Tanya Chaudhary’s piece follows from Sunalini Kumar’s as part of a broader discussion on displacement and the disproportionate effects it has on women. In particular, the reorganisation of urban space has gendered effects that lead to the further exclusion of women from public spaces.
Featured image above: Author’s own
In the background of consequences of reorganization of urban space, this blog highlights the aftermath of the displacement of the working-class to the periphery. It uses the case study of a peripheral region of Delhi, called Narela, to show that this new site was marked with contestations and conflicts. Narela is located in the northern part of Delhi, situated 30-40 km from the centre of the city (Figure 1). I discuss one important aspect of displacement, which the field-stories offered – that of ‘Placelessness’ amongst a displaced community and how it is – produced and reproduced at places of residence and work.
Resettlement always has its own contestations and there was a restructuring of the social lives of people of the Narela resettled basti (slum) dwellers, especially with the absence of basic infrastructure.
Through the creation of resettlement colonies, albeit through processes of displacement, the ‘urban poor’ was included into the legal/formal ambits of city. However, these ways of inclusion intensified a certain kind of exclusion - struggling for livelihood, basic infrastructure, housing and social dignity. An intense impact on women’s lives was seen resulting in loss of their employment and an added burden of household activities residing in an area with no access to basic resources such as water, electricity, ration or proper housing.
Placelessness post Displacement
The built environment of resettlement colonies with poor housing structure, no proper drainage and sewerage, water facilities, and narrow roads signified poverty and therefore was translated into the ways they were perceived by the already existing local communities (Varga, 2013). The resettlement colonies were not able to provide these people with a sense of security because of a sense of disorientation and placelessness after displacement. On my pilot field-visit in December 2017, I witnessed a commotion post an episode of brutal violence against an ASHA (Accredited Social Health Activist, who are always women) worker in Pocket 11, who retaliated and filed a complaint against illegal selling of alcohol in Narela, because the men would spend most of their income there. There were a few women in the resettlement colony with the ASHA worker who went ahead and filed a police complaint. Later during the conversation about this incident with women, respondents of Pocket 11, opened up about alcoholism becoming a household problem for which the ASHA worker and a few others rightly raised their voice.
The women revealed that alcoholism and drugs have made it difficult for them to walk freely in their own neighbourhood streets and use public spaces. It not only had increased financial burden on women of the households but had also pushed young girls to dropout from school and take home-based work, which brought them to the judgement of the community members.
Hence in many cases of harassment or violence the women and young girls get no support from the community members. While narrating the whole incident, a woman mentioned, ‘Everyone was recording the incident but not one came in her support while it is everyone’s problem’. Alcoholism was exacerbated as a problem post resettlement because of a lack of community support to women to speak out against it in contrast with the support of community members they received when they were in ‘Delhi’ (the term used by resettled workers for core areas of Delhi from where they were replaced). Men of Pocket 11 had their own perspective about alcoholism, explaining that they mostly fell off the wagon and gave in to addiction because of loss of earlier employment opportunities and a long duration of struggle while resettling.
Besides the above factors, the vacant and unregulated spaces in Narela provided further opportunities to young men for using it to consume alcohol or drugs, which they could not do on the streets of resettlement colonies. The men from the local community also used these spaces for consuming alcohol and hanging out.
The Delhi Development Authority commercial complexes and community spaces in Narela resettlement colony were public spaces which have become highly masculine spaces while women are usually left with home spaces and streets of resettlement colonies to socialize with no safe spaces around for their mobility.
On asking women about usage of Baraat Ghar (community space) in the resettlement colony of Pocket 8, women said they used it for teaching stitching and embroidery to young girls for a while, but because men and young boys started using it for drugs in the evening or late at night, parents stopped sending the girls. The space is now vacant and is only used by men and young boys. The park in Pocket 4 was used by boys to play or to smoke marijuana which made the space inappropriate for girls and women. The women only felt safe on the streets of the resettlement colonies or inside their homes.
The women of the resettled household found no work as domestic workers, which they had lost due to resettlement. The households of the local community did not prefer to employ women from the resettlement colony. Aware of this bias, women from the displaced community therefore preferred working in industries or home-based work. Violence associated with the resettlement colonies is inherently linked with the moral geography of Narela, which feeds into the process of how this space is perceived and further conceived. In an interview, Neeldaman Khatri, Member of the Legislative Assembly for Narela, had spoken about pushing for better law and order situation in Narela for assuring safety of women, which otherwise is known for not being safe for women. The violence, illegalities and everyday politics of space were not often resisted by the residents because of severed ties and a lack of solidarity amongst community members after resettlement. The moral panic was not only about the working-class community but also about certain religious and ethnic communities. The locals in Narela believed that the resettled slum dwellers used the place ‘inappropriately’ and their behavior, eating habits, religious practices would harm the meanings associated with the place. The presence of the working class in industry spaces, however, was not met with any tension, because that was assumed to be their place.
The displacement of working-class communities to resettlement colonies in the periphery of Delhi became a part of Delhi’s Resettlement and Rehabilitation Scheme. However, as evident from the above accounts drawing on lived experiences of women, the displacement has not only placed them in a space which harbours resentment, conflict and violence but has also weakened their networks and access to support of their community. Lack of government schools (ibid), accessible public spaces and employment opportunities for educated girls and land uses designed with no coherence, restrict the mobility of girls and make the place unsafe for women. The resettlement had an opportunity to set an example for co-creating safe spaces for working-class women. The failure of planning policies to adequately plan for inclusive spaces is also an inevitable result of the lack of effort to involve communities in the planning process.
 Varga, J. J. 2013. Hell’s Kitchen and the Battle for Urban Space: Class Struggle and Progressive Reform in New York City, 1894-1914. New York: NYU Press
Dr. Tanya Chaudhary is presently working as an Associate Fellow at the Institute for Human Development. She has a PhD in Development Studies from Ambedkar University Delhi and was a recipient of Junior Research/Senior Research Fellowship from UGC during her PhD. Prior to this she had pursued Master’s in Geography from Jawaharlal Nehru University followed by another Masters in Regional Planning from School of Planning and Architecture, Delhi. She had briefly worked at Town and Country Planning Organisation, Delhi as a Research consultant before joining a full-time PhD course. She has been a PhD exchange student at the Department of Geography, Indiana University Bloomington.
Her research work and publications contributes to the discipline of Urban Studies, Labour Geography, Migration Studies and Gender and Development. At IHD, Delhi she is managing and researching on a project on Tribal Migration from Rajasthan. She has also contributed to other projects on Social Security in the organised sector, UNICEF project on Cash Transfer Scheme for girl child and upcoming Delhi Human Development Report.
The authors from the Displacements Project draw attention to the different pathways of care that sexual violence victim-survivors take to address their needs. Focus groups were conducted across four sites in DRC and Somalia.
Decades of conflict in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and Somalia have displaced millions within and across borders. This has been exacerbated by natural disasters such as floods, tsunamis, droughts, famine, and even locust infestations. Internally displaced persons (IDPs) have settled in urban and rural areas, in segregated camps, or have been integrated in ‘host’ populations. These conflicts have severely eroded the state’s capacity to provide healthcare as well as administer justice and rule of law, making sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV) difficult to address holistically. In the state’s absence, people turn to alternative ‘social connections’ including international and local NGOs, indigenous healers, and community elders.
Interested in mapping out these social connections,we conducted focus groups separated by gender across four sites in South Kivu, DRC, and five sites near Kismayo and Garowe, Somalia. We asked the participants where people go if they experience deep sadness, persistent physical pain, or SGBV.i
Participants noted that SGBV was perpetrated at the household/domestic level by spouses or close family members; at the community level by somebody outwith the household yet known in the community; and in DRC, by armed combatants, which leads to severe physical harm, often requiring hospitalisation. In response, victims turn to different pathways to address their needs. Proximal pathways can include friends, families, or neighbours, who may witness violence, offer material and/or emotional support, although they may also be the perpetrators of violence. This discussion among women about domestic rape in Katogota, DRC demonstrates the complexity of proximal pathways:
Woman 1: ‘You go to a friend because talking with someone frees you up and makes you feel better.
Woman 2: ‘I think we should tell the mother who is the president of the church because at least she can’t tell everyone in the village your secret because she is wise and God-fearing.’
Woman 3: ‘I think it’s best to turn to your parents because they will always be there with you despite your decision.’
Woman 4:‘A neighbour—’
[People in the group yell and interrupt and say telling a neighbour is a bad idea because they will tell everybody your secret.]
Healthcare pathways include a spectrum from care for life-threatening injury to treatment for things such as STIs. Both DRC and Somalia have access to care for extreme violence. However, due to stigmatisation and costs, there is less uptake for ongoing health support. Through local organisations such as the Mukwege Foundation, DRC has more access to professional psychosocial support, although this is difficult to access in rural peripheries. In both countries, victims access informal emotional support through proximal pathways as well as religious or informal financial groups.
Justice pathways are the means to seek amends or redress for SGBV harms. In the DRC, international actors are heavily involved in the justice system, yet impunity for armed combatant perpetrators is often the norm.
A woman in Kavumu, DRC made this clear by saying, ‘I would advise them to go to the state, but we know that the state will not give any help.’ In the absence of the state, when domestic or community level sexual violence occurs, informal, customary, or clan-based justice is applied.
In DRC this often means that sexual assault is addressed by family or ethnic leaders resulting in mediated marriages, which are unwelcome to the women victims. In Somalia, clan elders agree on material compensation, known as xeer in Somali, whereby wealth is transferred to families/clans, but not the victims. Participants in both countries said this gendered justice system did not lead to a sense of justice, which exacerbates mental health harm from SGBV. A woman in Kismayo made clear their exasperation with justice when reflecting on a rape case involving a young girl, which went through clan elders:
When a case like this happens, the traditional leaders take over the case, and the case is not taken up by the rule of law agencies. This needs to change. The perpetrators must get harsh punishment so that it will be a lesson for those who are inclined to do similar horrible crimes.
Despite the erosion of the state in DRC and Somalia, there are still state and local organisations and institutions providing health, mental health, and justice services. In Somalia, this is ad hoc, and not systematically integrated. In South Kivu, the Panzi Foundation, founded by Nobel Peace Prize winner Dr. Denis Mukwege, administers Panzi Hospital, which incorporates locally-based wraparound economic, medical, psychosocial, and justice support and advocacy, offering a model for post-conflict situations. This ‘one-stop’ model provides free trauma sensitive medical and psychosocial care to victims and families; advocates to state actors and local community leaders; gives legal aid; and provides livelihood training and start-up funding. We contend that supporting healing for SGBV victims requires similarly holistic syncing of pathways of health, mental health, and justice, which must involve the state, international, and indigenous institutions and actors. This necessitates a comprehensive understanding of local milieus, including the cultural logics behind where people actually turn to for care. It is not enough simply to address the barriers to formal systems.
This blog comes from the recently published article, ‘Pathways to care: IDPs seeking health support and justice for sexual and gender-based violence through social connections’. The co-authors—Clayton Boeyink, Mohamed A Ali-Salad, Esther Wanyema Baruti, Ahmed S. Bile, Jean-Benoît Falisse, Leonard Muzee Kazamwali, Said A. Mohamoud, Henry Ngongo Muganza, Denise Mapendo Mukwege, Amina Jama Mahmud—are based at the Somali Institute for Development and Research Analysis in Somalia, the Université Evangélique en Afrique/Centre d’Excellence Denis Mukwege in DRC, and the University of Edinburgh and are collaborating on a ESRC/Global Challenges Research Fund (GCRF) project aiming to help Somali and Congolese displaced people to access healthcare associated with protracted displacement, conflict, and sexual and gender-based violence (displacement.sps.ed.ac.uk/).
A special thanks to research assistants supporting data collection in DRC: Arcene Kisanga, Naomie Amina Mirindi, and Blandine Mushagalusa Ndamuso; and in Somalia: Mohamud Adan Ahmed, Omar Yusuf Ahmed, Mohammed Fahim Bishar, Muna Mohamed Hersi, Anisa Said Kulmiye, Ahmed Mohamed Mohamoud, and Amina Mohamed Nor.
It’s December 10, Human Rights Day, and we’ve reached the end of #16DaysBlogathon for the global #16DaysofActivism against Gender-based Violence for another year.
The 16 Days Blogathon Team
It’s December 10 – Human Rights Day – and the 16 Days of Activism against Gender-Based Violence comes to an end for another year. So, too, does our 2021 Blogathon. Over the last 16 days we have posted daily to raise awareness of gender-based violence as our way of supporting the global campaign.
This year, the theme has been Histories, Legacies, Myths and Memories.
Through our remarkable contributors, we have surfaced the voices and perspectives of victims, survivors and activists from the recent past to antiquity, and across multiple geographies, and traced the legacies reverberating through the decades and centuries.
Over the last 16 Days we have travelled from Australia to India, Scotland to the Caribbean, and Mexico to England.
Through personal testimony, memoir, reportage, formal archive, immersive field experience and oral history as well as through literature and traditional music and storytelling we have reflected upon the lessons to be learned from the past.
Ultimately a focus on histories, legacies, myths and memories provides us with an important tool. It helps us to identify what is distinct and different about the moment and location we inhabit and what we share in common across time and space. In moving forward in the struggle to expose and address gender-based violence we argue that these histories are a rich resource to inspire and motivate today’s feminist practices and pedagogies.
The 16 Days Blogathon is a collaborative project co-hosted by genderED at University of Edinburgh, the Gendered Violence Research Network at the University of New South Wales, and the Centre for Publishing at Dr B R Ambedkar University Delhi.
The blog posts in a nutshell
Every #16DaysBlogathon is summarised below.
Content note: posts inevitably address distressing experiences and issues around sexual and gender-based violence. We hope they also provoke, energise, create solidarity, and sometimes uplift
Award-winning folk singer, songwriter and storyteller, Karine Polwart, reflects on a Scottish folk tradition of ballads about violence against women. She argues such archives and catalogues require critical intervention so that we can navigate and cherish traditional sources with a contemporary understanding of gender-based violence.
Almost 50 years on, Anne Summers writes about the opening of Elsie Women’s Refuge in 1974. This blog highlights the importance of the brave and selfless refuge workers who have devoted their lives to helping other women try and leave violence behind.
By Garima Singh, Assistant Professor at the Vivekananda Institute of Professional Studies
Garima Singh engages with the everyday resistance posed by women’s folk songs to the dominant social structure and their response to domestic violence in their own melody. She highlights that women have been conscious of their everyday struggle and, individually and in solidarity, pose a potent threat to the dominant.
By Lili Pâquet, Lecturer in Writing at the University of New England, Australia
Lili Pâquet discusses her research which aims to discover if true crime podcasts can offer informal justice to victim-survivors who feel dissatisfied with the formal police and court systems of Australia. She uses the examples of Trace and The Teacher’s Pet which discovered new witnesses in unsolved murder cases and led to arrests and coronial inquests.
By Balvinder Kaur Saund, Chair of the Sikh Women’s Alliance
This blog features a conversation with Balvinder Kaur Saund who has been at the frontline of activism within the UK’s Sikh community for over two decades. The London-based Sikh Women’s Alliance is an organisation which galvanizes women to tackle the deep-rooted attitudes and structures that fuel gender-based violence and constrain communities from tackling it.
By Maha Krayem Abdo (OAM), CEO of Muslim Women Australia
Maha Krayem Abdo writes about the history of Muslim Women Australia, who have led the way in centering the needs of culturally and linguistically diverse and faith-based communities. She highlights the healing and therapeutic nature of utilising faith as a tool for empowerment, with a client-centred focus to maintain a client’s dignity at every stage of support.
By Ulrike Roth, Ancient Historian at the University of Edinburgh
In this post, Ulrike Roth explores evidence from the ancient Roman world to raise questions about our preparedness to confront the issue of sexual violence against children, then and now. She discusses how acknowledging the ambiguities in the ancient evidence, and listening more carefully to the signs of abuse in it, helps to ingrain in our mindsets the kind of sensitivised attitude that is so essential in identifying and combating sexual violence today.
By Tanuja Kothiyal, Professor of History in the School of Liberal Studies, Dr. B. R. Ambedkar University Delhi
Tanuja Kothial discusses the portrayal of marginalised women and gendered violence in oral narratives and Hindu epic literature. While these narratives provide voice to marginal communities and groups, even within these traditions women’s locations remain marginal and mostly within respect to male figures.
In this blog, writer Hazel Atkinson explores ‘feminist’ reinterpretations and reclaiming of myths which historically have perpetuated violence against women. She asks the important question: Does repeatedly depicting the violence women face, even with the best of intentions, challenge or contribute to it?
Catherine Dwyer, writer and director of the film Brazen Hussies, reflects on the Women’s Liberation Movement and the work of Bessie Guthrie – a feminist and campaigner for child welfare reforms. Through her collaboration with the Women’s Liberation movement, she attracted media attention resulting in an exposé on the abuse of girls in state care and the barbaric act of forced virginity testing.
By Nancy Yadav, PhD candidate in Gender Studies at the School of Human Studies at Dr B R Ambedkar University Delhi
Nancy Yadav writes about stereotypes embedded in myth and colonial history that oppress the Bonda tribal women in India. While the recorded history of the Bonda community intersects with gender-based violence, Bonda women continue to bring rays of hope, interrogating negative stereotypes that they are born in to and repositioning their identity.
By Hannah McGlade, Noongar woman, Senior Indigenous Research Fellow at Curtin University and an Advisor to the Noongar Council for Family Safety and Wellbeing
In this blog, Hannah McGlade highlights how Aboriginal women have consistently voiced concern about state indifference and violence that contributes directly and indirectly to the violence that is blighting the lives of too many women and children. A standalone National Action Plan and recognition of the fundamental right of self-determination is needed to combat the systemic and structural discrimination that contributes to violence against Aboriginal women.
By Sarah Easy, human rights lawyer and research assistant for the Australian Human Rights Institute
Sarah Easy discusses the anti-gender based violence movement in Mexico and the practice of dismantling public monuments or ‘statue toppling’. She considers whether the dismantling of the old and rebuilding of new public monuments is merely symbolic, or whether it can engender genuine cultural change.
By Rachna Mera, Assistant Professor in the Urban Studies Program (SGA), Dr. B. R Ambedkar University Delhi
Rachna Mehra traces the legacies of Partition-era gender-based violence and abductions on community relations and consensual inter-faith marriages in contemporary India. She argues that whether it was 1947 or it is 2021, the honour of the Hindu family, community and nation is inextricably linked with a woman’s body.
By Janeille Zorina Matthews, multi-disciplinary criminal justice scholar, The University of the West Indies Cave Hill campus, Barbados
Janeille Matthews offers a critical perspective into the story of the ‘masked serial rapist’ in Antigua and how it frames gender-based violence. She argues that Antiguans need to hear a different story about crime and sexual violence, one that includes a historical understanding of the intra-racial sexual violence that existed during slavery and its post-emancipation aftermath and is grounded in 50 years of police data.
By Kristy M Stewart, New College Collections Curator and School of Scottish Studies Archivist, Centre for Research Collections, University of Edinburgh
This blog considers the role of the archivist and the problems of taking a neutral voice in curation when many stories are underpinned by gendered violence and silencing women’s voices. Kristy Stewart argues that the re-telling of such stories should give women and girls a voice that their history should have had all along.
By Mara Keire, Senior Research Fellow at the Rothermere American Institute, University of Oxford
Mara Keire discusses her research on rape in the 20th century and how the rhetoric of ‘it was different back then’ enables the justification of men’s sexually predatory behaviour. She argues that studying the history of sexual violence serves to obliterate the idea that rapists are solitary ‘bad apples’. Instead, researchers can uncover the networks of complicity that reinforce male power.
Building upon the previous blog, Mara Schmueckle discusses the medieval Scottish notarial record on Janet Lausoun, who was abducted and forced into marriage. The story highlights the burden placed on women where their credibility is measured against expectations of the behaviour of “real victims.”
By Ann Curthoys, Department of History at the University of Sydney, Catherine Kevin, College of Humanities, Arts and Social sciences at Flinders University and Zora Simic, Historian and Gender Studies scholar, Faculty of Arts, Design and Architecture at the University of New South Wales
In this blog, the contributors discuss their research which aims to capture the first national history of domestic violence against women in Australia. In doing so, they are working to understand the significant changes over time in public discourse, legal frameworks and activism to combat domestic violence, and to understand how and why domestic violence has wreaked such enormous damage on women, children and society as whole from the 19th century to present.
By Charlotte James Robinson, doctoral researcher at the University of Glasgow’s Centre for Gender History
Charlotte James Robinson reflects on the International Conference on Violence, Abuse and Women’s Citizenship, held in November 1996. The conference was considered a remarkable culmination of two decades of feminist activism against gender-based violence. She discusses the success of the conference in including the voices of all women working on gender-based violence.
By Monimalika Day, Associate Professor at the School of Education Studies, Dr B R Ambedkar University Delhi and Deputy Director, Centre for Publishing
Monimalika Day discusses how education students grapple with stories, memories and narratives of gender-based violence. A range of experiences are shared, with variations in the degree of violence, the relationship with the perpetrator, the nature of oppression, the site of the violence, each a powerful testimony of dehumanization. However, this approach often challenges the instructor to move beyond the well-defined space of a syllabus and explore uncharted waters.
Tereza Valny, Teaching Fellow at the University of Edinburgh, Department of History
In this blog, Tereza Valny discusses the challenges of teaching about historical case studies of sexual violence and how this may impact students and create feelings of anxiety, tension and distress. She asks the important question: what can we do as instructors to face these inevitable dilemmas that arise from teaching material which has the potential to traumatise and re-traumatise?
By Anubha Sinha, Alumni Dr B R Ambedkar University Delhi and Consultant at PRADAN
Anubha Sinha reflects on the immersive action research she conducted in Dokal in the state of Chhattisgarh, India, where she formed a collective of forty women who had experienced domestic violence. The blog highlights how these strong women are taking small steps every day to survive and bring attention to the injustice of gender-based violence.
By Claire E. Aubin, PhD candidate at the University of Edinburgh’s School of Divinity, and Emily Rose Hay, PhD scholar situated between the School of History, Classics and Archaeology and the School of Law at the University of Edinburgh
Co-convenors of the Emotionally Demanding Histories Group Claire E. Aubin and Emily Rose Hay discuss how researching sensitive topics, such as gender-based violence, can present ethical and methodological dilemmas and impact the person’s emotional health. They consider how we can engage with traumatic histories in a way that does not cause further harm to researchers, but which does justice to the stories we are telling.
By Jan Breckenridge, Professor and Head of School of Social Sciences and Co-Convenor of the Gendered Violence Research Network, UNSW Sydney and Mailin Suchting, Manager of the Gendered Violence Research Network, UNSW Sydney
This blog highlights that social action in the 1970s and 1980s meant that it was no longer possible to ignore domestic violence, rape and the sexual assault of children. The results of this work were tangible with a proliferation of women’s health and sexual assault services, survivor groups and government policy development. There is no doubt that these changes established child and adult sexual assault as a serious and prevalent issue. But is our world a safer place?
By Kyllie Cripps, Scientia Fellow and Associate Professor in the Faculty of Law and Justice and Co-Convenor of the Gendered Violence Research Network at UNSW, Sydney
It is widely understood that gender-based violence disproportionately impacts Indigenous populations compared to other population groups. And yet, why are their lives not honoured or mourned or valued in the same way? Kyllie Cripps discusses the silencing of Indigenous women and girls’ experiences of violence and how Indigenous women continue to speak up and speak back to the narratives constructed about their victimhood.
By Sumangala Damodaran, Professor of Economics, Development Studies and Popular Music Studies at Dr. B. R. Ambedkar University Delhi
Sumangala Damodaran discusses how songs about gender-based violence have been a significant element of wider struggles in India. They have been written spontaneously as part of various campaigns and social and political events that brought issues to the fore, including before the mass mobilisation of the women’s movement in the 1970s. Songs depicting the lives of women, and particularly focusing on the violence that is inflicted, have had to edge their way into larger repertoires around class, caste, racial and ethnic discrimination.
A course on families in the department of education is usually designed to enable educators to begin to understand the structures, functions and perspectives of families from various backgrounds. Discussion on developing partnerships with families often focuses on issues of trust, respect, reciprocity and responsiveness.
As a faculty in the field of education one attempts to follow the principles of critical pedagogy “read the word” and “read the world” (Shor & Freire, 1987, p.135). In India and many other parts of the world, the majority of the students in education discipline are women. As our students grapple with these concepts of respect and trust, often stories, memories and narratives of gender violence slowly begin to emerge. A range of experiences are shared, with variations in the degree of violence, the relationship with the perpetrator, the nature of oppression, the site of the violence, each a powerful testimony of dehumanization. However, this approach often challenges the instructor to move beyond the well-defined space of a syllabus and explore uncharted waters.
The instructor introduces students to some of the key terms related to engaging with families and encourages them to reflect on their experiences to make sense of the words.
Respect refers to an acknowledgement and acceptance of the boundaries that exist between persons. Boundaries are markers that simultaneously connect and distinguish one from others…When these boundaries are crossed without permission, that person feels disturbed or even violated. When boundaries are acknowledged and crossed with permission, trust and connection are supported
Shor & Freire, 1987, p. 43
As students grapple with these concepts of respect and trust, often narratives of gender violence slowly begin to emerge. A range of experiences are shared, with variations in the degree of violence, the relationship with the perpetrator, the nature of oppression, the site of the violence, each a powerful testimony of dehumanization.
Is family a safe space?
Family is often assumed to be a safe space, a nurturing environment supported by a network of trustworthy relationships and yet it is the site for many of these violent incidents. One disclosure concerned a woman in her early twenties, who had repeatedly been molested by a cousin in the extended family. Her efforts to fight this had met with failure to find someone willing to support her. An uncle who visits the family found opportunities to molest her too in her home. Issues of gender and economic security interact to create a vulnerable situation. Her circumstances are complicated by the fact that her mother is a widow and does not have a source of income. So she encourages her daughter to remain silent for fear of facing social isolation, extreme poverty and perhaps a life worse than what they have. This narrative highlights the long struggle of a woman trying to live with dignity in the family in which she is born.
Other narratives focus on the new relationships that women forge through marriage. With great anticipation, a newlywed woman travels with her husband to a secluded resort in the forests for her honeymoon. Her dreams turn into a terrible nightmare as she is tied up and raped by her husband and his friend for three days. She is shocked, dazed and unable to recall the details of this ordeal, which the judicial system demands of women like her. Upon returning to her husband’s home she manages to run away and get support from an ageing father.
However, seeking justice is a long, uncertain and tiring journey. For eight years she struggled to simply get a divorce. No action could be taken against the husband or his family as he lived abroad and managed to exploit the loopholes in the justice system. This was perhaps the most violent narrative that emerged in class. The narratives are uncomfortable both for the instructor and the students, and pose several teaching dilemmas.
The instructor and the students remained silent for a long period of time, no one moved when this story was shared. One could only hear the uncontrollable sobbing of the narrator, and sniffles of other students as they tried to desperately control their tears. It was as if a dark and heavy cloud had settled in the class, and infused a deep sense of helplessness, frustration and anger. The class was extended by an hour but no one left. As the instructor struggled to find words to end the class, the teaching assistant spontaneously began to sing and was joined by others “Ruk jana nahi too kahin haar kei, kato pei chalke milenge saare jahan se” (Do not stop when you face failure, walk on the bed of thorns to meet the world), a popular Hindi film song. Perhaps one can find a voice in the world of arts when the rational world of words fail.
Occasionally, the narratives follow one after another, as the instructor struggles to reflect on the boundaries of the classroom space and her role in facilitating learning. Neither her training, nor a long teaching career has prepared her to process these texts of violence. Critical pedagogy is guided by the principle of “Read the word and read the world.” The instructor attempts to help students make sense of the class readings by connecting it to their lived experiences.
Routinely the instructor refers these students to the counselling centre hoping to hide her feeling of inadequacy. Sometimes they seek counselling and at other times they do not continue therapy. However, often students return to the instructor to continue sharing their challenges and victories. Perhaps the relationship between a teacher and a student provides a safe space for such dialogues to continue as they struggle to have faith in themselves and others. The dialogues and the relationship continue even after students graduate and the frequency only fades with time.
Dr. Monimalika Day is Associate Professor, School of Education Studies, Dr B R Ambedkar University Delhi and currently Deputy Director, Centre for Publishing. She has provided technical assistance to various states in India through the Center for Early Childhood Education and Development and has supervised research projects. Her research interests focus on early stimulation, quality of early childhood programmes, preschool education, inclusion of children with disabilities, teacher education and collaboration between schools and families.
It has long been a part of archival training that archivists bear a neutral voice in describing records in catalogues for their users. Recently, that notion has been actively dispelled as the predominantly white, middle-class profession realises that it brings to bear a white, middle-class perspective on describing, arranging and even collecting archives.
Two examples of this are the following accounts relating to the Gaelic community in the Outer Hebrides in the 1800s in which gender-based violence has been perpetuated or altered, perhaps even sanitised, as they make their way through history. Women have had their names erased (sometimes thankfully) but also their voices – their dissent or distress ignored in favour of a good story or song.
The accounts come from the notebooks of the nineteenth-century Scottish folklorist and antiquarian Dr Alexander Archibald Carmichael (1832 – 1912), which are inscribed in UNESCO’s Memory of the World Register. Held at the University of Edinburgh, this archive contains priceless pieces of Scottish folklore and oral tradition. Perhaps even more precious are the accompanying notes detailing the individuals who recounted or were recounted in charms, songs and stories.
“Màiri Bhòidheach” [Beautiful Mary]: ‘…she could never bear to hear the song’ One jarring example concerns the song “Màiri Bhoidheach”, a highly regarded example of a Gaelic song about unrequited love between a man and a woman. In a notebook from 1877, Carmichael reveals the real story behind the song, which heard in North Uist in the Outer Hebrides. It was written by the local schoolmaster, Alexander Stewart (1764-1821), in the 1890s about Mary MacQueen (1783-1860), the minister’s daughter.
Stewart had a reputation for ‘familiarity with some of his female pupils’. He had moved on because of ill-feeling against him, ‘whether founded or unfounded’, Carmichael’s informant had added. Mary’s physical appearance and character are noted as if to validate the song. It had entered local lore that Mary ‘took such a dislike to the man that she could never bear to hear the song’. Yet this did not stop the performance of Màiri Bhòidheach in her own community and many others for decades to come. How many other pupils might have squirmed or felt relieved that the song was not about them?
This example raises uncomfortable questions for those of us who curate records. Songs and stories about the abuse of vulnerable girls can be preserved as entertainment but to erase them might falsify history.
Alexander Stewart has been remembered as the composer of a beautiful love-song. Mary MacQueen’s story, her hatred of the song and what it truly meant, is little more than a quiet note in the archives.
“…with much quiet humour”
In another entry ‘Eòlas na Budha’ (charm for jaundice), this time from 1883, another young woman’s distress became the object of derision.
Carmichael noted down a long-standing story from South Uist. Angus MacEachen (c.1810-1890), a herd, was called to treat the daughter of Roderick MacMillan ([fl. c.1850]), a neighbouring farmer. Aged 18 or 19, the girl in this story was, Carmichael noted, ‘a stout portly good looking girl’. Angus made a great show of heating a red hot poker, asked her mother to bare the girl’s back and then had everyone leave the girl’s room. He led her to believe that he was going to put the hot poker on her bare back. But at the moment she expected it, he placed a cold piece of iron on her back instead, to her great distress. ‘She roared and roared and screamed causing her mother and all the people in the house to rush into the room’. (Archives reference GB 237 Coll-97/CW87/11)
In the published version, Carmichael writes that the young woman’s “mother and sisters burst open the door, calling on Mary Mother to rescue the maltreated girl, and on Calumcille to redress her wrongs”. Yet the last word belonged to Angus MacEachen himself, who “told of this and similar cases with much humour, but without a smile on his lips, though his eyes sparked, and his countenance glowed with evident appreciation of the scenes.”
Once again, this young woman is identifiable, if not by name in either the notebook or publication by her relatives. That this is how she was ‘cured’ would be known in the community and with Angus’s reputation for curing may have been used as a dramatic example of his abilities. It also has the air of a cautionary tale for other girls/women. This young woman’s lack of choice or control, the indignity and cruel humour embedded in the tale (‘the cure’) would probably have been felt by her for many years.
So, what can the archivist do about these stories and the ways they have been preserved?
In addressing concerns regarding bias or material which could be upsetting to others, we are starting to develop trigger warnings for catalogued material. We are trying to identify the unnamed if it seems possible –in the case of the young woman from South Uist, through her relations. We are trying to use language which is less biased and more empowering, whether it is through using the language the people represented would use themselves or whether it is considering what, as in this instance, the young women involved would think. The perpetuation of acts of violence on women and girls through their re-telling can be de-sanitised by less ‘neutral’ catalogue descriptions giving these women and girls a voice their history should have had all along.
Kirsty M Stewart is the New College Collections Curator and School of Scottish Studies Archivist, Centre for Research Collections, University of Edinburgh. Her undergraduate degrees is in Gaelic Studies from the University of Aberdeen and her postgraduate qualification is in Archival Studies from University College Dublin. She has been an archivist for nearly 25 years.