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.
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The first five sets of e-Essays focused on Indian women’s movements, sexual violence, domestic space and kinship, religion and conflict and state crimes and impunity. Three strong essays comprise our sixth e-essays set, which focuses on legislation passed in India and its relationship with structures of violence from three consecutive loci. The first deals with legislation being a partially successful result of feminist protest against dowry in the 70s and 80s, while the second with the implications of the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) in Jammu & Kashmir, which allows the nation’s military forces to try themselves for (often violent and gendered) crimes in courts of their own making. The third essay discusses the implementation of the 73rd Amendment and how reservations for marginalised populations in Panchayati Raj institutions have initiated a backlash against women who are elected leaders from these populations. These three parallel engagements with law break apart the illusion of neutral or perfect legislation, challenging the foundation upon which that idea is built.
1) ‘The Campaign Against Dowry’ by Radha Kumar from The History of Doing: An Illustrated Account of Movements for Women’s Rights and Feminism in India, 1800-1990 (1999)
Radha Kumar tracks the history of protests against dowry in the contemporary women’s movement, starting from the first demonstrations at Hyderabad in 1975 and leading up to significant legal amendments in the early 1980s. Interspersed with historic photographs of the movement in its crucial stages, the essay captures the wave of protests that spread across the country, bringing disparate groups together to revolt against dowry-related crimes.
Kumar’s essay delves into the way that feminists challenged the dominant ideological mode that rendered violence against women a private, family matter – particularly in Delhi, where the campaign was more sustained – and how, over time, activists expanded their methods of seeking redress. The campaign, as it gained traction, sought action not only through legal investigation, which had been negligible in dowry crimes, but also through social pressure on the perpetrators. 12pp.
Dr. Radha Kumar is the Chair of the United Nations University Council and theDirector General of the think tank Delhi Policy Group. She has published various books and journal articles, and her work looks at ethnic conflicts, peacemaking and peacebuilding from a feminist perspective.
2. ‘Collateral Damage or Regrettable Casualty? Sexual Violence and Impunity in Jammu & Kashmir’ by Gazala Peer from Fault Lines of History: The India Papers II (2016)
Gazala Peer’s essay, written against the backdrop of militarization and the existing Armed Forces Special Powers Act in Jammu & Kashmir, explores obstacles faced by survivors of sexual violence in seeking redress when the perpetrators of this violence are members of the armed forces.
Since the imposition of AFSPA in Kashmir, the Indian government has not granted sanction for the prosecution of any armed personnel in any court of law. Although in principle the provision of prosecuting army personnel under court martial trials does exist, Peer questions whether these trials, taking place within the structure of the army itself, can ever be a substitute for trial in civil courts. To this end, Peer closely examines the context and process of the court martial, arguing that this system, in cases of sexual assault and violence perpetrated by its forces (which the army views as “breaches of discipline”), is disposed to be lenient toward the perpetrators, maintaining martial impunity. 39pp.
Gazala Peer is a lawyer and independent researcher born and brought up in Kashmir. She is currenlty a doctoral candidate in constitutionalism at the Centre for the Study of Law and Governance, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi. Before joining JNU, she practised law at the High Court of Jammu & Kashmir.
3. ‘New Modes of Violence: The Backlash Against Women in the Panchayat System’ by Shail Mayaram from The Violence of Development: The Politics of Identity, Gender & Social Inequalities in India (2003)
‘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)
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