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A Sahib who Chose to Bask in the Indian Sun

Thomas Waterfield with Korobi, Bikram, and Nandita Saikia (Pune, early 1990s) A mention of the British officers of the Raj does not necessarily send one into raptures. However, there are exceptions. Thomas Waterfield, affectionately called Dada , who fought to acquire Indian citizenship after independence, was one of them. He was finally granted Indian citizenship in 1950, and lived in India till his death on the fifth of this month, his final years having been spent at a riverside home in Warje. In later life, he used the surname, 'Gay', as it was easier, he said, for Indians to pronounce.  Dada was born in Devonshire, England, 96 years ago and grew up in a luxurious home. He studied at Magdalen College, Oxford, and first came to India as a young Indian Civil Service officer, as had his father and grandfather before him, in 1928. During the Raj, he served as a Magistrate, an Assistant Collector, a Judge, as the Registrar of the Bombay High Court, and as a Commission Chairm

On the Wearing of Sarees

A Banarasi Saree I’ve had sarees wear me far more often than I’ve had myself wear sarees. I can’t see the grace or the elegance of a person, myself specifically, that so many rave of whilst wearing a saree.  Sarees themselves though, I do see. As works of art that take skill to create far beyond what many a contemporary, upper class artist can lay claim to, even if the artistry of the weaver isn’t acclaimed in the way the supposed talent of the well-connected urban artist is. As part of a larger whole, with a history often connected to exploitation and casteism but, still, essentially stable and predictable. As a testament to endurance and longevity which has, almost unchanged, survived the centuries. As a connection to a continuity, reaching back through the generations, which makes minor everyday turbulence fall into place simply by making it seemingly inconsequential. The wearing of a saree: armour, almost shroud, disguise, convenience. I may not see the elegance of a saree on mysel

Domestic Violence in India and the Pandemic

(A version of this piece was originally written upon request in 2020 for the Times of India although it was withdrawn because of suggestions to change it in ways the author, Nandita Saikia, was uncomfortable. Although it was written when fear of COVID-19 was especially high, with good reason, the pandemic seems to have merely brought pre-existing issues into sharp relief, issues which, sadly, have not yet been resolved ensuring that this piece is not yet irrelevant although it could, perhaps do with some updating.) We know with reasonable certainty that the pandemic we're currently in the midst of has not enhanced women's safety in the least. There's not a day which goes by without horrific reports of violence against women in the media, and anecdata suggests that domestic violence has been increasing exponentially although addressing it is difficult and, perhaps understandably, does not appear to be anyone's highest priority even though it may be a life-and-death issue

[Link] The Rule of Law

I critique the rule of law with reference to violence and its own history, pointing out that it has often been 'the voice of the immensely privileged codified in statute and subordinate legislation' in a piece that was published by Smashboard and later by Firstpost . Extracts "...the rule of law is not an egalitarian concept and its history demonstrates that it not underlain by gender neutrality. It may be possible to force it into another, less discriminatory mould more mindful of equality and individual rights but that would require recognising our current understanding of the rule of law for what it often is: an idea perpetuated by white men living in sexist societies themselves and forming the theoretical basis for the racial hierarchies which plague all of us today, often with their ideas being used to support economic drain and worse of countries primarily populated by non-white peoples. [....] The Constitution of India promises individuals equality and dig

Anti-trafficking Initiatives and Resurrecting Indentured Labour

( Note:  This post is primarily about the intersect between the raid/rescue model & NRPFesque policies in the context of DV and the shape which laws governing the field could be made to assume in the future.) ~*~ Indian trafficking law is a complex mix of constitutional law guaranteeing the impermissibility of the practice of human trafficking, criminal law, and labour law. It is consolidated nowhere but finds mention piecemeal across a number of statutes. Criminal laws in the field have tended to try to protect trafficked persons (questionably, sometimes from themselves by refusing to acknowledge their ability to consent to acts in relation to themselves) while labour laws have generally tended to attempt to realise the hope of being able to engineer a more equitable society through the instrumentality of the law (with varying degrees of success, to put it mildly). In consequence, Indian law has not thus far single-mindedly pursued a strategy of removal and r

Consent v Dominion: Sexual Offences in Indian Law

The Supreme Court is currently hearing a matter in which it is expected to determine the Constitutionality of Section 497 of the 1860 Indian Penal Code. This provision is popularly understood as one which criminalises adultery, and the IPC itself supports this understanding by calling the offence ‘adultery’. However, if the particulars of the offence it describes were considered, it would emerge that the provision is, more accurately, one which can criminalise a man who knowingly has sex not amounting to rape with a married woman without her husband's consent or connivance. Making the provision as it now stands truly gender-neutral, as many demand, would not allow unfaithful wives to be jailed at their husbands’ behest. Instead, it would allow wives to have their unfaithful husbands’ women lovers jailed. Although much public discourse treats IPC Section 497 as being discriminatory towards men since it cannot currently be used to jail women, it is quite firmly embedded in a worldvie

[Link] IPC Section 377 Should be Read Down, Not Struck Off

Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code, infamous for criminalising homosexual acts, is the legal articulation of a traditional Judeo-Christian worldview (easily grafted onto conservative Indian thought) which has no place in the modern world. Even so, striking it down in its entirety would not be ideal, I argue over at Scroll . Extracts Section 377 of the 1860 Indian Penal Code is part of India’s colonial legacy. It criminalises homosexual acts using Victorian-era euphemism every bit as non-specific as the Biblical precepts it is supposedly in consonance with. [....] Section 377 thus, in some circumstances, can accord relief to wives whose husbands rape them. Along with a 2017 Supreme Court ruling, which essentially held that sex with one’s wife is rape if she is less than 18 years old, this innovation forms the basis of judicial intervention which dilutes the marital rape exception enshrined in criminal law in India. [....] That said, there are those who would suffer if Section 377 were