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#592: Everyday Unrecognized Sexual Violence in South Asia

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    Indrani Mitra

    Saturday, 3:30-4:45

    Panel Description

    This panel has emerged in response to the recent public protests in Delhi against the rape of a 23 year old medical student on 16 December 2012. On the one hand, the widespread protests against the rape of a Hindu woman by Hindu men has produced new possibilities of public resistance against sexual violence in the capital city and changes to rape laws, yet on the other hand, these changes do not challenge the immunity enjoyed by the Indian military and paramilitary in regions declared “troubled” by the state, upper caste Hindu men who continue to rape Dalit women in rural India as a means of asserting political control, and perpetrators of marital rape and sexual violence against minority groups. Drawing Judith Butler’s term “unrecognizable” in <i>Frames of War</i> to refer to those who live in conditions of acute precarity and whose lives are rendered unintelligible to the state, the panelists focus on the everyday sexual violence suffered by marginalized groups in South Asia and the perpetrators who continued to enjoy immunity from condemnation during the Delhi protests. As Subaltern Studies writers have argued, these forms of violence are of course all too recognizable to the groups who suffer it, but they remain mostly unrecognizable to the state and to those groups whose interests the state serves. Accordingly, the panelists focus on South Asian literature, film, and media to unpack the ways in which sexual violence has become a tool to further the interests of the nation-states in South Asia.

    Drawing on Phoolan Devi’s testimonial in <i>The Bandit Queen of India</i>,  Basuli Deb in “Dalit Women and India’s Brahminical Democracy” focuses on the police custodial torture of Dalit women like Devi in the Brahminical democracy of India. Devi is stripped in front of her father, and coerced to admit to a crime she had not committed. Deb reads the text through Veena Das’s framework on gendered ideology in order to show the connection between the state’s hypersexualization of Dalit women and subsequent justification of state sanctioned sexual violence against these women. Deb contends that Dalit women are transformed by the state into cultural renegades which then becomes the state justification for “punishment” that would contain their dissidence.

    Atreyee Gohain in “Violated Female Bodies and Strangerhood in Shashi Deshpande’s <i>The Dark Holds no Terrors</i> and Jagmohan Mundhra’s <i>Provoked</i>” focuses on the silence surrounding marital rape in India. She shows how victims and law-enforcers alike are complicit in this silence such as in the Indian government’s recent rejection of the Verma Commission’s recommendations. In her paper she examines the spousal violence in Shashi Deshpande’s novel, <i>The Dark Holds no Terrors </i>and Jagmohan Mundhra’s film <i>Provoked</i> to show how these narratives approach the theme of the violated female body within the apparently safe precincts of the home thereby complicating the discourse of the “home” as a space of security. Drawing on the works of Chandra Mohanty and Sara Ahmed to establish and examine the presence of the “stranger at home,” a liminal figure positioned between intimacy and strangeness, her paper assesses the ability of cultural productions to disrupt the silence surrounding sexual violence within marriage.



    Namrata Mitra  in “Your Pain is My Doubt: The Violence of Privilege” focuses on the two-fold dangers posed by the conditions of privilege enjoyed by upper caste Hindus in India. On the one hand, the majority privileged groups have routinely denied state sanctioned atrocities against marginalized groups in Kashmir, the Northeast and Gujarat, while on the other hand, privileged groups who do question the nationalist denials or justifications of violence, have on several instances become domineering allies who seek to shape the narratives of the harm caused and resistance emerging from the oppressed groups. Accordingly, in this paper Mitra stages a dialogue among feminist and queer theoretical approaches to affect such as Eve Sedgewick, Laurent Berlant, and Sara Ahmed and feminist writers on state violence such as Rajeshwari Sundar Rajan, Judith Bulter, and Gayatri Spivak in order to emphasize the importance of cultivating objective uncertainty among privileged allies towards the pain and shame of marginalized groups as a part of our political commitment to others.

    Gaura Narayan draws our attention to the history of silencing rape survivors of minority communities since partition. In “Ayah Un-homed: Sexual Subjugation and Silence in Bapsi Sidhwa’s <i>Cracking India</i>,” she focuses on Ayah’s untold story in the novel, which chronicles the partition of British India and the concomitant sexual subjugation of women.  Sidhwa’s novel unflinchingly exhibits the bodily degradation of Ayah in Lahore, prompted by the fact that she is “the Hindu woman,” and presents itself as the searing counterfactual to the triumphalism of Indian Independence.  Ayah is carted away with a voiceless scream forming in her throat, her ethnicity and her female body violently fetishized, and she is silenced behind an untold story.  The novel presents the abduction and un-homing of Ayah in grotesquely compelling visuals which are, however, never fully told as her story.  Her story comes in fragments via Godmother.  Ayah remains the unspeakable of the narrative and this denies any possible invitation to read the novel as testimony.  Narayan argues that Ayah’s untold story does not function as the symbol of the human cost of the partition but as the unspoken counterfactual to the violently normalized historical reality of partition and nation formation.

    By focusing on representations of sexual violence against marginalized groups by the state and those whose interests the state avows to protect, each paper shows how sexual politics is inseparable from state politics, and that the disruption of one is necessary for the disruption of the other.

    [Panel sponsored by SALL-Discussion Group in South Asian Languages and Literatures]





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