April 22, 2018

[Link] Rape and the Death Penalty

Over at Scroll, I argue that advocating the death penalty is not an appropriate response to rape, and it completely ignores our own role in facilitating not only rape but also other forms of abuse, all of which exist on a continuum. Although it's easily implementable, there's no convincing evidence that the death penalty will stem rape. It stinks of retribution, is always susceptible to irreversible error, disproportionately targets those without privilege, violates decency, and is expensive.
Rape is itself largely a manifestation of toxic masculinity. [....] Putting rapists to death, [the possibility of which may not deter them from committing rape], reeks of machismo and patriarchy. In a society that routinely creates the impression that women are destroyed by rape, death for rape simply realises the old norm of an eye for an eye. It is a form of retributive justice in an age when justice is meant to be reformative. [....] If we are to address rape, we need to develop legal processes to report and prosecute rape that are easy to navigate and which would increase the likelihood of rapists being held to account. We also need to interrogate social processes and challenge defences of abuse across the spectrum particularly within our own social circles. What we require is an alternative paradigm that is independent of toxic masculinity. We need to hold not just abusers to account but also those who support them and thereby facilitate abuse. That process, more often than not, will require us to begin by taking a long, hard look in the mirror.
Read the whole piece here.

(This note contains edited tweets and jumbled up extracts from the post at Scroll.)

April 20, 2018

On Holding Abusers and Their Enablers to Account

09 March 2018 

If we are to act against abuse (including SH), perhaps we should focus not on abusers but on those who create environments in which they thrive, the mechanisms they employ, & how they can be leashed. Abusers generally do not abuse others because they must but because they can.

Quite apart from holding abusers accountable, we also need to hold abuse-enablers to account. And recognise that access to law & access to justice are not synonymous esp when "law" is determined by abusers and their supporters, & its processes ― due process ― controlled by them.

Worth asking why responses to abuse are structured the way the are, whose story is (not) told, & who benefits. Confidentiality of findings? The truly victimised, the falsely accused don't benefit; perhaps institutional/family reputation can? What priories underlie responses?

Who determines which channels through which to complain of abuse are legitimate? Who controls proceedings through supposedly-legitimate channels? The same people in both cases? How do you avoid a conflict of interest & ensure fairness?

Through history, some of the worst abuses of humans have consistently been deemed entirely legal by the persons in power who both committed them & determined what was lawful. (Think slavery, eg) Due process & uncritically accepting law as an anti-abuse tool will not stem abuse.

The law matters. Due process, too. They create formal structures to assign responsibility. But, to be meaningful & fair, they must be constantly interrogated. That's partly why the media & extra-legal channels of complaint can't be dismissed; they're critical to interrogate law.

There's also the slight problem that, even at its best, the law may not provide the outcomes a victim wants, not least coz the state which nominally deploys it is almost always carceral. It's, rightly, a tool to counter abuse. We need to stop being told it's the best/only tool. 

19 March 2018

Perhaps it's wise not to post in anger though it's sometimes hard to avoid it. 

It isn't easy to avoid noticing that the calls against a person found to have committed abuse can be muted in comparison to those against a person merely accused of it. 

The spectacle merits, I suspect, questions about what drives those supposedly enthusiastic about human rights. It explains how progressive legal change has largely been developed in the wake of non-influential abusive men being targeted. It reveals the difference between the advocacy of human rights as a career choice and as a lifestyle choice. And it is always a choice: whom we choose to pillory, whom we excuse. And the mechanisms we employ in both cases.

Ostensible progressivness and feminism isn't enough. The structures which protect a certain class of abusers, usually rich and apparently 'woke',  deserve to be dismantled. Those who support such structures deserve to be challenged. They may do much good but if what they achieve is largely limited to the policy level which only occasionally calls themselves to account (almost by accident), the manifestation of their version of progressivness is inadequate. 

Desegregation once changed the daily lives of poor white people but left power concentrated in the hands of rich white people who still wield it almost exclusively. Who's paying for our supposed commitment to gender equity today by actually having to practise it? And, more importantly, who isn't?

Addendum: This isn't just about sexual harassment but also other forms of abuse. Consider, for example, the gaslighting, often in the language of social justice, or the tomb-like silence which too often follows complaints of DV or rape depending on who's accused.

November 15, 2017

[Link] Cornelia Sorabji

A light read by me about the person who became India's first woman lawyer over at dailyo.in:

Cornelia Sorabji is, of course, best-known as India’s first woman lawyer, after having been the first woman graduate of Bombay University and the first woman to study law at Oxford University. It is easy to co-opt her into the role of a committed feminist who changed women’s lives but to do so would likely be to essentialise her life, flatten the many layers of her personality, and possibly to impose on her philosophies which she would not immediately have claimed as her own.

Read more.

(This post is by Nandita Saikia and was first published at IN Content Law.)

October 22, 2017

[Links] The Judicial Understanding of Consent

What I understood of the Court's discussion of consent in its acquittal of Mahmood Farooqui for rape made me very uncomfortable.

I've talked about why that was the case in two pieces, links to which I've shared here:

December 29, 2016

Memories of Collecting and Conserving Butterflies

Peter Marren's Rainbow Dust about British butterflies in which he notes that 'the same kinds of people who collected butterflies two or three generations ago became equally ardent conservationists', reminded me of my own days collecting butterflies and rearing caterpillars. As Marren says:
"The smell of naphthalene, otherwise known, with a certain irony, as mothballs, still brings back memories of those distant days, just as a tea-soaked madeleine cake ignited that ‘vast structure of recollection’ for Marcel Proust. It’s the smell of a lost world, of home museums, of a time when one’s excitement at discovering the natural world was just beginning. Everything about nature was fresh and wonderful , and a well-stocked naturalist’s den was the most worthwhile thing in the world."
Cover of 'Common Butterflies of India'
My introduction to butterflies (and nature more generally complete with the 'home museum' Marren refers to) came from Thomas Gay Waterfield, affectionately called Dada, of whom I'd written a few days after his death in 2001:
"...the only thing that stands out in my mind of that first meeting is a large bowl of water and some chhapatis on his windowsill, kept there for birds. That Dada was an ardent nature lover was the first in a long series of things I was to learn of him. In those years, he often took me for nature walks where he taught me one of the most important things I've ever learnt: to take time off to appreciate the wonders of nature which surround us all the time but which we often fail even to notice. He was deeply interested in wildlife and [co-]wrote a book about Indian butterflies.

Dada also tried to do everything possible to eradicate the superstition that surrounds animals like snakes. I remember an incident he once narrated where he described how he convinced villagers in some small peripheral village in Maharashtra that the green tree snake does not kill people by landing on their heads from tree tops. In fact, it cannot do so: it's head is soft and feels a lot like rubber."

He'd been an officer of the Raj who stayed behind in India after Independence, and who brought up several Indian children. A friend once told me that they broke the mould after they made Dada; I'm inclined to agree.