About the Book
In the last couple of decades, violence as an analytic category has loomed large in the historical, literary and anthropological scholarship of South
Asia. The challenge of thinking violence in its gendered incarnations fully and in all its complexity is not only theoretical or critical but also irreducibly ethical and political, given the proliferation of civil wars, pogroms and riots, fundamentalist movements, insurgencies and counter-insurgencies, and new technologies of violence and injury. All of these simultaneously feature and help constitute gendered actors and gendered scripts of violence.
States of Trauma seeks to examine this terrain by staging a set of questions. How are we to think about the moral charge that accrues to violence? What is the relationship of violence and non- violence? In considering the moral and affective economy of violence, how may we speak of the seduction of the idioms and practices of militarism and sexualized violence for women? How are these seductions/pleasures distinct from those proffered to men if, indeed, they are distinct?
These are some of the many questions that the essays here - that range from addressing the gendered violence of 1947 to the subalternization of the 'bandit queen' Phoolan Devi.
About the Author
Piya Chatterjee is associate professor of women's studies at the University of California, Riverside. Manali Desai is lecturer in Sociology at the London school of Economics.
Parama Roy is associate professor of English at the University of California, Davis.
In the last couple of decades violence as an analytic category has loomed large in the historical, literary and anthropological scholarship of South Asia. The challenge of thinking violence in its gendered incarnations fully and complexly is not only theoretical or critical but also irreducibly ethical and political, given the proliferation of civil wars, pogroms and riots, fundamentalist movements, insurgencies and counter insurgencies, and new technologies of violence and injury. All of these simultaneously feature and help constitute gendered actors and gendered scripts of violence.
To broach a volume on the gendering of violence, trauma, and witnessing in the subcontinent is to locate oneself on terrain at once resonant and familiar. For Gandhi, one of the most significant figures in the thinking of private and public ethics in the modern period, the very experience of modernity (of which colonialism was but one manifestation, though a markedly important one) was the experience of violence. Ironically enough, Frantz Fanon would concur, several decades later, with such a diagnosis though the resolution he sought would be of a different order from Gandhi's. Between them, they provide a complex, and a complexly gendered, map of colonial and postcolonial violence, one that has called for the necessary supplement of feminist thought. The essays in this volume are informed by this multiply stranded genealogy. Together and severally, they address the contradictory and ambiguous nature of the relationship between gender and violence. Thus while some essays address the horrific forms of injury and harm done to women, specifically in the form of rape and torture in communal pogroms and riots, others address the ways in which violence has served desires, aspirations and struggles which are all but negated through the violence done by the post .Colonial state. They represent work done by a generation of emerging scholars, as well as more established ones.
It is important to note that the trouble violence poses for the analysis of historical action or political rationality is not that of Indian historians alone with respect to the Partition, whose traumas were foundational to the thinking of postcoloniality. The anti Tamil pogrom of July 1983 a pogrom that is estimated to have killed between two and three thousand people and rendered many more homeless produced a similar bafflement and incomprehensibility in the Sri Lankan administrative and political orders. Incomprehensibility, horror, and anguish, suggests Pradeep Jeganathan, were the responses of the political order and indeed of many scholars to the slaughter of July 1983, which could not be accorded the conventional political nomenclature of insurrection, uprising, or emergency. In the face of the aphasia of the conventional political and administrative languages, anthropology, he suggests, emerged with an analytic of violence that would render the events more "culturally" legible and less politically disorienting. Managing an epistemological crisis in the disciplines that is also a crisis of state legitimacy, anthropology supplies a new analytic and a new rhetoric to make what was once designated as horror into an ethnically and religiously marked category of comprehensible violence (jeganathan, "Violence as an Analytical Problem"). Jeganathan's caution against the instrumentalization and orientalization that the cognitive recognition of violence can entail is a reminder to us to be mindful of the difficulties that inhere in violence, whether considered as phenomenological occurrence, historical event, or analytic category. We are familiar in the Indian context as well, of the tendentiousness that can sometimes attach to the fetishization of historical violence, as memories of injuries suffered or imagined come to constitute the justificatory ground of new forms of violent accounting.
All these analyses check us from taking the meanings or the effects of violence as transparent or context free. It is important that we honour the difficulties entailed in thinking of violence as a complex and even enigmatic moral phenomenon rather than as something that we always already know in advance and that we can therefore view only censoriously. Notwithstanding Hannah Arendt's famous (and utopian) distinction between power (the realm, for her, of pluralism, mutuality, and equality) and violence (which she sees as reactive, mute, and undiscriminating), Fanon's thesis (in The Wretched of the Earth) on violence in the colonial context should keep us from easy conclusions about violence. So should a consideration of phenomena such as sacrifice, martyr dom, suicide bombing, anticolonial struggle, and so on. Most recently, Talal Asad has invited us to ponder not so much the phenomenon itself of suicide bombing as the helpless horror it almost invariably elicits in liberal societies, as other forms of violence and cruelty do not. Such a focus on the uniquely evil character of suicide terrorism permits a circumvention of the difficult question of "the role of mortal violence in the continuing maintenance of the good political life,"! Likewise, in thinking of alternatives to violence, we might wish to think about the ambivalences, paradoxes, and gendered struggles of nonviolence, Truth and Reconciliation commissions, and the discourse of human rights; a consideration of a figure like Gandhi (who is difficult to bypass in South Asian debates on violence) demonstrates that nonviolence, like violence, is fraught. Indeed, it might be worth juxtaposing these two iconic anti colonial thinkers on violence and nonviolence, both to tease out the ways in which they map the moral complexities and aporias of both violence and non violence, but also to mark the gendered limits of their analysis.
While many aspects of colonialism must be explained in definite historic and economic terms, the political process of decolonization and of colonialism can only be understood fully by examining the processes of consciousness and the psycho pathologies induced by colonialism: this is what Fanon demonstrates. Violence, in' other words, operates not just at the level of economic deprivation and political disenfranchisement but at the level of cultural fantasy. Violence is not an eccentric, exorbitant phenomenon in colonial conditions; it is the condition of possibility itself of colonial society, a society that is above all the grossest manifestation of the moral economy of western humanism in escapably linked to capitalism and colonialism. Though Fanon has often been read as an advocate of violence, he is continually cognizant of the irreducible moral complexity of violence. He suggests for instance that the violent condition of colonialism produces self inflicted violence as an effect of the alienated condition of the colonized. Violence here is an instance of the alienated behavior caused by the Manichaean structure of colonial society; criminality functions here as a form of avoidance or turning inward of the violent condition of colonialism. Hence, he notes percipiently,
Where individuals are concerned, a positive negation of common sense is evident. While the settler or the policeman has the right the livelong day to strike the native, to insult him and to make him crawl to them, you will see the native reaching for his knife at the slightest hostile or aggressive glance cast on him by another native; for the last resort of the native is to defend himself vis-a-vis his brother. All these patterns of conduct are those of the death reflex when faced with danger, a suicidal behavior which proves to the settler (whose existence and domination is by them all the more justified) that these men are not reasonable human beings.
This form of "auto destruction," which is an affront to common sense, results from the hatred of the neighbor that is in separable from the self hatred that the experience of colonization generates, and from a willed blindness about the real source of oppression. He urges that this already existing violence be redirected against the colonizer in a situation that admits of no legitimate public political engagement a state of violence rather than of hegemony, as Ato Sekyi Otu puts it. Kalpana Seshadri Crooks' annotation on the re orientation of bodily and psychic violence urges us, suggestively and counter intuitively, to note that this entails "the re channeling of jouissance towards an identifiable neighbor the colonizer as one's own intimate neighbor.
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