Monday, October 5, 2009

"Ramblings" on gender violence

Excerpt from an email from a Friend of Prajnya - posted with permission here. We hope to convince her to write for the blog soon!


ok, now putting down random thoughts on gender violence and campaigns I have seen in the past few months…

what I basically said on the phone was this: that ‘violence’ is and has been a particular kind of women’s question and human rights question. it has been vital for changes in systems of sexual harassment, dowry , domestic violence, rape, marital rape, “degrading representations of women” etc, but the question has settled into a certain kind of rut from which it (and feminist campaigns along with it) needs to be extracted. by this I don’t mean throw the violence question out altogether (clearly your entire programme hinges on addressing this), but how you are going to approach it and what you are going to surround it with are important at this point in time. for example, recently in Bangalore there was a series of attacks directed at women – not just any women, but women who were obviously from middle and upper middle classes, dressed in sleeveless and western clothes, and did not speak kannada. this followed the mangalore pub incident (after which we saw the pink chaddi campaign). The pink chaddi campaign was specifically directed against the sri ram sene, but when it came to the attacks in bangalore, it was quite hard to maintain the mangalore link, except in this simplistic mode of “women should be free to do what they want, drink what they want and wear the clothes they are comfortable in” – the link therefore became this notion of “freedom”, positioned against “violence” or “morality crusades” that sought to curb this freedom. the problem with this was that in the campaigns against the attacks, there was a straightforward statement “stop violence against women”, and somehow this statement restaged a much earlier mode of feminism, before nuances of caste , class, sexual orientation, gender performance, had all been discussed – there were people designing posters asking “what if this were your mother or sister?” in order to sensitise the public – why is it possible to still ask that protectionist and very masculine question in this instance, ignoring the politics of communalism, mixed with class, in the context of the ram sene? there was a concerted effort to keep it simple, and safety for women became the slogan.

again, the recent courts for women in Bangalore apparently seemed incapable of moving beyond certain frameworks of dealing with issues, the media for example was caught in the old war of ‘harmful representations’ versus those that aren’t, and violence again structured discussions in a particular way, such that ‘gender’ (in this case women) could experience violence only in the given forms. now, I know that it would be difficult to make the “peace is war” argument and say that moments of violence cannot be isolated from the rest of experience, since we are working with the law and with specific forms or manifestations. for example, to argue that the pressure to consume or globalise oneself, keep oneself slim, or the alienation of working in a call centre are all violences of a particular kind makes any focused campaign slightly impossible. so I suggest two things at this point: a) one is a generally self-reflexive approach, to keep in mind that the framing of gender issues as concerning violence is not natural and all-comprising, but has a history and does structure our understanding in a particular way; b) I think it might be highly interesting to hold some kind of a workshop on how to conceptualise/organize a campaign or a protest (whether street march or internet campaign) on gender and violence – you could pick up existing stuff as case studies and ask the participants to produce ideas and material for separate campaigns (have them divide into groups to do it, maybe young college girls would be ideal) – the aim could be to have exercises in contextualization, and how to take other questions to the framework of violence against women (caste, religious difference, masculinity and femininity, governance, politics) so that the woman question is not isolated and universalist (this critique has already been made but is curiously absent in recent campaigns, which seem happy to revert to earlier formulations).


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