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Tag Archives: sexual violence and impunity

On Topic: October and the Weinstein Effect

October has been an eventful month with several protests and movements taking Indian social media by a storm, bringing many important conversations about sexual harassment to the forefront. These conversations have been long overdue in the larger scheme of things, and it's imperative that they continue. So we would like to take this 'On Topic' to review everything that happened this month related to sexual harassment.

It seemed to begin with the Harvey Weinstein allegations, with multiple female actors and employees accusing the Hollywood film producer of sexual harassment and assault. A decade-worth of allegations against him surfaced, bringing to light a conspiracy of silence that allowed sexual harassment to go unchecked. In India, parallels are visible between Weinstein and powerful Indian men like RK Pachauri, who benefitted from collective complicity and murky work practices.

Another man compared to Weinstein was Khodu Irani, the owner of High Spirits, a popular club and performance venue in Pune. Several allegations of sexual harassment were made against him and social media was flooded with accounts of him groping, making lewd comments and sending inappropriate messages to patrons and employees. As people admitted to their own role in propagating his behaviour, a conversation was started about how certain cultural and media spaces, such as the club, accept and promote toxic behaviours.

Another outcome of the media attention paid to the Weinstein allegations was the #MeToo campaign started by Hollywood actress Alyssa Milano, where she encouraged women who had ever faced sexual harassment to come forward on social media. In India too, the movement gained a lot of momentum. The campaign promised a safe space for women and others to share their experiences with sexual harassment, with unwavering support and solidarity, with people admitting to having abused someone or being complicit in abuse before. With the emergence of the hashtag #HimToo, the conversation turned to pinpointing men who had gotten away with abusive behaviour, much like Weinstein had for all these years.

The #MeToo campaign also brought to surface offline whisper networks that women usually use to keep themselves and each other safe. One such network was created online through the Google spreadsheet titled “Shitty Media Men”, and was circulated among women journalists in New York, with allegations ranging from flirting to physical and sexual violence. In India, a similar list of names of alleged sexual harassers in Indian academia was published on Facebook by law student Raya Sarkar, along with a Google spreadsheet. Here too, the aim was to warn women and students about these men, by creating an online whisper network. But while the American spreadsheet was met with some support after being put on Buzzfeed and made public, the Indian list became a topic of contention among the Indian feminist community. Several prominent Indian feminists condemned the list for naming and shaming seemingly innocent men and not following due-process, in a statement on Kafila and their own writing. They, in turn, were critiqued for supporting the men on the list, most of whom were their colleagues and acquaintances.

The varied responses to the list have highlighted a schism in the Indian feminist movement, with a majority of established feminists on one side, and a new growing generation of feminists on the other, questioning the idea of a single feminist narrative in the country. Events in the past month have shown how sites like Facebook and Twitter have become an alternate avenue for feminist protest, especially for those who might not have access to the more traditional forms of protest within the Indian feminist community.

In dissecting the intention behind and validity of Raya Sarkar’s list, feminist conversations have neglected the well-being of survivors within an already inefficient system that fails to curb sexual harassment in educational spaces. Due process rarely provides justice, as is evident to some in the recent Farooqui judgement. In many ways the men named in the list are being rewritten as left liberal heroes and/or victims of a vicious attack. The conversation, this time even within the movement, is being shifted away from the issue itself towards questioning the intentions and trustworthiness of victims and protesters.

Meanwhile, after several setbacks in sexual harassment law in September, a recent Supreme Court verdict has shifted the age of consent within marriage from 15 years to 18 years, thus criminalizing all forms of child sexual abuse, even if the minor is married to the abuser. As a reminder, marital rape of women above the age of 18 continues to be legally and socially acceptable in the country.

October at Zubaan

Zubaan celebrated its ‘Cultures of Peace’ festival on 14th October at the Asian Confluence in Shillong. We also organized events in collaboration with TISS Guwahati on 12th and 13th October. Our E-essays project released two sets of essays this month – on the Nation and Women’s Writing/Literature. This month our feminist fiction book club discussed Women Without Men: A Novel of Modern Iran by Shahrnush Parsipur. Next month we will be discussing Hav by Jan Morris.

P.S. We will be launching Centrepiece, our new anthology of writing and art by women in the Northeast, on the 10th of November at Dzukou in Hauz Khas market. Join us!

E-ESSAYS FROM ZUBAAN | 11 AUGUST, STATE CRIMES & IMPUNITY

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Our e-Essays project is now LIVE! Previously-released essays are available here, and each month a new essay is available for free with any other purchase.

To be added to the mailing list, subscribe here!

The first four sets of e-Essays focused on Indian women's movements, sexual violence, domestic space and kinship and religion and conflict. The movement against the Indian state in Kashmir, or the battle between Maoists and the state in Chhattisgarh are two examples of how governments often become suspicious of, and turn against their own citizens. Often, citizens—in these cases, women—are caught in complex webs of impunity created by state power (as in the impunity assumed by the army under the Armed Forces Special Powers Act) or by non-state actors (as in the impunity violent power gives to militants and underground factions in both states).  If Kashmir and Chhattisgarh are examples of states of ‘war’, the ways in which social exclusion and caste marginalization work provide shameful examples of the ongoing ‘warlike’ situation faced by Dalit women, against whom violence, especially sexual violence, has been ‘naturalized’, with state protection often standing squarely behind the (savarna) perpetrators. This week’s selection of essays—one a photo essay—sheds light on state crimes and impunity, and how women's lives are impacted by these confrontations with state power.

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1) 'Kidnapping, Abduction, and Forced Incarceration' by Aloysius Irudayam S J, Jayshree P Mangubhai & Joel G Lee from Dalit Women Speak Out: Caste, Class and Gender Violence in India, 2011.

This essay sees the authors examine various methods of kidnapping/abduction and forced incarceration—on the basis of a study of 47 narratives—and then analyze the implications of these forms of violence on the fundamental rights of Dalit women.

Examining these relationships with violence, the authors conclude that non-state actors employ the method of forced incarceration to mete out punishment in the form of sexual and physical assault against Dalit women who do not conform to caste-class-gender hierarchies. The essay also notes that state actors, primarily the police, engage in their own forms of forced incarceration by the filing of false cases or the illegal detention of Dalit women. The physical isolation and restriction from dominant caste male-dominated public spaces re-emphasizes and compounds the caste-class-gender-based social exclusion and vulnerability to violence that Dalit women face. 13pp.
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₹ 50.00

Aloysius Irudayam S. J. is currently the Program Director for Advocacy Research and Human Rights Education at the Institute of Development Education, Action and Studies (IDEAS), located in Madurai, Tamil Nadu.

Jayshree Mangubhai is a Senior Human Rights Adviser with the Pacific Community (SPC), a regional organisation that provides technical and scientific advice to Pacific Island governments, based in Fiji.

Joel G Lee is an Assistant Professor of Anthropology at Williams College, Massachusetts, USA. He teaches and conducts research on caste and religion in South Asia.

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2. 'Nobody's Children, Owners of Nothing: Sexual Violence and Impunity in Chhattisgarh' by Guneet Ahuja and Parijata Bhardwaj from Fault Lines of History: The India Papers, Vol II, 2016

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The conflict between the state and the left-wing insurgent groups in Chhattisgarh has created an environment of fear, and with it a number of impediments to the documentation of sexual violence in the affected areas. In this essay, lawyers Guneet Ahuja and Parijata Bhardwaj trace sexual violence and repression at the hands of the police, the Salwa Judum, and the state and central governments, all of which have enjoyed a great degree of impunity in the region. The essay also discusses the stories of Soni Sori and Meena Xalxo, two out of many cases of torture and extrajudicial murder, most of which do not emerge into the dominant narrative. Relying on sources both 'official' and oral which, when taken together, are telling of the extent of violence occurring in the region, Ahuja and Bhardwaj analyze what happens when authorities dismiss human lives as mere impediments to development, and state forces reject a distinction between civilians and warring groups. 46pp.
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Guneet Ahuja worked with the Jagdalpur Legal Aid Group from 2014 to 2015; since then, she has been practicing law on a range of issues in Delhi. She has previously represented Adivasis in criminal litigation in the courts in Bastar.

Parijata Bhardwaj is a criminal lawyer at the Bombay High Court and a founding member of the Jagdalpur Legal Aid Group. In Bastar, she has worked with Adivasis towards the implementation of their fundamental rights.

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3. 'Finding Face: Images of Women from the Kashmir Valley' by Sheba Chhachhi from Speaking Peace: Women's Voices from Kashmir, 2002

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In 'Finding Face', comprising of a critical essay and a series of personal testimonies interspersed with photographs, Sheba Chhachhi seeks to bring human figures back into the occupied landscape of Kashmir and give voice (/ face) to those whose lives have been obscured in the din of a prolonged war. It makes space for the individual in a history of representation that is populated with recurring tropes and warring stereotypes which, Chhachhi argues, depersonalise the Valley and its conflicts. In her work, women are no longer silent victims, they emerge as textured human beings, not only with voices with which to speak, but also with eyes that are wide open. The testimonies have been taken over a period of six years and reflect varying positions, and the interviewees are students and professionals, Muslims and Pandits, teenagers and the aged.
These photographs were part of a larger work which was initially presented as a photo-installation by Sheba Chhachhi and Sonia Jabbar. The photo-essay as a whole captures the life and times of women during conflict, including during the attempted implementation of the burqa diktat in the Valley. These individuated women stand out in the frames as they look back at the viewer in more ways than one. 37 pp.
Sheba Chhachhi is  is an installation artist, photographer, activist and writer whose work focuses on the history, experience and power of feminine consciousness. Through her work, she also depicts topics like migration, globalization, and urban transformation.
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FREE IN AUGUST, WITH THE PURCHASE OF ANY OTHER ESSAY:

'The Everyday and the Exceptional: Sexual Violence and Impunity in Our Times (Introduction)' by Uma Chakravarti from Fault  Lines of History: The India Papers II, 2016

11_The Everyday and the Exceptional - Uma Chakravarti_coverUma Chakravarti’s introduction to Fault Lines of History: The India Papers II uses a brief history of protest in the north-eastern states of India to illustrate the contract between the state, the army and the rule of law. Detailing the spread of AFSPA as a result and a feature of this contract, Chakravarti points to particular building blocks in the story of resistance in the area — the case of Manorama, Irom Sharmila’s hunger strike, the naked protest by imas in Manipur among others — and castigates mainstream state theorists’ neglect of AFSPA’s existence and growing application as a tool of oppressive state-building. She explains how the postcolonial state’s painting of AFSPA and militarisation, and the accompanying conflicts, as ‘states of exception’ is key to the contract, which is characterised by the tension between the rule of law and the state’s need for avowal of sovereign emergency.
This chapter also provides a valuable cross-section of the volume, summarising each author’s argument while drawing connections between them and larger themes of impunity, militarisation, conflict, revolution, state (un)accountability, ‘security’ and feminist scholarship. 34pp.

Dr. Uma Chakravarti is a feminist historian who taught at Miranda House, Delhi University. She writes on Buddhism, early Indian history, the 19th century and on contemporary issues.

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A note on pricing, frequency and format:

The e-Essays project is a new initiative from Zubaan, undertaken to make our near-fifteen years of feminist research more accessible to our readers and community. Ten new essays are released each month (on the 1st, 11th, 21st), each set curated to a theme, which subscribers receive in their inbox. The essays range from just a few pages to 100-page chapters, and we have therefore created three pricing tiers: 50, 70 and 95 rupees. Responses to our test survey in March indicated that a majority of readers would be willing to pay up to Rs. 100, so we've kept even the longest essay under that amount. The vast majority of our readers also included PDFs in their preference of format, and we have therefore standardised all our essays in PDF files.

If you're interested to see what's coming next, make sure you've joined our mailing list, and keep your eye out for the next mailer/blog post.

Happy Reading!

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