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The Gender Of Violence

Anjali Arondekar

By Deepti Misri
University of Illinois Press, USA  & Women Unlimited, New Delhi, 2014, pp. 216, Rs. 475.00


What does it mean to say that the history of postcolonial India has been a history of violence? Given the daily barrage of reports on the escalating violence in India, such a claim may seem alarmingly familiar, even eerily ordinary. Can there be a more opportune time for an extensive discussion of sexuality, gender and violence in postcolonial India? Each and every day, it seems, we are confronted yet again by the systemic violation of subaltern subjects, marked by one or more intersecting vectors of difference: caste, class, gender, sexual orientation, to name a select few. On the one hand, recent events have ignited a much-needed robust and public conversation on gender, sexuality and cultural practices within India. The relationship between organized feminism, and the new voices in the debate is uneven and has opened up new areas for scrutiny, such as the place of young urban men, queer activists and members of the general public in the campaigns against violence. On the other hand, the focus on gendered cultures of sexual violence (specifically rape) can end up deflecting attention from the relationship between such violence and the state, capitalism, caste, and communalism. Even as feminists repeatedly remind us that such privations are not just of the here and now, but a long-term effect of paternalistic systems of culture, economics and politics, historical amnesia around such issues persists and even festers. It is within such fraught intellectual and political contexts that we must necessarily read Deepti Misri’s thoughtful and timely monograph which offers sustained feminist analyses of violence’s imbrication with all aspects of life in contemporary India. Specifically, her book addresses the lacunae and impasses plaguing our critical vernaculars as they engage the long and entangled history of sexuality, gender and violence in post-Independence India. Bypassing the habitual critical nods to colonial histories of violence and their afterlives in postcolonial India, Misri instead argues boldly for the centrality of violence to the very fabric of what constitutes Independent India. Indeed, for Misri, the forging of the Indian nation (a congeries of states and collectivities) relies on the violent exclusions of gender, caste and region to constitute its very authority. One has only to look at the sustained violence of the postcolonial state over subaltern subjects in the North East, in Kashmir (and in Goa, I would add, which remains to this day a colony of a postcolony!) to ...

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