Saturday, 3 November 2018

[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.


"...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 dignity. However, that promise may well be betrayed by the rule of law if it is not structured to avert violence induced by such facets of one’s identity as gender, sex, and sexual orientation.


Violence is unlikely to be eradicated in our own time but it can be contained, and it is legitimate to ask that the rule of law be structured to protect the most vulnerable amongst us. The most vulnerable are not just those who are poor but anyone who lacks the privilege of power which is, of course, most of us and women, upper class or not, in particular. After all, privilege is always relative, and persons who are abused invariably have less privilege than their abusers. If the rule of law is not structured to address the concerns of those with comparatively less privilege, its adoption would too often merely result in access to law and not in access to justice."

Thursday, 25 October 2018

[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:

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 black with the wings of vultures that hovered impartially over the Hindu and Muslim dead” in 1946. The image of death approaching under the waiting, watchful eye of vultures was not new to Bengal, which had, at the time, barely recovered from a devastating famine, exacerbated by British policies, that took about 4 million lives. This was the same famine that prompted Leo Amery, then secretary of state for India and Burma, to compare Winston Churchill’sattitudes to those of Hitler.
Photographs taken in the 1940s in the fenced hunger-cum-labor camps of Europe and in the fence-less hunger-cum-labor geography of Bengal are not always easy to tell apart. Ravaged bodies with ashen skin, regardless of their color, can look much the same in black and white.
We may only now be beginning to call the famine genocide, and recognize the lingering effects of Partition, but we know what to expect of concentration camps. And we know that their effects can be achieved simply with incendiary rhetoric and administrative action. They do not need fences or a fenced-off vocabulary.

Evading the past not only allows us to evade our shared histories but also the memory of the traumas we have all suffered in the process of the fragmentation of our identities and our lands. It erases tales of migration and assimilation, and it enables the development of constructs that alienate and perhaps even corral in forced-labor camps, if only in imagination, those whom we now consider “outsiders” who do not belong within our borders.
In our own time, borders are often closed by documenting the people within them and recognizing them as citizens. The smallest unit of documentation is often not the individual but the household, particularly in relation to rations and fuel, which may keep women in the control of men who are listed as being the heads of households. Instances of women subverting the system to establish their own independent identities are the exception.
As a result, closed borders tend to reinforce often-violent patriarchy and disadvantage those not ensconced in privileged, socially approved familial structures.
Leaving aside concerns about the “them vs us” narrative, experience has taught us that we have difficulty recognizing our own because of documentation issues, shared histories, close cultural ties, and common vocabularies.
Given that the identification of those who qualify as citizens is no easy matter, there exists a constitutional imperative to ensure that laws deriving legitimacy from it do not flout the implicit guarantees it accords to individuals. That requires the development of legal processes that ensure that the most vulnerable among us are not sidelined. People cannot legitimately have their citizenship called into question simply because they find themselves without familial support. The cost of not submitting to violent patriarchy cannot legitimately be statelessness.

Wednesday, 15 August 2018

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 massacre at Jallianwala Bagh. He died just as the British were beginning to implement policies in the Bengal that would, by the end of WWII, contribute to the deaths of millions of Indians even as, in Europe, they did what in later decades they would come to ceaselessly advertise as a demonstration of their commitment to human rights and  justice which, it has to be said, many Indians saw no evidence of either then or earlier.

“In the case O’Dwyer vs Nair 1924 before the King’s Bench Division in London, the jury decided by a majority of 11 to 1 that General Dyer had not committed an atrocity at Amritsar’s Jallianwala Bagh, and Sankaran Nair, the defendant, was accordingly held guilty of libel,” Nandini Nair wrote in a profile of the man who had resigned from the Viceroy’s Executive Council after the Jallianwala Bagh massacre. “The sole dissenting juryman was none other than Harold Laski, the well-known political economist. Since the verdict of the jury was not unanimous, it was open to Nair not to accept it and seek a fresh trial. He chose not to do so, saying, “Who knows what another 12 English shopkeepers would think.” O’Dwyer offered to forgo the damages of £7,000 if Nair tendered an apology. He refused point-blank, even though it was a large sum.”

The Quit India movement began Around the time of Tagore’s death too; Naresh Fernandes describes how it was named in his book on Bombay: “In August 1942, as the Japanese seemed poised to invade India, Gandhi arrived in Bombay to address a meeting of the All India Congress Committee in Gowalia Maidan. The day before, he and his colleagues held a meeting to decide on an appropriate slogan to express their opposition to British rule. ‘Get out’, one suggested. Gandhi thought that too impolite. Another suggested ‘Retreat’ or ‘Withdraw’ but those didn’t find approval either. Finally, Yusuf Meherally turned to Gandhi with a bow and said, ‘Quit India’. Said Gandhi, ‘Amen’.”

Friday, 20 July 2018

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 rescue. That strategy is largely the brainchild of Western neo-abolitionism developed in consonance with philanthro-capitalism, and it can easily manifest as indentured labour redux with state complicity.

In its earlier avatar, the horrors of supposedly-legal indentured labour practised by colonial powers were experienced by colonised peoples particularly after the nominal abolition of slavery. In contemporary times, the model in vogue doesn't promote forced, unremunerated labour quite as blatantly. Instead, trafficked persons may be removed from the environs they find themselves in, ostensibly in support of their human rights, following raids possibly conducted by law enforcement. However, despite such removal, the country in which trafficked persons are rescued may not force traffickers to pay them adequate reparations or afford them adequate rehabilitation opportunities itself.  

Even if traffickers are jailed, at the micro level, retribution devoid of reparation does not immediately help trafficked persons to rebuild their world. And, at a macro level, non-payment means that, if the trafficked persons have crossed international borders and are subsequently deported (of course, at state behest), the money which they should have been paid likely remains in the country in which those who trafficked them have benefited from their unpaid labour, the country in which they were ostensibly rescued. Due to this, the “fight against modern slavery” could this easily resurrect one of the least appealing facets of what was once the coalition of colonialism and capitalism: forced, virtually unremunerated labour extracted from the world's least privileged people.

The problems which the raid and "rescue" model can potentially cause become exceptionally clear if persons are trafficked across international borders by those with whom they share a domestic relationship. This is simply because, should such trafficked persons report abuse and not have the necessary paperwork to remain where they are being abused without their traffickers’ aid, far from receiving support, they could well find themselves being deported perhaps to another abusive situation. And, so, the model could well disincentivise abused persons from reporting abuse and force them to endure in horrific conditions. In effect, the model has the potential to result in states setting up Rape and Assault Facilitation Services in the name of anti-trafficking operations or in lieu of immigration and border forces whether or not that is their intention.

Even where domestic violence isn't part of the equation, a person forced to work in a factory, for example, may be far better served by strong labour laws and, if required, sympathetic immigration laws which ensure humane conditions and fair pay for work should they want to continue working instead of being “rescued” and bring deprived of a job and, possibly, what little safety they have in the process. This chance that there could be alternatives to being “rescued” that trafficked persons may prefer is one which the largely-Western crusade against “modern slavery” has almost consistently failed to recognise much less facilitate.

Together, neo-abolitionism and philanthrocapitalism tend to exhibit enthusiasm to uni-dimensionally measure the success of anti-trafficking measures by counting "rescues" in the field of the messy, uncountable complexities of human life. What they display a distinct lack of enthusiasm for is the prospect of engaging with individuals, valuing their lives, listening to individual aspirations, and attempting to accord respect to the desires humans beings at the individual level so as to facilitate the best possible outcomes for them, outcomes which may not involve what could well be ham-handed rescues.

Unfortunately, the lines of thought which support the raid and “rescue” model have not been entirely contained within the West. India's proposed law on trafficking appears to pay homage to it. One can only hope that better sense prevails and that Indian strategies to address trafficking do not sink to the level of merely counting supposed rescues.

Thursday, 19 July 2018

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 worldview that treats women as the property of their husbands. These are husbands who would once, as the law earlier recognized, have had the liberty to decide when to have sex with their wives regardless of their wives’ feelings on the matter.

Current law has begun to acknowledge that this approach is problematic, and has begun to shed it. It now contains a mishmash of provisions some of which recognise women's rights and others which do not. Marital rape, for example, is recognised by the 2005 Domestic Violence Act but is still barely recognised by the 1860 Indian Penal Code despite its having been amended in 2013.

As far as IPC Section 497 which deals with adultery is concerned: if a man were to have sex with a married woman both with her consent and with her husband’s consent or connivance, her husband could potentially still be liable for having trafficked her. Although this is largely an academic possibility as it is difficult to envisage its realisation in real life, it remains a possibility because trafficking law does not require the person being trafficked to be transported anywhere for the offence to have been committed, and treats the consent of the trafficked person as being irrelevant.

Drawing on international law, the Indian Penal Code essentially defines trafficking to mean using unsavory means (such as threats, abduction, and deception) to recruit, transport, harbour, transfer, or receive one or more persons in order to exploit them. The exploitation could be physical or sexual, echo slavery, or involve forced organ donation. And the Code categorically states: “The consent of the victim is immaterial in determination of the offence of trafficking.”

This is not the formulation used in the ‘Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, Especially Women and Children, supplementing the United Nations Convention against Transnational Organized Crime’ which, in its definition of trafficking, treats victim consent as being irrelevant only if any of the listed unsavoury means have been employed.

The IPC formulation diverges from that seen in international law and reflects the Indian social tendency to deny some people agency, particularly if they happen to be women. And, as an aside, the IPC also makes it difficult to contemplate the legitimacy of voluntary sex work not undertaken by an individual in isolation.

The failure to acknowledge a woman's consent to mitigate what would otherwise be a clearcut case of trafficking and, in other circumstances, the refusal to consistently recognise her withholding consent in what would otherwise be (marital) rape may seem unrelated. Nonetheless, they evidence a deep-seated confusion in the law about whether sexual interaction should be legitimised on the basis of ‘consent’ or ‘dominion’, in the sense that some conservative interpretations of scripture began to understand the latter term over a millennium ago.

Men, in that ancient Biblical telling, created in God's image, have God-given dominion over all the Earth's other living beings apparently including women. The understanding that men have primacy seeped into modern Indian law through statutory provisions introduced by the British to the country which, being patriarchal itself, was receptive to them. Even where we've tried to modernise the law to negate dominion, we haven't fully embraced consent as the IPC definition of trafficking shows.

The patriarchal structure of the law is finally being challenged now although it hasn't been entirely overthrown which is what has resulted in statutory confusion. In courts and beyond, we're questioning laws which criminalise homosexual acts and adultery, and which decriminalise marital rape. We're also engaging with the issue of why the crime of rape shouldn't be relationship- and gender-agnostic.  

Currently, we are at a crossroads. We can choose to cling to the laws and social norms which colonialism and conservatism have left us with, and leave women at the mercy of patriarchy along with men who do not conform to patriarchal expectations of them. Alternatively, we can choose to go down a different path in which each individual’s autonomy holds sway instead of the age-old notion that a patriarch, whether in the form of a living person or a state which exclusively upholds his desires, holds sway.

There is every indication that we will choose not to continue to discriminate against people depending on their sexual orientation and the allied choices they make. We may also see ‘adultery’ as contemplated by criminal law being decriminalised. Perhaps in the not-too-distant future, that courtesy will be extended to every adult at least in relation to their private sexual lives with no-one being subject to another's dominion and each individual's choices in regard to their own life being respected.

Thursday, 12 July 2018

[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.


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 completely struck down. It would therefore probably be prudent to read the provision down so that only those who voluntarily engage in “unnatural” acts without the consent of their partners can be targetted by it.

Having sexual offence law adequately recognise individual rights regardless of gender would require significant legal amendments, which are unlikely to see the light of day within the lifetime of most adults now alive. In the meantime, the least we should aim to do is ensure that tinkering with the law causes as little harm and as much good as is possible.

(Read the entire piece at Scroll: Rape laws: Why the Supreme Court must read down Section 377 – but not strike it down in its entirety )

Wednesday, 11 July 2018

Death on Ganeshkhind Road

One of the world's gravest pandemics broke out in the late nineteenth century: a plague in Asia which originated in Hong Kong in 1894. It awakened memories of the Black Death in Europe that had wreaked havoc on the continent a few hundred years previously.

The spread of the plague into India made Europe fear that it could spread father and affect Europe too, leading it to threaten an embargo against Indian goods in 1897 at an international conference in Venice.

It didn't take long for the British to pass the Epidemics Act in India after there came into being a clear threat to their money-making enterprise in the country. The then new-fangled law gave officials sweeping powers to search properties persons, and to destroy much so as to contain the plague.

British efforts towards plague containment tended towards the brutish and weren't welcomed by Indians. And, yet, despite its chequered history, the 1897 Epidemics Act has remained one of the best legal tools at our disposal to address epidemics, and it has been invoked more than once in recent years.

A Public Health Act which intended to be more sensitive has been in the works although the outrage which anti-epidemic measures generated during the Raj has simply not been visible in independent India. The law's aim is now to protect public health. Profits for non-Indians aren't a factor. While less paternalism in the law would be fantastic, laws, as the Indian experience with the Epidemics Act demonstrates, ultimately become what people make them.

Soon after Epidemics Act was passed in 1897,  Pune's plague commissioner, Rand, and his military escort, were killed by the Chaphekar brothers on Ganeshkhind road after Rand outraged the local people with his methods of enforcing the law.

When Rand was killed, he was heading to the nearby Governor's house, which has become the main building in the university, for a celebration. After Independence, there were plans to turn the Governor's summer residence into a deer park but a proposal to have it be a university ultimately prevailed.

Ganeshkhind Road itself was once a stunningly-beautiful tree-lined avenue, and remained so for decades even after India became independent. At some point, a large fountain with light turquoise tiles was constructed at the entrance to the university at one end of the road. People would gather in the evenings: children playing in the pool and street vendors selling snacks nearby.

The fountain has now made way for a workaday flyover though there still stands a memorial to the Chapekar brothers on the road. In 2018, a stamp featuring one of the brothers, Damodar Hari Chapekar, was also issued by India Post, and the three brothers not been forgotten. 

(Pics found online: the stamp featuring Damodar Hari Chapekar,  an old Raphael Tuck pic of Ganeshkhind road, and Govt House)

Thursday, 24 May 2018

Domestic Violence, Améry, and Tagore

Random thoughts upon re-reading Améry 

In At the Mind's Limits, Jean Améry begins by investigating the point of the intellect and the experience of the intellectual in harsh circumstances. He then moves on to torture, homelessness, and resentment. He's snarky, aggressive, and invariably spot on. Much of what Améry says mirrors the experience of domestic violence, I suspect, although I doubt that that ever crossed Améry's mind : it was the Holocaust that he was writing of.

A passage in which he admits to not knowing what dignity is particularly struck me:

"I must confess that I don't know exactly what that is: human dignity. One person thinks he loses it when he finds himself in circumstances that make it impossible for him to take a daily bath. Another believes he loses it when he must speak to an official in something other than his native language. In one instance human dignity is bound to a certain physical convenience, in the other to the right of free speech, in still another perhaps to..."

I don't know what having dignity is but I'm quite certain that being dignified in most circumstances means ensuring that others are not made to feel uncomfortable by one's forcing them to contend with how far from the ideal they are especially when one faces injustice oneself and they are complicit in the infliction of violence through their silence. (So much for the wonders of dignity!)

A daughter recently had a beautiful essay published in tribute to her mother who had once been married to a prominent Indian lawyer who had abused her. It spoke of a time before cell phones but it made me think of how the essay entirely aside, even today, being well-placed doesn't necessarily ensure that a woman facing domestic abuse won't bleed to death on her living room floor. It reminded me that the tale of the "rich" abused woman who's up against a richer man finding herself without aid worth mentioning is nowhere near new. And it made me think of dignity and beauty.

Tagore had once examined beauty through the lens of Romantic poetry  Keats, Shelley, and Wordsworth  and Advaita Hindu philosophy. The latter, he had apparently explained in a letter to a European person saying: “The first stage towards freedom is the Shantam, the true peace, which can be attained by subduing self; the next stage is the Shivam, the true goodness, which is the activity of the Soul when the self is subdued. And then the Advaitam, the love, the oneness with all and with god.” And, in the essay (entitled The Poet's Religion), he highlighted that life must be 'a continual process of synthesis, and not of additions' if our activities are to avoid 'the insane aspect of the eternally unfinished'.

"What is the truth of this world?" Tagore asked, answering his own question stating:

"It is not in the masses of substance, not in the number of things, but in their relatedness, which neither can be counted, nor measured, nor abstracted. [....] What is constantly before us, claiming our attention, is not the kitchen, but the feast; not the anatomy of the world, but its countenance. There is the dancing ring of seasons; the elusive play of lights and shadows, of wind and water; the many-coloured wings of erratic life flitting between birth and death. The importance of these does not lie in their existence as mere facts, but in their language of harmony, the mother-tongue of our own soul, through which they are communicated to us.
[I]f beauty were mere accident, a rent in the eternal fabric of things, then it would hurt, would be defeated by the antagonism of facts. Beauty is no phantasy, it has the everlasting meaning of reality. The facts that cause despondence and gloom are mere mist, and when through the mist beauty breaks out in momentary gleams, we realise that Peace is true and not conflict, Love is true and not hatred; and Truth is the One, not the disjointed multitude. We realise that Creation is the perpetual harmony between the infinite ideal of perfection and the eternal continuity of its realisation; that so long as there is no absolute separation between the positive ideal and the material obstacle to its attainment, we need not be afraid of suffering and loss. This is the poet's religion.
This great world, where it is a creation, an expression of the infinite — where its morning sings of joy to the newly awakened life, and its evening stars sing to the traveller, weary and worn, of the triumph of life in a new birth across death,— has its call for us. The call has ever roused the creator in man, and urged him to reveal the truth, to reveal the Infinite in himself. It is ever claiming from us, in our own creations, co-operation with God, reminding us of our divine nature, which finds itself in freedom of spirit. Our society exists to remind us, through its various voices, that the ultimate truth in man is not in his intellect or his possessions; it is in his illumination of mind, in his extension of sympathy across all barriers of caste and colour; in his recognition of the world, not merely as a storehouse of power, but as a habitation of man's spirit, with its eternal music of beauty and its inner light of the divine presence."

What that means isn't always entirely clear in terms of what it takes to make the world a better place. There was a time when I'd thought that it was no bad thing that most men can be bribed to do what is right with the promise or hope of career enhancement or some other inducement. Because doing what is right counts whatever the circumstances, I'd imagined. But I'm increasingly beginning to think doing what it right is not enough unless one's personal life mirrors one's public politics. The lawyer who supports women's education but leaves his wife at risk of death or the lawyer who, half a century later and half a world away, advocates anti-violence legislation only to be violent at home is replaceable. The cost of supporting a person who has no legitimate claim to anyone's support simply because one celebrates their politics is both high and unnecessary.

Améry had pointed out that as humans, when we are in trouble, we are conditioned to expect help and we usually receive it though, of course, not when one is in the clutches of the state and the state is malignant. There is no help for an abused woman either when she are in the clutches of a man who has the power of the state over her supported by a patriarchal society, his own aura of reasonableness, and his claim to power within the state. To her, he is the state and he is malignant.

Sunday, 22 April 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.)

Thursday, 19 April 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.