Contesting Nation (Gendered Violence in South Asia: Notes on The Postcolonial Present)

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Item Code: NAF894
Author: Angana P. Chatterji and Lubna Nazir Chaudhry
Publisher: Zubaan Publications
Language: English
Edition: 2012
ISBN: 9788189013370
Pages: 434
Cover: Hardcover
Other Details 9.0 inch X 5.5 inch
Weight 630 gm
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Book Description
About the Book

An innovative and interdisciplinary collection of essays on events and dynamics across South Asia, this volume addresses how violence marks the present in wars of direct and indirect conquest. Anti-colonial struggles that achieved independence to form postcolonial nation-states have consolidated themselves through prodigious violence that defines and disfigures communities and futures. This book examines the very borders such brutality enshrines and its intimate inscriptions upon bodies and memories, examining the performance of gendered violence through the spectacular and In everyday life, through wars, nationalisms and displacements. Women in and of South Asia offer inspired, gendered and contested histories of the discontinuous present, excavating nation-making and its relations to militarization and cultural assertion, structural inequities and social difference, modernization and globalization. Through interrogating South Asian realities, this book asks vital questions of citizenship and resistance, and feminist practice and possibility.

About the Author

Angana P. Chatterji is the author of Violent Gods.: Hindu Nationalism in India's Present; Narrativesjrom Orissa (Three Essays Collective, 2009), and Co-founder of the International People's Tribunal on Human Rights and Justice in Kashmir.

Lubna Nazir Chaudhry is Associate Professor, Women's Studies and Human Development at State University of New York, Binghamton.

Contributors: Huma Ahmed-Ghosh, Sukanya Banerjee, Srimati Basu, Manali Desai, Meghna Guhathakurta, Lamia Karim, Nyla Ali Khan, Rita Manchanda, Kavita Panjabi, Jyoti Puri, Darini Rajasingham-Senanayake, Saadia Toor, Usha Zacharias.


This volume addresses how borders violently mark women's bodies in wars of direct and indirect conquest, and how women's agency is constituted in these times. How is gendered violence inscribed through the spectacular and in everyday life? What is the role of war or armed conflict in transforming women's spheres of agency? As we write about this issue, we are struck by the historical paradox that we women in/ from South Asia inhabit. Anti-colonial struggles that achieved independence and formed postcolonial nation-states have consolidated themselves through prodigious violence that defined and divided communities, memories and futures. Promises betrayed reverberate across the very borders such violation enshrines. This violence was inscribed upon women's bodies in very specific ways, as they became, to borrow from Gayle Rubin (1975), the 'vile and precious merchandise' that was literally and figuratively exchanged as boundaries were imposed and enforced. As Veena Das evocatively states, we have been unable 'to name that which died when autonomous citizens [of India] were simultaneously born as monsters' (2003: 332). This can be said of South Asia in its entirety.

The literature on state and nation formation in South Asia has yet to grasp the significance of the 'intimate' gendering of this double birth. Whether we are speaking of the first partition of India in 1947, the second partition of Bangladesh/Pakistan in 1971, ethnic wars in Sri Lanka, ethnic and imperial wars in Mghanistan, insurgency and wars in Kashmir or Nepal, the troubled convulsions of postcolonial births have too often been understood in frameworks that restrict their formative events to the 'public sphere'; that is, the decisions of elite colonial officials and native leaders, the ebbs and flows of politicking, negotiations, round tables and conferences, of class conflicts, states and parties." Although there exists a growing body of feminist research that includes women's narratives of these events, the considerable scope of scholarship on state and nation formation that examines its sexual politics, and the forced micro-dynamics of boundary formations, remains underappreciated (Bacchetta 2001; Chatterjee and Jeganathan 2000; Parker et al. 1992; Puri 2004).

Ideologies of nationhood have of course always been inescapably gendered (Kandiyoti 1997; Yuval-Davis and Anthias 1989; Moghadam 1994) and have precipitated in South Asia, as Ahmed-Ghosh, Rajasingham-Senanayake and Chaudhry point out in their essays, iconic forms of womanhood, which, in metaphorizing women as symbolic bearers of national identity, have rendered the materiality of women's lives and bodies all the more vulnerable to forms of violence and violent exclusion.

These acts of violence and 'boundary-making' that marked women as signifiers of cultural essence and (racial) purity are not confined to the historical moment of decolonization. Continued in an era of transnational capital, which professes to have exceeded the nation- state in both material and conceptual terms, gendered identities are constantly deployed to mediate the incommensurate between global capital and national particularisms. While the overwhelming sense of trans-nationalism permeating the current global scenario has led many to conjecture the demise of the nation-state, in reality it is far from 'dead'. As Aihwa Ong points out, 'despite frequent assertions about the demise of the state, the issue of the state remains central when it comes to the rearrangements of global spaces, and the restructuring of social and political relations' (Ong 2003: 40; see also Ong 1987). In fact, Ong alerts us to be vigilant to the 'mutations: of political and social power, of the ways in which the nation-state, far from receding into obsolescence, remorphs itself.

We are concerned with these very mutations and reincarnations in biopolitical states (Foucault 1978a, 1978b, 1994). Aware of the ways in which the authority of the state re articulates itself through consolidations of cultural nationalisms and majority identity-formations, we wish to foreground the gendered contours in which this resurgence is effected, situating it within shifting global, national and local power relations.

Gendered violence is hardly the preserve of South Asia; globally, ethnic violence, wars, colonialism, economic policy, religion and communitarian brutality, and state-sanctioned terror have affected women in highly specific ways. Here we outline some of the words and events that highlight the importance of a gendered analysis of violence in South Asia. In doing so we seek to break the divisions between the public and private, political and sexual, that have pervaded the study of violence, arguing for reflexive scholarship and practice as powerful and necessary intervention. As we approach these questions in a shrinking post-9/ 11 world, in the eye of the most rapid process of globalization and expansion of Empire yet known, our framing is, out of necessity, broader-the 'older' questions of nation and state formation are now imbued with new significance and form as wars are led by new Empire (the United States), and as various fundamentalisms and chauvinisms find fuel.

In a prescient piece on the rise of violence against women in Asia, Bina Agarwal, following Amrita Chhachhi's argument, explains that 'the spread of religious fundamentalism' is due to its emphasis on the ideology of female exclusion which provides further justification for male chastisement of women who 'transgress' into public spaces of predominantly male presence, giving social and legal sanction to husbands and relatives to physically chastise women for their behaviour. This results in a crucial shift: 'whereas earlier the exercise of patriarchal authority rested only with particular men-fathers, brothers, husbands and extended family kin-what is significant about state-sponsored religious fundamentalism is that it not only reinforces this patriarchal control; but more importantly, shifts the right if control to all men' giving 'every and any man on the street the legitimate right to stop any woman who does not conform to the "traditional and proper" role assigned to her' (Agarwal 1998: 20- 21). Agarwal points out that Chhachhi's explanation misses out on the crucial role that the community (religious, ethnic, clan, caste.) and not just family and extended kin, has always played (and continues to play) as a mediator between the state and the individual and household in enforcing conformity to specific norms of behaviour, action and dress, and in the delineation of which the community's economically and politically influential members typically have a significant hand. Even when social legislation passed by the state has been progressive in a given context. this has seldom been strictly enforceable where community norms are to the contrary". What appears to be happening today in much of South and South-East Asia is the conuergence of state and community-dictated patriarchal norms. (1998: 22).

These acts, projects, processes should not be misunderstood as remnants of the past-testifying to South Asia's incomplete modernization, or looked upon uncritically as a contest between tradition and modernity- but as part of the process and experience of modernity. Scholars (Ahmad 2002) and social movements" have pointed to the consolidation and intensification of the global economy in the form of neo-liberalism/ imperialism, and its attendant economic, political and social effects, as major contributors to the increase in communal politics. Nira Yuval- Davis and Floya Anthias show how 'central dimensions of the roles of women are constituted around the relationships of collectivises to the state and that equally central dimensions of the relationships between collectivises and the state are constituted around the roles of women' (1989).

These events share the traumas and dislocations of people caught in the seemingly endless repetition of colonial, neo-colonial imperialist and local power configurations. A gendered analysis of the violence- everyday, symbolic or sudden-shows most of all that what women share is the way in which they experience this violence, holding in common the destructive reality of sexual brutalization, displacement, death, loss of loved ones, property, homes, and futures. These events shift subjectivities and create new forms of agency in the process. The question of women's agency looms large, pushing against the growing intractability of the networks of violence that constitute the state and nation in South Asia. Many of the articles in this volume propose a more nuanced understanding of these forms of agency. As Darini Rajasingham-Senanayake writes in this collection, 'women's agency in war or peace, or to use a term more commonly found in development discourse, women's "empowerment" is complex, non-linear and rarely un-ambivalent'. And as Huma Ahmed- Ghosh points out, western and fundamentalist interventions on women's bodies in times of violence and war continue the misogynist and racist regimes of the past.

State formation in each of the South Asian cases has been premised on political investments in forms of violence, and their intersection with the daily, economic violence of poverty and systemic disenfranchisement. The state in South Asia emerges quite literally as the primary regulator of the means of violence. Its investment in the mechanism and language of war, in structures of inequality, in the glorification of military cultures, and nuclearization only reinforce violence, and gendered violence in particular. We have yet to systematically trace the mechanisms that link the state in South Asia to gendered violence in its various registers, shaping, as Angana Chatterji explores in this collection, the 'genealogy of violence before violence in the making of "nation'''. The postcolonial state's direct responsibility for carnage, and for its perpetuation of a genocidal culture, is a starting point, perhaps, for a fuller accounting of the South Asian state's regularized and cumulative violence against women.

Jyoti Puri focuses on the role of 'state institutions in perpetrating social injustice through law and its enforcement from the lens of sexuality'. Srimati Basu looks at domestic violence complaints in negotiating diverse forums for gender justice. Nyla Ali Khan outlines the collision of nationalisms and militarization in India-held Kashmir that structure routine, spectacular, and gendered violence. Kavita Panjabi elaborates on how Gujarat in 2002 brought to the fore state collusion with its police, bureaucracy, judiciary, legislative, and executive branches party to, involved in, and complicit with the perpetration of violence." Gujarat in 2002, and similarly Karachi through the 1990s and beyond, the monumental violence against Sikhs in Delhi in 1984, the violent partition in Bangladesh in 1971, the ethnic violence in Sri Lanka and Maoist insurgency in Nepal, and the war in Kashmir and Afghanistan, have particular and general histories. The growth and continuance of ethnic violence in the post-independence decades, religious violence and regional wars between India and Pakistan, or Pakistan and Bangladesh, have long lineages that refuse to die in popular memory / practice. We cannot, however, detach them from their shared colonial histories. The imagined and real transfer of large numbers of people (larger than populations of most European countries) to unfamiliar new territories that ensued in the two partitions attest powerfully to a racist, colonial imaginary in shaping South Asia. We still live in the symbolic and material grip of this past.


Violence against women, from dowry deaths and rapes to tribal traditions such as karo kari' is justified in the name of tradition. We are interested in understanding particular forms of 'pathological' violence that women experience via their signification as repositories of tradition and culture, and suffer at the hands of their 'own' or rival communities. We use the term community to refer to different social units at multiple levels of social organization-community here can mean biradaris, tribes, ethnic, sectarian and religious groups, or nation-states. It must be noted that there are 'family resemblances' between varying levels of 'community'-in effect imagined as 'kin groups'. Part of this kinship structure is the patriarchal designation of women as property-both literally and symbolically" The Punjabi adage of zm; zan; zameen references three traditional forms of feudal property- gold, woman, land. When Levi-Strauss argued that kinship systems are actually structured around the exchange of women he was also saying that women thus become the means through which kin communities are consolidated." By mapping ideas of honour and shame onto women's bodies, communities create extremely violent moral economies through which they differentiate themselves from one another. A stark example of the exchange of women as a means to consolidate national communities and differentiate them from one another is the exchange of abducted women between India and Pakistan that took place following Partition in 1947. Contemporary debates over this issue in the Indian parliament!" reveal the moral anxieties over delineating the boundaries of the nation- state. More importantly, in the discourse of national honour/shame lives the idea of reclaiming one's property. To concede the ownership rights to personal or community property (here, the women) to a rival-especially when the property was 'abducted'-is to bring shame on oneself and one's 'kin community' in this case the nation."

The example of abducted women and their 'return' (on the basis of exchange for women of other communities) underscores the intersection of gender, polity and violence within specific communities, and between different communities. Women experience violence and commoditization as the gendered property if their community, and repositories if its honour, both within their own communities as well as from men of other communities. The strong identification of women with their community (as property and as signifier) makes them vulnerable to violence, especially at times of social instability, and cultural and moral anxiety. The forced seclusion of Mghan women in refugee camps (prior to the rise and fall of the Taliban), the abduction of women in tribal vendettas, rape within the context of war,'? and the recent sexualized violence against Muslim women in Gujarat, all exemplify the inscription of cultural identity and honour upon the bodies of women, turning them-as embodied signs- into literal and figurative battlefields.

The objectification of women formulates the body, as site of female difference, as the locus of violence. Rape is a mechanism of this violence, as is parading women of the 'other' naked. Khan records the use of rape in India's military subjugation of Kashmir. Panjabi documents extreme cases (in Gujarat and as during the Partition riots) where there is sexual mutilation, the severing of breasts, the tearing open of vaginas and wombs, and-distinctively, tragically, in Gujarat the forced abortion of foetuses and their display on trishuls Embodied violence is perpetrated in different contexts. We refer here to war and conflict situations, chronic or otherwise, where women's displacement (literal and psychological) and the trauma of losing one's home, male family head and security, are augmented by the added responsibility of child rearing and caring for the aged and infirm, often without any support. Mghan refugees in Pakistan attest to this. Families are divided and decimated as women are disallowed outside the camps or family tents by surviving male family, even if it denotes a loss in income. Reports on the status of refugee women have noted high levels of trauma, depression and frustration, as Lubna Chaudhry has found in her work with Mohajir survivors of ethnic conflict in Pakistan in this volume. Echoes of this can be seen in Kashmir where fundamentalist groups have increasingly pressured women to adopt purdah, as described by Khan. As Huma Ahmed-Ghosh reminds us in her article, the status of women in Afghanistan under the Taliban needs no recapitulation: what we need to acknowledge and address is the devastation wrought on families by the United States' attacks, and the fact that Mghan women continue to be targeted by the new forces m power.


Engendering Violence: Boundaries, Histories, and the Everyday
1Between Reality and Representation18
Women's Agency in War and Post-Conflict Sri Lanka
2Intelligible Violence49
Gender, Citizenship and Visual Culture
3Maoist Insurgency in Nepal74
Radicalizing Gendered Narratives
4Sexualizing the State100
Sodomy, Civil Liberties, and the Indian Penal Code
5Afghan Women142
Stranded at the Intersection of Local and Global Patriarchies
Women Negotiating Change173
The Structure and Transformation of Gendered Violence in Bangladesh
7Reconstituting Selves in the Karachi Conflict194
Mohajir Women Survivors and Structural Violence
8The Erotics and Politics of Militarization230
Communalism and Sexual Violence in Gujarat
9Democratizing Bangladesh260
State, NGOs and Militant Islam
10Playing off Courts293
The Negotiation of Divorce and Violence in Plural Legal Settings in Kolkata
11The Land of Lalla-Ded326
Negation of 'Kashmiriyat' and Immiseration of the Kashmiri Woman
The Biopolitics of Hindu Nationalism
About the Contributors419

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