March 21, 2014

On Living in Anticipation of Death

I came across short excerpts of a book I’d never heard of via a friend on FB: ‘A Short Guide to a Happy Life’ by Anna Quindlen. Her name sounded familiar as did the content of the excerpt and, after running a quick search, I realised that she is the author of another book entitled 'Black and Blue' which I had borrowed a few years ago from the American Library at New Delhi. I no longer remember much of the book (although I remember being glad to have read it) but believe that she implicitly expressed the same line of thought in it.

By strange coincidence, I’d just had a conversation with a friend saying exactly the same thing although I framed my words badly, and wound up saying that there is no longer anything I want or want to do with my life, that I derive happiness from having done everything I want to do, and that I now no longer want or wait for anything but death, with the intervening period being reasonably goal-free. Unfortunately, I think this came across as my saying that I want to and intend to spend what is left of my life in a vegetative state.

March 18, 2014

Torture and Domestic Violence

10% into 'The Body in Pain' by Elaine Scarry

Scarry's descriptions of torture may remind one of descriptions of what domestic violence can be like, and leave one wondering why, if domestic violence and torture have the potential to be similar, their similarity isn't widely acknowledged.

The author speaks of how language is destroyed by pain in such a way that our own pain is known [to ourselves] but courtesy the resistance of pain to being described by language generally except with reference to something else (such as fire causing, possibly by analogy, a burning pain) the pain of others is always in doubt.

March 17, 2014

Holi Day

Lovely afternoon. Delhi at its charming best almost bereft of its usual teeming, inescapable crowds. Chatting with a friend on the banks of the small lake at Lodhi Garden. Being introduced to another friend's favourite, exquisitely serene reading haunt in the heart of Delhi.

March 01, 2014

On Men Getting Women to Shut Up

Unproofed, unedited.

I just began reading Devdutt Pattanaik's Myth=Mithya which he begins with a reference to ancient Greek philosophers knowing myth as mythos. Unsurprisingly, Pattanaik makes no reference to mythos also involving getting women to shut the hell up, as Homer has narrated of Penelope.

Disconcerting as it is that one of the first records of Western literature involves men getting women to shut up, and that there are virtually no records of women writers since then till recent centuries —discounting anomalies to the rule such as Roswitha who, for all practical purposes, was not viewed as a sexual woman— what is perhaps even more disconcerting is that voice (especially for women) is still 'a mark of privilege' as someone put it.

A mark of privilege on one hand, and a necessity on the other hand: for credibility, for enabling one to fight for what one claims as rights, for being able to narrate one’s own story, for being able to go about living one’s life in a manner one might wish to be able to. A necessity which is routinely denied to women, by men who have no qualms about attempting to get women to shut up especially when they don’t like hearing what women have to say. By men, who for some (presumably cultural) reason, seem to delude themselves into thinking that women should speak in a manner which they approve of. By men who think that their distaste for what a woman may have to say actually matters (or should actually matter) to anyone but themselves.

There is, of course, no shortage of material which has been written about men silencing women, or attempting to silence women, especially on social media, with everything from insults to rape and bomb threats. They are often by men whom one —I write, of course, from my own perspective— would not pay the slightest attention to offline; from men whom one would likely not know offline, and who manage to appear on one’s radar only because of the democratising ‘power’, such as it is, of social media where a message from one’s best friend is just as certain to reach one as a reply from a nondescript thug.

There are, of course, solutions when it comes to strangers who would have one shut up: ignore creeps, block creeps. The problem with both those solutions is that they don’t keep one from encountering creeps in the first place; one can only ignore or block what one has already come across. Also, these solutions don't address the question of what creates creeps who would seek to get one not to speak and who think that their opinion about what another should say (assuming that other’s speech is legal) should have any relevance to anyone but themselves.

Few (if any) women who speak of subjects that don’t qualify as bland (or approved... perhaps cooking and childcare, in acceptable terms!) would likely be able to say that they don’t face a barrage of creeps who would have them shut up. (I’m sure that there are good sociological reasons to be more understanding and not use the word ‘creeps’ but they are not reasons I can emotionally relate to.) Unfortunately, the choices one has in terms of ways in which to respond to such creeps are limited.

There is, of course, ignoring and blocking. And there is —as I’ve once done particularly emphatically re. stranger creepiness— being rude to the stranger in question; a response which I see as being entirely justified, although, of course, such creeps who begin by being rude themselves invariably sulk upon having their own rudeness being met with rudeness. Proponents of the art of being able to dish it out but not being able to take it, it would seem.

Apart from these three solutions (and I use the word 'solutions' loosely), there is also the dismissal of creeps; an approach which I’ve often favoured although it is almost guaranteed to have creeps complain about one’s arrogance and rudeness — never mind the dismissal has invariably been invited (if not begged for) by their own conduct.

What is inescapable though is that none of these approaches address (much less answer the question of) why many men would want to get women to shut up in the first place, why they may imagine that their opinion of a woman’s speech has any value at all, and why they often seem to feel so mightily insulted if their attempts to get women to shut up are challenged in any way whatsoever. And when it comes to non-strangers who would have one shut up, the question only becomes more urgent.

Clearly, there are no easy answers although the question seems indicative of the fact that (many) boys are brought up to have an extraordinary, unearned sense of entitlement coupled with delusions about the value of their own opinions. Perhaps, if there’s any desire not to have men attempt to shut women up, the solutions lie in bringing up boys to respect the right of women to speak in a manner analogous to that in which they take their own right to speak for granted.

For my own part, I'm tired and have no particular desire to speak to anyone.

February 11, 2014

FoE, VAW, and Book Withdrawals

The real villain of the piece (Re books being withdrawn or self-censored) is content law which hasn't been amended even though it's been becoming increasingly clear as time goes by that Indian content law needs amendment. (Tweets on the subject below, unfortunately complete with their typos.)

January 18, 2014

Comments Made After the Swatanter Kumar Defamation Order

Tweets on January 18, 2014 — they pertain to the issues involved, and not this specific case:

1. The Swatanter Kumar defamation order per se doesn't interest me at all; I do think that the broader issues involved are important though.

2. FoE issues at all ends: the speech of persons making allegations, reporting allegations, & having allegations made against them. [Ed. to correct typo]

3. FoE here involves both the right to speak and the possible subversion of the right to free speech through the use of the law to silence.

4a. Determining issues relating to free speech is an incredibly difficult balancing act, given (i) selective outrage against individuals, +
4b. (ii) the manner those claiming to be victims of violence are treated, (iii) sensationalist media—all ground realities, not legal issues.

5a. Perhaps solutions lie in: (i) framing clear guidelines wrt permissible reporting; (ii) ensuring persons accused aren't deemed guilty; +
5b. (iii) ensuring that commentary about those making allegations does not involve denigrating them.
Selective outrage is not helpful, IMO.

6. Targetting 'just' publishers for reporting (& not alleged victims) doesn't negate possible harm as it is publishers who highlight issues.

7. That said, nothing justifies publishers reporting irresponsibly, and it makes sense to ensure that they are required to be responsible.

Also see:

Note 1: Concerns about the possible subversion of free speech through the (/mis)use of the law are not new: Legal Impediments to Speaking Out about Abuse

Note 2: Our outrage is unbounded but unhelpful: On our outrage and 2013 having been the year of outrage about VAW in India

Note 3: VAW itself could be seen as an FoE issue (my take)

January 15, 2014

6 Points on 'Not Just a Moral Question'

Dear Author,

Six quick points on your piece 'Not Just a Moral Question' (simply because it wastes less of my time to jot down points than write a coherent post):

1. “Your unambiguous position would be that premarital sex is moral.”
Assumption much? Actually, my position is that premarital sex is amoral, and I make no attempt to speak for what the positions of others are. Have you assumed what others' positions are to justify your exploration of the morality of consensual cannibalism? Seriously? Consensual cannibalism was required to support your ‘argument’?

2. “If it was about morals, then the other part of the judgment—that women who have consensual sexual relations should not cry rape—is far more important to debate.”
Uh, ‘that women who have consensual sexual relations should not cry rape’ is not up for debate. That it’s not acceptable is a given. Though perhaps you could shift your enthusiasm to explore what the term ‘morality’ entails to an exploration of what the term ‘consent’ entails. Or maybe at least recognise that the law relating to unkept marriage promises and rape is reasonably nuanced. (See Paras. 9 to 20 of the SC judgment in Pradeep Kumar v. State of Bihar, 2007.)

December 30, 2013

VAW as an FoE Issue

Through the course of this year, I've had a number of conversations about VAW and FoE. About being anti-VAW but pro-FoE, and about how the two might interact. ...The conversations have resulted in my becoming increasingly convinced that the two simply do not compete, although to reach that conclusion, I’ve had to define my understanding of VAW in what could be considered to be narrow terms:
    VAW includes any form of violence against one or more specific women; it does not include abuse against the idea of women. In other words, VAW includes targeted abuse but not, for example, non-targeted misogynist rants.
The reason I’ve had to separate the two forms of abuse – viz. targeted and non-targeted abuse – in my mind is simply because I see no other way to differentiate
claims that targeted abuse (such as verbal street harassment) is a form of free speech from the principle, easier (if not essential) to accept, that free speech includes the right to say what is unacceptable even if that involves proclaiming the truly nonsensical from every street corner (provided, arguably, that one’s proclamations are legal).

When it comes to free speech, I am entirely unconvinced that there is a coherent or convincing argument to be made to the effect that being abusive constitutes an exercise of the right to free speech – if there is such an argument in existence, it isn’t one I’ve come across. However, although it makes me uncomfortable, I do think that there is a free speech right to make sexist or misogynist statements although I don’t believe that right extends to making such statements without being challenged others who are lucky enough to have a voice.

Having a voice is not the norm; ‘voice is a mark of privilege’, and the lack of voice not only adversely affects one’s credibility as Rebecca Solnit has pointed out but, it could reasonably be argued, also exposes one to greater abuse and discrimination. Which has led me to become increasingly convinced – even if it isn’t accepted wisdom – that VAW and free speech are inextricably linked issues with its being possible for the former to be subsumed within the latter. I’ve spoken along these lines earlier; ‘the essence of abuse, as I understand it, is to diminish the voice of another, and although the employment of different types of abuse or VAW can (and do) produce drastically different sets of consequences, the bottom line is that various forms of abuse all achieve the same end: diminishing the voice of the person(s) abused.’

Seen from this point of view, I’m not certain how VAW could, in essence, be anything other than a free speech issue.

December 29, 2013

2013: The Year of Outrage about VAW in India

Random Rant about the discourse on women's 'rights' 

Because, of course, there's no shortage of people who will tell you that 2013 was the year in which women began raising their voices in India. When women's rights began to be considered seriously. When feminism became the in thing (though not always necessarily a good thing).

And, yes, there certainly have been many, many, many column inches devoted to violence against women in India’s newspapers and magazines this year. And there have been more than a few journalists who’ve written gut-wrenching pieces about violence against women in India for media outlets abroad.

That said, it isn’t at all clear (to me) that there has been any substantive change in attitudes towards violence against women in India: it’s undeniable that more people talk about the subject but it’s worth listening to what they’re saying before beginning to celebrate about seeing the subject having become talked about.

December 17, 2013

Blackstone... and the Problem with a Discourse of Protection (for Women)

This post includes an excerpt from Chapter XV of Commentaries on the Laws of England | Book the First by William Blackstone, published in 1765. The author says he has structured the Chapter as follows:
"In the consideration of which I shall in the first place enquire, how marriages may be contracted or made; shall next point out the manner in which they may be dissolved; and shall, lastly, take a view of the legal effects and consequence of marriage."
The excerpt comprises the entire third part of the Chapter, and it ends, after detailing disabilities (along with some benefits, occasionally questionable), with the statement: "...even the disabilities, which the wife lies under, are for the most part intended for her protection and benefit. So great a favourite is the female sex of the laws of England." [Emphasis added.]

In modern times, the protection discourse is, of course, not limited to the legal consequences of marriage and its dissolution, but makes its mark across virtually the entire spectrum of issues dealing with women's rights. Blackstone's use of it is little more than a vintage illustration, so to speak.

As I've argued earlier: "The discourse of ‘protection’ is quite different from a discourse of ‘rights’ [which focusses on freedom and the provision of security within which to enjoy freedom]. ‘Protection’ is liable to subvert women’s agency and autonomy; it invariably assumes perpetrators of abuse from whom women must be protected and requires someone stronger than such perpetrators (i.e. the state) to act in the best interests of women, assuming a conservative paternal role itself and often circumscribing the freedom of women in the process. Unlike a rights discourse, it does not focus on women’s right not to be abused in the first place, and neither does it necessarily support women in their choice of how to deal with abuse should it occur."

Oddly enough, the discourse of protection for women also makes an appearance in arguments against the criminalization of marital rape, with the first argument often used being that it is for the protection of and in the best interest of a wife not to have her husband imprisoned.

Considering that the protection discourse does not actually appear to further the cause of women's rights beyond a point, it would probably be worth seriously considering changing the framework of the discourse relating to women's rights to have it focus on, well, the rights of women instead of merely the protection of women.