This thesis studies the role of sexual violence as a strategic act that is used during instances of religious violence. Specifically, I observe the usage of sexual violence as perpetrated by majority religious group civilians against civilians of a minority religious group, as in the case of the religious riots between Hindus and Muslims in Gujarat, India in 2002. Existing literature on the topic is limited in regards to an analysis of civilian perpetrated behaviors. Additionally, existing theories also largely lack the usage of an intersectional feminist lens in providing theoretical arguments for why sexual violence occurs during political violence, including riots. This project seeks to provide a fresh analysis of civilian-perpetrated sexual violence in the context of religious riots by using a mixed methods approach to studying religious rhetoric as the justifying mechanism used by civilians, and by doing so I hope to build upon the existing causal arguments and add a new theoretical understanding to the body of literature.

By using a theoretical analysis that includes discourse on ecofeminism, intersectional feminism, riot theory, and rhetoric theory, I argue that because civilians are not trained or desensitized to sexual violence in the same way that state-sponsored military or combatant groups often are, they must rely on reframing religious rhetoric to justify engaging in such morally reprehensible acts. Furthermore, I posit that the usage of sexual violence is strategic as it is intended to promote the political, social, economic, and cultural hegemony of one religious group (the Hindus in Gujarat in this case study). Through a mixed methodological approach that utilizes rhetorical and symbolic content analysis of 40 first person testimonies provided by survivors of the riots published by various human rights reports, I observe a relationship between the usage of religious rhetoric by Hindu perpetrators during the riots and the ensuing occurence of sexual violence against mostly women and girls of the Muslim minority population.


Mirza, Sarah

Second Advisor

Krain, Matthew


Political Science; Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies


Comparative Politics | Feminist, Gender, and Sexuality Studies | Hindu Studies | Islamic Studies | Other Languages, Societies, and Cultures | South and Southeast Asian Languages and Societies

Publication Date


Degree Granted

Bachelor of Arts

Document Type

Senior Independent Study Thesis



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