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Family: Contagion and Continuity

In Memory of Mahesh Chandra Das  by Korobi Saikia The COVID pandemic took me back to the late 1960's when my father shared the story of what the kala azar pandemic caused to large swathes of the population in Assam. His family hailed from Goalpara in Assam and it was during a period of dark pestilence that my grandfather's entire family was wiped out. He, then an infant just six months old, was the only one who survived... I never asked my father who the other family members who lost their lives were — today, I guess it must have been not just one single nuclear family but an entire family of uncles, aunts, nephews, nieces, cousins, and others who would have succumbed to the fury of black fever. Being very protective, my father probably did not want to cause any emotional trauma that would have been necessary to explain the relationship between him and a Das family from Panbazar in Guwahati who came to visit us in Shillong. Uttam Das, my granddad's maternal uncle, brought u

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

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 for an abused person.  Indian law on domestic violence has not changed drastically. It may be possible to invoke criminal law particularly against physical assault although the efficacy and desirability of the carceral justice it metes out is debatable. Civil law presents abused persons with a number of paths to attempt to protect themselves including by separating from their abusers. And there remains the hybrid of criminal and civil law that is the Domestic Violence Act under which orders pertaining to protection

[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

[Links] State Policy, Citizenship, and Patriarchy

In a two-part series, I explore the human rights implications of processes like the formation of the NRC with reference to my own story, the problems of patriarchy, and the burdens of history.  Excerpts below: PART 1: Concentration camps, citizenship and the burden of erasure in India Issues of citizenship and belonging have always been fraught in India. We are a plural society that was irrevocably torn apart in 1947. As a legal construct, the Indian republic is a federation of states. As a social reality, we know affiliations to various sub-nationalisms, subsumed within a greater pan-Indian nationalism, to be a source of individual pride. [....] We are not, however, a society that has consistently seen communal harmony. In recent history, British colonizers used a divide-and-rule policy to help cement their control over vast swaths of the Indian subcontinent. [....] American photojournalist Margaret Bourke-White saw vast areas of Calcutta “dark with ruins and bl

Where the Mind is Without Fear

On Independence Day, thinking of my mother's father who had been jailed during the Independence struggle and later became a civil servant. He died before I was born though he seems to have enjoyed poetry, and the first poem my mum ever paraphrased with me was one which her father had worked on with her: Where the Mind is Without Fear, by the Bengali Nobel laureate Rabindranath Tagore, still as relevant today as ever it was. Where the mind is without fear and the head is held high; Where knowledge is free; Where the world has not been broken up into fragments; By narrow domestic walls; Where words come out from the depth of truth; Where tireless striving stretches its arms towards perfection; Where the clear stream of reason has not lost its way; Into the dreary desert sand of dead habit; Where the mind is led forward by thee; Into ever-widening thought and action; Into that heaven of freedom, My Father, let my country awake. Tagore, of course, had returned his knighthood after the

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