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This week’s essays focus on violence against women. A broad overview of the Indian feminist movement’s strategies to combat violence in the 1970s and its focus on legislation, provides the context for a close examination of two key areas: caste and the violence of conflict. Case studies and interviews provide evidence of the long term impact of violence on the lives of Dalit women, and show how they face continuing violence at the hands of upper caste men, as well as within their own homes. In regions of conflict, as in the Northeast, interviews show how women are subjected to particular forms of violence as their bodies become pawns in the game of war. Further, post-conflict reconstruction, which posits a return to normalcy, does not take account of the domestic or intimate partner violence of ‘peacetime’.
1. Effects of Violence Against Dalit Women by Aloysius Irudayam S. J., Jayshree Mangubhai and Joel G Lee from Dalit Women Speak Out: Caste, Class and Gender Violence in India (2011)
Writing in Dalit Women Speak Out, authors Irudayam, Mangubhai and Lee situate this essay within brahmanical patriarchal discourse of dishonour and blame, which stigmatizes Dalit women who are victim-survivors of violence. Their interviews with five hundred Dalit women investigate the nature and forms of violence faced by the women, and bring to light not only instances of violence within Dalit households, but also the overwhelming number of cases that relate to rapes by male members of dominant castes. With the help of the study they demonstrate how short-term physical injuries have the capacity to inflict long-term mental suffering, which can exacerbate feelings of helplessness and fear of further violence. The lives of Dalit women become conditioned to violence rather than freedom, which can lead to the curtailment of women’s mobility in public spaces. 24 pp. Read more.
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.
2. ‘The Price of Revolution: Who Determines? Who Pays?’ by Roshmi Goswami from Fault Lines of History: The India Reader 2 (2016)
This essay looks at case studies of sexual violence against women combatants and sympathizers in Northeast India to examine the special vulnerability of this category of women to sexual violence. As Roshmi Goswami points out, at present there are over fifty armed groups in the region making a plethora of demands and situated at different stages in the continuum of conflict. The author argues that women have borne the brunt of this ongoing turmoil—whether they have been specifically targeted by security forces or rival militant groups. Sexual violence is deployed to torture, humiliate people or to punish and humiliate an enemy group or a community that is perceived to be the ‘other’.
Goswami also dwells on how the relative or perceived agency of women combatants ends when the ‘militant’s uniform’ is given up, and questions the term ‘post-conflict reconstruction’, pointing out its problematic position: ‘reconstruction’ implies restoration to a former status quo that might not be beneficial to women. She states that for feminist peace activists, genuine conflict transformation necessarily brings the notions of justice and peace together, which would entail correcting inequalities and discrimination while ‘reconstructing’. 34 pp. Read more.
Roshmi Goswami is a feminist and humans rights activist known for her work on the impact of armed conflict on women in Northeast India. She is presently researching women ex-combatants in the region. She is the co-founder of the North East Network and is presently chair of the Foundation for Social Transformation, an indigenous philathropic organization aimed at building resilience and positive social change in Northeast India.
3. ‘Confrontation and Negotiation: The Women’s Movement’s Response to Violence Against Women’ by Urvashi Butalia from The Violence of Development: The Politics of Identity, Gender & Social Inequalities in India (2003)
This essay traces the women’s movement in India in the mid-seventies and early eighties, when the issue of violence against women took prominence. Author Urvashi Butalia draws on numerous instances of violence, including among others the rape of Rameeza Bee in 1978, dowry-related violence, and the immolation of Roop Kanwar in 1987. She also looks at the women’s movement’s engagement during this time, which ranged from lobbying with the Law Commission to bring about changes to the rape law, to the efforts of Delhi-based groups like Mahila Dakshata Samiti and Stree Sangharsh against dowry.
In both the rape and dowry campaigns, as also in the campaign against sati, the primary target of women’s demands or grievances was the state, with the belief that the state had failed in its ‘duty’. The essay also traces how one kind of action flowed into another, giving rise to different challenges for the women’s movement, and traces the the rise of militant communalism and the polarization of identities along religious lines. 42 pp. Read more.
Urvashi Butalia co-founded Kali for Women in 1984 and in 2003, Zubaan Books. She also has a long involvement in the women’s movement in India, and is a well-known writer, both in academia and in the literary world. She has several works to her credit, key among which is her study of Partition, The Other Side of Silence: Voices from the Partition of India (1998).
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‘Health and Torture‘ by P Ngully from The Peripheral Centre: Voices from India’s Northeast (2010)
This essay traces the detrimental effects on the health of the people of Nagaland due to excessive militarisation in the region. Ngully puts the idea of ‘health’ into perspective and examines the implications of the WHO definition, which cites not just physical, but also mental and social well-being as criteria. This is done with regard to the torture, murder, and rape that the Naga people have been subject to in the past years by the security forces, justified under the cover of the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA). By placing the psychological trauma that the Naga people have faced within a broader context of disorders resulting from large-scale manufactured disasters, Ngully lays emphasis on the scale of tragedy in his homeland. 4pp. Read more.
P. Ngully is a practicing psychiatrist and social activist based in Kohima who has worked on the history of trauma and PTSD in Naga society. He is the Chairman of the Council of Kohima Educational Trust, and has recently also worked on HIV/AIDS sensitisation programmes with the Kripa Foundation. _______________________________________________________________________________________________________________ A note on pricing, frequency and format: