"The (White English) soldiers haunted young women from place to place and outraged (raped) them even in the bylanes. No woman was safe. Even pregnant women, women who had just delivered, and girls of 12 or 13 years (minors) were outraged." This is an excerpt from the report of a delegation of the Women's Association on the atrocities by the British Soldiers in Chimur, Nagpur on 19, 20, and 21 August 1942.
A Slice Of History
Often we are made to believe that the English rule with all its evils didn't indulge in raping women, burning houses, and looting people like medieval mercenary armies. In popular discourse, English soldiers are presented as justice loving who helped in the expansion of the economy. A close look at contemporary records gives us a completely different picture. English soldiers raped Indian women on a large scale.
Maulana Abul Kalam Azad led Congress adopted the Quit India Resolution moved by Mahatma Gandhi on 8 August 1942. Indians were asked to boycott and non-cooperate with the British. The Congress leadership was arrested but Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose directed the Indians through radio transmissions from Berlin to attack the government infrastructure. It was an open rebellion against the British Raj.
Chimur, a small town of 5,000, in Nagpur, Maharashtra, emerged as a flag bearer of the movement. On 16 August, all the Hindus and Muslims came together and burnt down all the government buildings. In a pitched war with police, they killed SDM, Naib Tahsildar, Circle Inspector, and a constable.
To teach a lesson to the patriots, three companies of Green Howards consisting of around 100 English soldiers were sent to the town along with companies of the Mahar regiment. For almost one month nobody was allowed to visit the town and the English soldiers reigned with terror in such a fashion that would put Genghis Khan to shame.
Hindu Mahasabha leaders B. S. Moonje and M. N. Ghatate visited the town on 26 September after the restrictions were lifted. In a letter to the Governor, C. P & Berar, observed that the British soldiers had raped women, looted houses, and violently abused men. They met several rape victims in Chimur with the help of an old lady, Mrs. Begde. The letter stated, “she (Mrs. Begde) then sent for and collected several women of the town who, with feelings of shame and outraged dignity, narrated their separate tales of molestations and actual rapes. Seventeen women in all narrated their own stories; out of 17, 13 were raped, some by more than one white soldier, and the rest four were only molested. These women in great agony of mind gave expressions to their desire of revenge to be taken by their menfolk if God the Almighty willed so."
A woman told that white soldiers took turns raping women. According to the report submitted by Moonje, "one day she, amid the shameful bother of white soldiers coming to her house in batches frequently throughout the day and late in the night also, mustered courage and though challenged frequently by the soldiers and the police went up straight to the Deputy Commissioner and told him of her trouble. The Deputy Commissioner, bluntly and heartlessly retorted, 'who has invited this trouble? Who has brought these white soldiers? It is your menfolk, your husbands and brothers.' She was stunned."
The report also mentioned how a young girl was looted of her ornaments and raped by white soldiers. The local media and political activists believed that at least 400 women were raped in Chimur. Several reports claimed that 75% of the women in Chimur were raped by English soldiers. The English officials did not take any action and retorted that if women were raped why did not they report within a day or two and waited for one month. Moonje argued that no ordinary woman could do so under ‘Military Raj’ and they told Indian delegations of the Bar Council, Hindu Mahasabha, and Women’s Association as soon as they met them.
The British blamed the victims squarely. A CID report said, “some Mahar women were entertaining troops for money. I heard that some of them had earned as much as Rs. 20 or Rs. 25 per day." If this wasn't enough, the police arrested Baliram, Munim of Naik, for preparing the applications of raped women. Great English justice.
The Women's Association's team noted, "After removing the men the soldiers took complete possession of all the houses, looted everything they could lay their hands on, and outraged women to their hearts' content."
A victim recorded, “there was an old man in the house, in whose presence the soldier dragged me aside and outraged me. I am a pregnant woman of nine months and even then I was outraged.” Several other pregnant women reported rape by multiple soldiers.
The wife of the Sarpanch also reported rape. She was specifically targeted for her family's patriotism.
Dr. Wazalwar examined rape victims on behalf of the Bar Council. In her report, she reported about "a girl of 12 or 13 years of age. She was dragged from her father's place in the night and taken to a deserted place on some pretext. She was outraged by many soldiers who were waiting for her." Her report also mentioned a 15-year-old girl's rape in a bye-lane, a minor girl's rape, a widow's rape, the rape of a woman who had delivered five days back, and several others.
Chimur was targeted because the British couldn't stand Hindu Muslims united. Moonje reported, "one Moslem from the mob which was composed of Hindus and Moslems, mostly from the surrounding villages, was shot down by the police." He highlighted the fact that Hindus and Muslims were equally involved in anti-British activities but the government's actions "confirms the impression among the masses that the Government, in their policy of divide and rule….. will disturb the inter-communal amity between Moslems and Hindus living side by side as neighbours"
Do I need to write that the government inquiry found ‘allegations’ of rape as ‘false’? Do I need to tell them that they blamed women for prostitution? Do I need to mention that women were called characterless belonging to low castes (though several were Brahmins as well if it makes any difference)? Today we don’t know about these heroines of Chimur, who were raped because they loved their nation the most. Our scholars want us to believe in the supremacy of British Justice and civilization. I wonder where on earth the army has raped a whole town and gone unreported.