’t stop here, this continues even after becoming a refugee. Nayeri herself experienced gender-based violence as a child:

As I pulled on the handle, a boy grabbed my hand and shoved it into the doorjamb. Another boy slammed it shut and I heard a sickening crunch. At first, it didn’t hurt-just a prick at the base of my pinky nail and a numbness spreading up through my hand. But then there was blood- a lot of it – seeping out of hinge and creeping down the doorframe. (31)

            Further in their life as a refugee, she encountered such violence, not only her, several women like her experiences physical and sexual violence; until found asylum in America. The Iran women are fighting hard for their freedom and human rights.

Vietnamese women and violence

Vietnamese refugees are borne out of the Vietnamese war or the second Indo-china war. Sexual violence stands at the top, the Vietnamese women fell prey to the American and other asylum givers and also to the soldiers of both sides. Incidents like killing the woman while fight appeared normal to them. Nguyen, writes, “a spat between a husband and wife that started with the usual name-calling suddenly erupted into a full-blown fight. We saw none of it but heard the unmistakable sound of flesh being slapped, followed by the woman screaming” (74). The Vietnamese refugee women suffered from such incidents on daily basis, and many of them accepted violence as their fate.

The Vietnamese refugee women struggled with sexual violence which often comes in compromised marital relationships, the refugee women dealing with the crisis of identity fell prey to the American, French, and Vietnamese of different cultures and ideologies. Vietnamese refugees in the woe of a good life and to establish an identity and choose to get married to non-natives and eventually become the victim of physical and sexual violence. They were treated unwell during the displacements. While they were struggling with displacement and a refugee in general, they were also in a constant fight for dignity. Viet has portrayed the apt and true condition of Vietnamese refugee women, along with the refugee in general. The unnamed narrator the Sympathizer, appears as a misogynist, he slept with various women, just for sexual manipulation, he did every wrong to the women, whether it is emotional violence or sexual, or physical, women's dignity got compromised at every stage of life.

Vietnamese refugee women never become the center of attraction, their voices remain unheard, and the crimes which happened and still happening in the home and on the land of asylum is unmeasured. The life of refugee women amid the crisis of identity is no lesser than hell and the most unfortunate thing is that there is no way home, as far as safety and sanity are concerned.  Viet has deliberately raised the issue of violence against the refugee women, although in a much-layered manner but it speaks in volume, violence amidst the refugee crisis is something like starving in the desert, where everything stands against the human. The refugee women find refuge in the duality, where they transform themselves as per the conditioning of life, the violence somehow made them stronger than others. It is said that the damaged women are the best women, but, reality asks the question to us, why the violence.


 The crisis of Identity for the women along with the gender-based violence makes their lives even harder, be it Kashmiri, Iranian, Vietnamese or any other refugee woman, life seems difficult in such circumstances. The identity crisis weakens the fight of refugee women against violence, as they don’t have the proper identification to be named, and the vices take undue advantage of this identity crisis and do the wrong to women, as they have no one assigned to deliver justice to them. In the above-discussed refugee crisis, none of the women got justice, they compromised with their situations. Lack of identity results in a lack of visibility o the world, if one is not visible, no one can do anything for them, no matter how right or wrong they are. However, the courage of women keeps them alive and now the voices are coming in their support, commenting on the courage of the women, Mariastella Pulvirenti & Gail Mason, in the works Resilience and survival: refugee women and violence, write that only the courage of women can bring significant change in the violence against them. However, the courage of women also needs the support of a proper justice system, the recognition of violence against refugee women would be one such step; only after the recognition of the criminal justice take place. The dual struggle of refugee women is not limited to Kashmiri, Iranian, and Vietnamese, but all refugees in general. The fight for survival is not easy for a woman in a society with a normal setting then what would be the condition of refugee women in a war-like situation where every ordinary thing seems expensive and asking for justice is like a utopian thing, it is like a snake in Iceland.

The identification of violence against the refugee and internally displaced women is the need of the time, a larger section of society is forced to live a compromised life and out of the justice system, only because the violence against them is not recognised or it's getting overshadowed by the refugee and identity crisis.

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