The Violence of Normal Times (Essays on Women’s Lived Realities)

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Item Code: NAF896
Author: Kalpana Kannabiran
Publisher: Women Unlimited
Language: English
Edition: 2005
ISBN: 8188965065
Pages: 398
Cover: Hardcover
Other Details 9.0 inch X 5.5 inch
Weight 640 gm
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100% Made in India
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Book Description

About the Book

This volume attempts to look at the experience and articulation of violence against women in relation to feminist debates and organising on the issue, and the positive/negative responses to that articulation, particularly from the standpoint of law and the institutional apparatuses of the State.

Its several essays focus on everyday settings: from justice dispensed by traditional authorities to modern courtrooms; domestic spaces; a home for mentally disabled women in Pune; a factory in Tamil Nadu. Moving from the routine to the extraordinary, the essays analyse the spectrum of violence against women that covers witch hunting in adivasi communities;' structural adjustment programmes and economic violence; violence against sexually marginalized groups; and against women of religious and ethnic minorities. Read together, they expose the extent of systemic violence against women in India, a violence so routinised that everyday forms of it slide into the gross and macabre in a seamless continuum.

About the Author

Kalpana Kannabiran is a foundermember of Asmita Resource Centre for Women. Secunderabad, and teaches sociology and law at NALSAR University of Law, Hyderabad. With Vasa nth Kannabiran she has coauthored De-Eroticising Assault: Essays on Modesty, Honour and Power (2000), and translated from the original Tamil, Web of Deceit, a novel by Muvalur A. Ramamirthammal (20031. She received the VKRV Rao Award for Social Science Research in 2003, for her work on the social aspects of law.


Violence against women has been a major preoccupation of the women's movement in India for close to three decades now. Apart from advocacy and case-work, work around violence has engaged with the many sites in which women experience this violence; the ways in which it constitutes and re-constitutes itself, along with shifts in the larger political and economic structures. This three decadal feminist engagement with the problem of violence finds myriad forms: the assiduous development of feminist historiography, for instance, has carefully written into history the stories of women's oppression and their resistance to patriarchies in different epochs. Genealogies of resistance to violence have thus been transformed, as also genealogies of patriarchal knowledge systems that validated the systematic use and masking of violence against women.

Women's creative writing in these three decades has also dealt with violence in women's lives. It has addressed censorship, a tool used to silence the resistance that this writing and its popular acceptance by women in different regions throws up. The rapid spread of ideas of resistance and the various tools and sites of resistance is indeed formidable. We hear, with hope, the stories of poor rural women campaigning against state liquor policy and bringing down a government in the process; women in urban Bombay (and subsequently elsewhere) negotiating with the state and actualizing support services in police station premises for victim-survivors; women's groups coming together to take the initiative in drafting the Law Commission's report on rape; even drafting the domestic violence legislation and lobbying in Parliament for its passage; alarming are the stories of women reeling for an entire generation under armed occupation and the "routine" violence that goes with it; women finally deciding that the only way left to deal with sexualized armed violence is to march, as did the women's fronts in Manipur in August 2004, daring the army to rape them; of the women of Nagpur lynching a man known in the neighbourhood for his violence, within the premises of the court.

But clearly this is only one half of the picture. The persistence of violence against women, the escalation in scale, method and intensity-as evident from Gujarat, Manipur, Nagpur; the complete invisibility of rights where women with disabilities are concerned-the non-consensual hysterectomies on mentally challenged women in Pune, for instance; the commonness of sexual harassment and the reluctance of employers to provide effective redress; the continuing legitimacy of degrading forms of labour like manual scavenging despite legislation and international standards to the contrary goes hand in hand with the guarantee of impunity that is the hallmark of practices of violence against women.

When the volume was planned and contributions invited, we had a total of eighteen essays. Important issues like health, mental health, pornography, armed conflict and violence against dalit women were also envisaged as part of the volume, but had to be dropped as contributors were already over committed and could not write for us within the time frame of this project. Therefore, while not claiming to look at the problem of violence against women exhaustively, this volume attempts to address various aspects of this reality from various disciplinary standpoints, in different locales. We hope this will give rise to more work that explores other areas that either do not figure, or figure only incompletely here.

I am grateful to Ritu Menon for inviting me to edit a volume on this subject. I cherish our friendship and our work together over the years. The contributors to this volume are all pioneers in the field-people whose commitment to building a just society has steered their work. Working with them was enriching and fulfilling. Most of the contributions are original essays; the couple that have been published earlier have been revised substantially. I thank Anjali Dave, Asha Hans, Bina Fernandez, Dev Nathan, N. Gomathy, Govind Kelkar, Monisha Behal, Padmini Swaminathan, Pratiksha Baxi, Rajeswari Sunder Raj an, Syeda Hameed, M.G. Sreekala, Upendra Baxi, Vasudha Dhagamwar, and U. Vindhya for their interest in the volume and their patience with my demands. Although we were unable to carry all their essays, we shared a sense of urgency and concern that has no doubt enriched the volume.

Coincidentally, at the time that I put this volume together, I was engaged in three separate projects-one that looked at violence against women, the second that was part of a nationwide advocacy strategy by women's groups to draft an alternative report on CEDAW and a third that was focused on the criminal justice system and human rights, of which violence against women was part. All of this work kept running together and overlapping, each informing the other, forcing me to think in multidisciplinary terms all the time.

The two institutions I work out of provided critical support for this work. Asmita Resource Centre for Women has been my intellectual mainstay for over a decade. My enduring interest in understanding the complexities of women's experiences of violence and attempting to theorise that experience has arisen from our collective work in providing counseling and legal services to women victim-survivors in Hyderabad during this period. This volume was partly housed in Asmita, and carried out alongside a larger project on violence against women in collaboration with the International Centre for Ethnic Studies, Colombo, as well as the preparation of the CEDAW Alternative Report, a process initiated by the National Alliance for Women. NALSAR University of Law has, for the past six years, been my workplace. Most of my work for this volume, in 2004 and early 2005 was carried out at NALSAR alongside teaching responsibilities, under the project "Strengthening Criminal Justice and Human Rights in India", supported by The Ford Foundation. My sincere thanks to friends in both institutions for their co-operation and support.

It has been possible for me to work-to travel, think and write freely-without any anxiety about whether the home would run or our girls need care-because of an extended home that cares about my work. That is a debt that cannot be reduced to paper. I cherish especially Raj Mohan's involvement in my work.

It has been a pleasure to work with Rosamma from Women Unlimited and I would like, on behalf of the contributors, to place on record our appreciation for her good work. I take this opportunity to thank, again, everyone who has made this volume possible.


Violence against women has been a central concern of the women's movement in India since the mid nineteen seventies. The discourse of women's rights in India from the late seventies focused on issues of violence-state violence in the form of custodial rape in the aftermath of the Emergency in 1975; it later raised the issue of domestic violence, particularly dowry.' Gradually over the decades of the Eighties and Nineties, Indian feminist writing presented a more nuanced understanding of violence in the context of religious fundamentalism and identity politics, economic liberalization, caste violence and displacement, especially of adivasi communities. This process interlocked with human rights discourses that also began to focus increasingly on violence against women as a human rights issue, culminating in, but not stopping with, the "Women's Rights as Human Rights" formulation in Vienna in 1993 and the appointment of the UN Special Reporter on Violence against Women. This process is shaped by the realities of violence and violation, particularly in (but not restricted to) sexualized forms and the rights women have around practices of violence NAW or Violence Against Women, as it has come to be known). What is at issue is the right to life in the most urgent and stark sense. It is within this recognition of denial, discrimination and overt violence that discourses on equality are located in India.

Movements for social reform and radical transformation (whether communist, non Brahmin/anti-caste, or of adivasis) during the colonial era contain the first articulations of the need to legislate protections for women against discrimination and more centrally against violence; it is also in these movements that one finds the complex debates-in legislative bodies, governments and civil society between groups differently positioned on a particular issue. These movements also make the connection for us between people's aspirations and laws, which were in the first instance devised as a means to deliver the broader goals of social justice of which "women's emancipation" was a part. Throughout this "prehistory" of constitutional rights for women, one catches glimpses of the recognition of the need for special treatment as well as the acknowledgment that women inhabited an intersectional space, as part of communities, castes, tribes and regions and acted from that complex location. This prehistory keeps throwing up ways in which women from different backgrounds interrogated the monolithic notion of a universal "Indian womanhood" that the courts seem to cling to well into our time.

Violence against women locks women of different classes, castes and communities into multiple intersecting axes of inequality and discrimination that spread out over a wide rangefrom social and economic life to political inequality-tying women of different classes together through the similarity of their experiences as women and holding them apart in almost unbridgeable ways through the differences in their experiences as members of different social classes.

Public discourse on violence is characterized by a strong moral disapproval of perpetrators of violence. And yet, as Patricia Viseur Sellers has argued, the problem is that this disapproval falls highly selectively. First, it is often assumed that the danger of violence lies exclusively in its use by dissidents, while figures from across the world demonstrate quite clearly that authorities are the greater perpetrators of violence. Second, the violence of normal times is neither equally condemned nor even equally recognized. Nor do people try at all to eradicate it (Harris 1980: 23). It is within the realm of the normal, the routine, that violence against women is deeply embedded, and it is because the greatest part of violence against women is the violence of normal times that it carries with it the guarantee of impunity irrespective of penal, punitive or constitutional safeguards. Sudden conflagrations of violence, seemingly inexplicable upsurges, must then be understood in the context of this steady, ever present violence of normal times.

The complete normalization of violence against women sexual, domestic, communal and public-has forced a re-examination of the ways in which violence is welded to the question of rights. Force and violence-the policing of culture, the cry of nationalism and patriotism, matters of family honour and waretch almost identical inscriptions on women's bodies through rape, physical assault, honour killings, and the straightforward denial of equality claims. From the stories of Partition to Gujarat 2002, from the women who were forced onto their husbands' pyres in nineteenth century Bengal to Roop Kanwar in North India, there has been a persistence of violence against women, despite all safeguards and instrumentalities of governmental and intergovernmental bodies that makes us wonder if another world is in fact possible. Do we look at this as the twilight of women's rights or as the darkness before a new dawn? (Baxi 2003a) Sexual terrorism, to use Cheris Kramarae's term, is used to silence women and subjugate them through the systematic use of sexual violence and the constant threat of violence (cf. Foss et al 1998: 47). Sexual terrorism is always part of larger political projects that hinge on the absolute appropriation of women's bodies. This terrorism, an intrinsic part of male dominance and social inequality, is established through acts of physical aggression, but also equally, if not more powerfully, through Words. Shame, guilt, honour, chastity, immorality, virginity, lust, bestiality, ravishment, modesty, outrage, molestation, penetration, consent, and rape are words that, by themselves,



Preface ix
Introduction 1
"The Shoe Fitted Me and I Wore It"  
Women and Traditional Justice Systems in India 46
Women as Witches and Keepers of Demons: Changing Gender Relations in Adivasi Communities 67
The Trauma of 'Wage Employment' and the 'Burden of Work' for Women in India 83
Beyond the Hysterectomies Scandal: Women, the Institution, Family, and State 122
Feminist Social Work Intervention: Special Cells for Women and Children 172
Battered Conjugality: The Psychology of Domestic Violence 197
Voicing the Invisible: Violence Faced by Lesbian Women in India 224
The Medicalisation of Consent and Falsity: The Figure of the Habitue in Indian Rape Law 266
Sexual Abuse in Revenge: Women as Targets of Communal Hatred 312
The Gujarat Catastrophe: Notes on Reading Politics as Democidal Rape Culture 332
Contributors 384

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