DAY TWO: Digital Women – Gender Based Violence in the Online Space

What happens when the same digital space that enables women to be who they want to be is also the same space where women become targets of misogynistic threats? This articles delineates the author’s experiences with perpetrators and an unhelpful police force.

I put my story and my voice out into the world. I braced myself – I knew what was coming…

Megan Bellatrix Archibald

Women living in 2020 have an opportunity that many women who came before them did not have – and that is the opportunity to present themselves to the world exactly as they wish to. This is perhaps especially poignant for female-identifying celebrities, who would formerly have had everything they said to the press about their lives come through the filter of a (likely, male) PR representative. However, irrespective of your celebrity status, women now have the opportunity to entirely control the narrative around their own lives, to express their views, their artworks and their expertise to a global audience – at their fingertips. We are entirely in control of our own image, and that’s what fourth-wave feminism is all about, empowering women, utilising the Internet to do it. However, this online space has opened up the opportunity for a new, unique form of gender based violence against women.

Continue reading “DAY TWO: Digital Women – Gender Based Violence in the Online Space”

Day Sixteen | Women, gender-based violence, and resistance in Kashmir

On 5 August 2019, the Indian government annulled Kashmir’s semi-autonomous status and split Indian-administered Kashmir into two federally-administered territories.

Seema Kazi

On 5 August 2019, the Indian government annulled Kashmir’s semi-autonomous status and split Indian-administered Kashmir into two federally-administered territories.  Astonishingly, the promotion of women’s rights was invoked as one of the discourses to justify the revocation of Kashmiri autonomy, whilst at the same time there have been widespread reports of gender-based violence by Indian troops. 

In the run up to the abrogation, the central government mobilised a million troops across the territory of Kashmir in parallel with the unlawful arrest of over 4,000 civilians (especially young boys), widespread use of torture, sexual molestation and harassment of Kashmiri women, together with a climate of extraordinary repression against the local population. Curbs on the media have restricted public access to information on Kashmir.

In addition to these measures, the central government imposed a crippling communications blackout: internet, landline and mobile services were cut off; Kashmiris could no longer stay in touch with each other or know what was happening to them, or indeed about them in Kashmir, or in the world at large. Landline and mobile services have since been partially restored but the ban on the internet continues. 

whats happening in kashmir

Day Fourteen |Gender-based violence: a glimpse of feminist dilemmas in the academy

Cat Wayland, Kamya Choudhary and Radhika Govinda

Feminist cartoon day 14

Artwork by Samia Singh and used with permission and produced as part of the Teaching Feminisms, Transforming Lives Project, a collaboration between Ambedkar University and the University of Edinburgh

The above image is a preview of a (web)comic focused on feminist struggles in the academy, that is currently under development. The (web)comic features 24 pages of beautiful original artwork by illustrators Samia Singh based in Punjab, India, and Shazleen Khan, in London, UK. It is based on roundtable conversations and panel discussions that took place at Ambedkar University Delhi, India in December 2017 and at the University of Edinburgh, Scotland in February 2018 as part of the ongoing Teaching Feminisms, Transforming Lives Project

Continue reading “Day Fourteen |Gender-based violence: a glimpse of feminist dilemmas in the academy”

Day Thirteen | Making connections: Gender-based violence and women’s workforce participation

Sumangala Damodaran

As early as 1818, a group of British women weavers, or ‘Lancashire girls’ were brought to India to train women workers or ‘introduce factory methods of work’ in the Bowreah mill in Hooghly in Bengal. In her captivating account of the presence of women in India’s industrial sector, historian Samita Sen quotes an account by Janet Harvey Kelman, who wrote one of the earliest and most remarkable accounts of Indian labour, and according to whom women were associated with the ‘tragedy’ that surrounded the ‘first efforts to introduce modern mill industry into India’. The British women were released from a prison on an island in the Atlantic into the custody of a certain McAllister, who was the manager of the mill. It is believed that all succumbed later to an epidemic in India.

The presence of women in the industrial labour force in India, particularly in the  and the jute mills of Bengal, has thus been acknowledged from the beginnings of factory labour in India. Not only were women part of the industrial workforce, they also were the subject of numerous debates and controversies around their presence, especially between the introduction of the Factories Act in 1881 that was to regulate the conditions of industrial employment and the First World War.

Expectedly, the debates centred around the supposed contradiction between women’s sexual and reproductive roles in their families and as workers. The anxieties expressed about women’s participation in industrial work and the fear at what this presence outside the home and the family meant was, in this case, mediated by the colonial discourse around the usefulness of the female colonized subject. The debates also encompassed genuine concerns for women’s working conditions and safety in the industrial sector.

More than a century and a quarter later, the Female Workforce Participation Rate (FWPR) in India fell to 26% in 2018 and is seen, alarmingly, to have declined continuously over almost three decades. If we consider the region of South Asia, the pattern is mixed; in some countries, such as Nepal, the figures are quite high, whereas in Pakistan and India, they are declining, in India’s case alarmingly. This is particularly so  when compared to the global level, where women’s global labour force participation rate of around 48 per cent in 2018.

If women are participating less and less in what is conventionally considered ‘work’ or what contributes to the output of the economy, both as paid and unpaid workers, could it have something to do with gender-based violence which is a major contributor to the resilience of patriarchy? As with the ‘tragedy’ of women’s employment from the example of the ‘Lancashire girls’ and their Indian counterparts in the mills of Bengal, how does patriarchy’s continuous reiteration of the contradiction between women’s reproductive and productive or ‘visibly productive’ roles relate to the threat of violence?

It is acknowledged in academic work as well as in policy initiatives that actual violence and the fear of it affects the extent to which women participate in political and social processes. How does the violence that women face within and outside households, in communities and in workplaces impact women’s participation in, access to and exit from work and the workplace?

These are questions that need to be examined from the actual experiences of women with work as well as of violence and it is necessary to develop analytical frames that look at both simultaneously as fundamentally underpinning women’s lives and existence. The literatures that exist around the two axes, of work on the one hand and violence on the other, tend to be mostly mutually exclusive. Violence as an active variable tends to figure only tangentially in analyses of work and the understandings of gender based violence tend to address the structural features of women’s lives as workers only in a limited way.

Gendered analyses of work point out how the complexities of women’s existence and the invisibility of their labour results in complex negotiations between reproductive labour and both paid and unpaid ‘productive’ labour. The threat of violence within the family and from social networks is often seen to keep women out of the labour market or confine them to sectors where their work is considered more acceptable, or remains invisible.

Economic and political conditions within countries, like slumps or political upheavals, are also seen to have social impacts that typically raise the risk and incidence of violence against women. Further, even if, as in many countries in South Asia, the FWPR is very low and also falling, at the same time, there are newer sectors – particularly in services – where women are being employed and seen to be ‘visible’, often having to transgress patriarchal restrictions within families and communities.

The insights provided from actual experiences of work and workplaces could be useful to understand the multifaceted dimensions of gender-based violence. Further, the lens of violence and the dispositions within individuals, families and communities towards women’s work thus could generate rich material that allows for a nuanced understanding of the gendered dimensions of work.

Sumangala Damodaran is a Professor of Economics, Development Studies and Popular Music Studies at Ambedkar University Delhi. As a development economist, her research and publications fall broadly within the rubric of industrial and labour studies. She is also a singer and composer.

Photo reproduced from Fibre2Fashion

Day Thirteen | Witch-branding in Eastern India

Mayur Suresh

witch-huntingImage reproduced from DW

Witchcraft-related beliefs result in violence against women in parts of India, as in other regions of the world. Allegations of witchcraft lead to violence against women, including social boycotts, public humiliation, banishment, torture and lynching. As noted by Philip Alston, the UN Special Rapporteur on Extrajudicial Executions, being accused of witchcraft “is tantamount to receiving a death sentence.” 

In India, witchcraft-related violence against women is more ubiquitous than official statistics suggest. In November this year, an 81-year-old woman, who was accused of witchcraft by other residents of her village, had her face blackened, was garlanded with shoes and forced to walk through her village. In September of this year, a boy hacked his aunt to death, as he thought she was a witch. While men have also been the target of violence following witchcraft allegations, anecdotal evidence suggests that witchcraft accusations are made mostly against women.

The state of Jharkhand has recorded the highest number of witchcraft-related deaths in India. According to official statistics, in the year 2016-17, 19 women were killed on the allegation that they were witches, with 523 women being killed on witchcraft accusations between 2001 and 2016. These statistics reveal a fraction of the problem because they only represent those cases where ‘witchcraft’ is mentioned in the police records as a motive for murder, and they only record the murder of ‘witches’ – leaving the vast majority of violence that results from witchcraft allegations uncounted. 

Jharkhand has enacted a law that criminalises the identification of someone as a witch. Additionally, the law criminalises the rituals performed by an ojha or a witch doctor who the community believes can identify and ‘cure’ witches. However, both anecdotal and statistical evidence suggests that implementation is poor, even when a ‘witch’ has been murdered or assaulted. 

Earlier this year, I conducted preliminary fieldwork in Jharkhand where I met governmental and community-based organisations that engaged people on issues of witchcraft, as well as those who had personal experiences of being accused of witchcraft. A common story runs through many narratives that I came across during this fieldwork. An adversity befalls a family: an illness, an inability to bear children, crop failure or the death or illness of livestock. The family goes to an ojha (who is always a man) to deal with the problem. The ojha may tell the family ‘black magic’ has been performed on the family by a witch and they need to counter-act it. The family then performs a ritual in order to ward off the ‘black magic’. In the event the adversity persists, the ojha might tell the family how to identify the ‘witch’. Often this ‘witch’ will not be named, but rather the ojha will give clues to identify the ‘witch’ – for example, “Next to a pipal tree in your village there is a house with a door that points north. This witch lives around there.” 

After a person is identified, the public accusations begin. Threats are made against the ‘witches’ – warning of dire consequences if the witchcraft is not stopped. Rumours spread and soon other members of the community make similar accusations, claiming that their own illnesses or misfortunes are because of the ‘witch’. What follows is ever-increasing acts of humiliation and violence against the person by the rest of her village.

Witch-branding is therefore not a single act of naming, but is instead a process, where a person is gradually identified as a witch, with more and more people accusing them, accompanied by escalating forms of violence. The initial naming thus has devastating consequences. In addition, witchcraft allegations always take place within communities; often involving an entire village (both men and women) against a few (largely female) individuals. The victims and the perpetrators are usually of the same caste or tribal community, and are very often related – as one person told me, witch-branding is a type of domestic violence, where a family persecutes a few individuals within it. 

It became clear that the women who had personal experiences of being accused of witchcraft often did not know where the accusations originated from. As “everyone knew that [they] were witches,” the stories that were told about them took the form of communal accusations, and no one person could be identified as the accuser. Effectively, these were experienced as anonymous accusations that could neither be rebutted or rationalised. Whereas in other contexts, this form of communal knowledge might be celebrated, here it constitutes a direct threat to the lives and safety of women. 

Incidentally, the people who perpetrate violence against ‘witches’ think of themselves as the victims and the ‘witches’ as the perpetrators. According to a legal NGO in Jharkhand, the accused murderers often confessed to their crimes as they believed they were acting in self-defence. I was also told that people accused of killing ‘witches’ often expressed incredulity at being arrested and prosecuted for murder, “as witches had to be killed.”

Attempts have been made to identify socio-economic indicators of ‘witches’ that sets them apart from their communities. My ethnographic interlocutors, however, resisted attempts to draw such causal connections. They said that ‘witches’ are often as rich or as poor as their accusers, and they often have the same educational level as well. ‘Witches’ can be married, unmarried or widowed; they can have children or be childless. According to one community worker,

“if it is a poor woman who is called a witch, they will say she used black magic because she is jealous of the wealth of others […] if it is a rich woman, then she does it to keep others poor.” 

What remains constant is that ‘witches’ are mostly women. Witchcraft therefore shows us how gender can be experienced as a threat and how a discourse can be built around gender to justify that feeling of threat.

 

Mayur Suresh is a Future of Change India Research Fellow at the Faculty of Law, UNSW, Sydney and a Lecturer in Law at SOAS University of London. His research seeks to bring an anthropological perspective to the study of legal processes. He is currently finishing a book titled ‘Terrorists’ on Trial: Life and Law in Delhi’s Courts. This blog comes out of a new research project on witch-branding laws in Jharkhand.