From An Early
Focus On Rape, dowry and sati, feminist struggle against violence on women
in India have traversed a wide terrain to include issues that were invisible in
the 1980s. In Nine Degrees of Justice, second and third generation feminists
share their perceptions on violence against women through a series of
thought-provoking essays that establish that justice for women has not even
reached double digit figures (hence nine degrees).
Has using the law led to justice for women who face violence?
What does 'justice' mean for an individual survivor? How can we address
violence in public spaces and cyber spave without demonizing either? How do
women in armed conflict move from being victims to actors? How can we start to
speak about lesbian suiceides and violence among women loving women? How do we
ensure that women have a right to choice' when love is seen as a crime? Is
prostitution a form of violence against women? What is the violence of stigma?
And who is a 'women' deserving representation from the women's movement?
Bishakha Datta is a non-fiction
writer and documentary filmmaker. She is also the executive director of Point
of view, a Mumbai based non-profit that promotes the points of view of women
through media, art nad culture.
could rename this book, I would call it Trespassing in the Nude; nude because the word instantly evokes images of the
body, and much of the violence described in these pages is etched on the body.
So much of it is corporeal, or directly related to the body; the physical,
material body. And so much of it is related to the body in a larger sense,
emanating from society's desire or intention to control women's bodies and
book Beyond the Veil (1987), author and sociologist Fatima Mernissi
outlines how traditional Moroccan thinking views the street as male space. A
woman who is on the streets is trespassing; she is in male spaces; spaces in
which she has no right to be. 'If she enters them, she is upsetting the male's
order and peace of mind. She is actually committing an act of aggression
against him merely by being present where she should not be. Women are supposed
to be veiled: the Moroccan word for 'unveiled' is aryana or nude. Thus an unveiled woman on the street is
doubly aggravating the situation: she is nude and a trespasser.
eleven essays and single poem in this selection are also about 'trespassing in
the nude', but in a different sense. Every woman in India may not be expected
to veil her body, but we are expected to veil our minds, particularly so with
respect to our bodies. Yes, we are permitted to make some decisions around
bodily functions, such as when we want to go to the toilet. But we are not
expected to make any larger decisions about our bodies: from routine everyday
ones of how to clothe or feed them to larger ones of how to nourish, cherish,
work, entertain, pleasure, sex, protect or control them.
put, we are not supposed to decide how we want to inhabit our own bodies, which
at least in a material sense, form the basis of our lives. No, this domain of
control, over bodies and lives, is reserved for family, community, society. Any
incursion into this territory, any attempt to make our own decisions around our
bodies, is viewed as trespass: a 'crime' that must be punished by any means,
including violence. In other words, keep her in her 'place'. Any attempt to
question this punishment - individually, collectively, through action,
resistance or protest - is seen as yet another trespass; a double trespass,
almost like trespassing in the nude.
books. This book grew out of another book... and another. In the early 1990s,
as I began getting involved in the women's movement, I read The Struggle Against
Violence (1993). Edited by a feminist
academic and written by activists, the slim black-and-white volume lovingly
explored three campaigns that had taken place in Maharashtra in the 1980s
against sex-determination, rape, and the desertion of rural women. What stayed
with me long after putting it down was the narrative power of resisting
violence, rather than the horror of different forms of violence. Power over
horror. The same feeling lingered as I read Ilina Sen's edited volume, A Space Within The Struggle (1990), which explored how different social movements
looked at the 'women's question'.
this tradition, Nine Degrees of Justice focuses
on struggles against violence on women, rather than on violence itself.
Violence emerged as a core issue for the fledgling Indian women's movement in
the early 1980s with campaigns against custodial rape. Many women who fought
for justice then are household names for us now; their struggles an integral
part and parcel of feminist lore. Forms of violence that became visible then -
rape, dowry deaths, desertion, domestic violence, and sati - still abound.
have changed, broadened, or deepened during the last twenty years is our own
understanding of violence. We now view patriarchy as cutting across larger
forces - poverty, class, caste, religion, conflict, sexuality, ability - and
resulting in a range of forms of violence on women. Just think of the past
decade: growing economic inequality; drought in Orissa; starvation in Bihar;
farmers' suicides in Maharashtra; displacement in West Bengal; communal
genocide in Gujarat; conflict in the Northeast and Kashmir; the rise of a
state- sponsored militia in Chattisgarh; casteism in Tamil Nadu; fundamentalism
in Karnataka; land struggles in Kerala ... Women face violence in all of these
contexts, so much so that names like Nandigram, Kandhmal, Khairlanji, and Salwa
Judum, are now shorthand for particular forms of violence.
'violence against women' is now a multi-headed hydra, the acts that underlie
this label are systemic and routine, everyday and sporadic. Women experience
violence across a wide continuum: in private, public, and virtual domains; from
strangers, familiars, and intimates; on streets, in workplaces, homes, war
zones, and in the media. Women in India continue to face violence not just
because they are 'women', but because they are Muslim women, Dalit women,
women of a particular tribe or ethnicity, women who are poor, or women caught in the crossfire between revolution
and the state.
as violence has morphed into various forms, so has resistance to it. Struggles
against violence now range from the non-violent Gandhian to the digitally
networked. Again, let's look at the last decade. In November 2000, Irom
Sharmila began her fast-to-death in Manipur demanding the repeal of the Armed
Forces (Special Powers) Act. Her hunger strike, which continues, began after
the Indian army, with a long history of killings in the Northeast, killed ten
young Meitei men in Malom. Groups like the 'mothers' of Manipur, the Meira
Paibi, have gone on relay fasts in solidarity and support.
February 2009, the Pink Chaddi campaign exhorted people to send pink underwear to
the head of the Hindu right-wing group, Sri Ram Sene, as a reaction to its
members assaulting and molesting two women in a Mangalore pub. During its
short-lived six-month lifespan till it was virtually killed by its opponents,
it mobilized over 60,000 supporters online, on the Facebook group known as The
Consortium of Pubgoing, Loose, and Forward Women. Over 3,000 pink panties were
sent to the Ram Sene chief in a shaming action. Reports by women's rights
groups showed the growing and systematic communalization of Karnataka, a
phenomenon underlying a series of attacks on women.
between these two landmark struggles, a host of others continue across India. Nine Degrees of Justice seeks to explore some of these.
Nine Degrees of Justice is not an encyclopedia. It does not aim to be
comprehensive. It does not catalogue every form of violence that exists, or
every struggle against this. Rather, it explores a selection of struggles
against violence on women over the past four decades.
second- or third-generation feminist, I see the world both similarly and
differently from feminists of earlier (or later) generations. I was born into
an analogue world in the early 1960s. The only computers then in use were
'mainframes' that filled entire rooms; they were as large as elephants and only
specialists knew how to use them, among them my father. My childhood
conversations were on large black instruments that are now called landlines. My
pen friends in foreign lands sent me airmail letters with colourful stamps from
exotic countries that seemed light years away. My Indian passport said, 'Valid
for travel everywhere except South Africa'.
This Thing Called Justice
Engaging with Laws on Violence against Women in India
An Intimate Dilemma
Anti-Domestic Violence Activism among Indians in the United States of
If Women Could Risk Pleasure
Reinterpreting Violence in Public Space
Untangling the Web
The Internet and Violence against Women
Invisible Yet Entrapping
Confronting Sexual Harassment at the Workplace
From Roop Kanwar to Ramkunwari
The Agitation against Widow Immolation
Anatomy of a Suicide
Criminalizing Love, Punishing Desire
Cultural Transgressions and the Violence of Stigma in the Glamour
Her Body, Your Gaze
Prostitution, Violence, and Ways of Seeing
What Poetry Means to Ernestina in Peril
Notes on Contributors
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