June 27, 2016

Connections between violence, dignity, and learning

Thursday, November 24, 2005

The greatest human and social diversity

India's Constitution uniquely protects the greatest human and social diversity the world has ever known. Such a splendid diversity can only be sustained if the maximum leeway is given to minority institutions to sustain and transform their own culture. Our Constitution accepts that this is best done through minority and religious institutions which summon both people from their own and other communities to contribute to the brilliant mosaic of Indian learning. Had that not been the objective of the Constitution, it would have been enough to guarantee freedom of speech, belief and business. But, our Constitution earmarked special rights to religion and minorities to establish `institutions' and preserve autonomous control over these institutions. By Rajeev Dhavan The Hindu Friday, Nov 15, 2002

Monday, November 21, 2005

A man’s whirl

At twenty-something he became the youngest kathak guru. Rajendra Gangani of the Jaipur gharana talks of the loneliness of an artiste and of competing in a woman’s world Moonis Ijlal The Indian Express August 27, 2005
‘‘Dance is not for ordinary people,’’ says the 40-something guru — the youngest to have become a kathak guru. ‘‘Any classical art is not for ordinary nerves. And if one learns it, the person doesn’t remain ordinary. I don’t have any friends, I know no sport and I don’t regret it.’’
But the guru also says that you can’t remain untouched by the world. ‘‘Dance in north India is a woman’s domain. I had to come to terms with this reality. I would not get a chance because people demanded women performers. Besides, there were chauvinistic jibes,’’ he says. ‘‘People at large are not interested in art, I decided’’.
But there are almost no women gurus, isn’t there a chauvinism? ‘‘Women get lot of shows, where’s the time for teaching? Besides they have to take care of their family, husband, kids...this is the truth. But in Maharashtra you’ll find many women gurus.’’
The Kathak Kendra in Delhi has also taught students from abroad. ‘‘But they miss gurukul education, which is not limited to fixed periods like in Western education. In gurukul you live with the guru and learn not just kathak but also how to live life.’’
‘‘I tell my students you won’t become a President or a CEO by learning kathak. Don’t aspire for money or position. It is a very lonely world. You come here for the love of it. And if you love something show devotion to it and not greed. You love your god and can only pray to him, don’t you?’’ asks the guru.

Thursday, November 24, 2005

Body double: sensitivity is all you need

As the Ek Chhoti si... controversy erupts over the flash of nudity in the Manisha Koirala-starrer, Rajshri Mehta speaks to Seema Biswas who played the character of Phoolan Devi in Bandit Queen. Referring to the scene where Phoolan Devi is paraded naked in front of the villagers and a stand-in was used for her, Biswas says nudity is justified if it is crucial to the film. It should not titillate: THE INDIAN EXPRESS Monday, September 16, 2002
Seven years ago, when body double Jessica Choksi was on the brink of gawky adoloscence, Manisha Koirala was a slim newcomer and Shashilal Nair was nowhere in the picture. It was also the year when Seema Biswas, portraying Phoolan Devi in Bandit Queen, was in the midst of a heated argument with Shekhar Kapur. The topic of discussion, however, was the same: The use of a body double for the infamous scene where Phoolan Devi is paraded naked in front of the entire village.
‘‘I never have talked about it before but I vividly remember the feeling of uneasiness when I read the script. Though a double was decided on as I was not bold enough to do it myself, the uneasiness persisted. I remember asking Shekhar whether the scene was absolutely necessary. For a moment, he remained silent but he convinced me that the scene needed to be included,’’ reminisces Seema.
Recalling what Kapur had said then, she adds: ‘‘He asked me whether I have seen the mutilated body of an accident victim and recalled the revulsion on seeing the gruesome sight. It is that feeling he intended to bring out on seeing the spiritless body of Phoolan who is paraded in front of villagers after weeks of being raped in captivity. The look, the feeling of seeing a helpless woman stripped of all her defences is what he wanted to convey.’’ However, this was not the feeling it evoked in social organisations and activists. ‘‘Full frontal nudity’’ is how they dubbed it. Bandit Queen Phoolan Devi took exception to her portrayal, saying it suggested sexual overtones.
Though Seema steers clear of the controversy, she says nudity per se is not offensive. What’s crucial is whether it is essential and is handled with sensitivity. ‘‘The scene (in Bandit Queen) was essential to bring out the height of humiliation of a helpless woman. Also, it was picturised in such a way that it did not titillate. There were no close-ups of body parts.’’ That the scene had the intended effect is obvious, she says. ‘‘I realised how people were affected by the scene when women in Madhya Pradesh came up to me and shared the feeling of humiliation they experience when they recall Phoolan’s situation.
What are her thoughts on Manisha’s reaction to the four frames of nudity in Ek Chhotisi Love Story? She reserves her comment, saying: ‘‘It actually depends on the terms and conditions agreed upon between the actress and the director. In the rape scene in Bandit Queen, we did not use a body double. I did the scene myself. It was an integral part of the film and I had committed to doing the scene where Phoolan is gang-raped. It was shot in a technical manner,’’ she says.
Seema also recalls the shoot when her body double was doing the scene where Phoolan is paraded in front of the village. ‘‘I was sitting in a hut when the scene was shot. Shekhar was going to take close-ups of me later. I remember feeling unnerved that another woman was doing such an uncomfortable scene. I wanted to speak to her but when I arrived at the hotel, she had washed her face, changed and was doing a small photo-session. I don’t know what happened to her but I believe like me she was a professional,’’ she says.

Friday, November 25, 2005

Disorders of the Mind: Cultural Limits of Western Psychiatry

the tragic death of inmates in a private mental home at ervadi in tamil nadu once again highlights the complex issue of culture and mental disorder. as if psychiatry is not a cultural product. mental illness, as an analytical category, is a thorough product of western culture and history. in the modern period, the discourse on insanity was scripted again and again by the mental sciences through the enlightenment, imperialism, western cultural expansion, our colonial experience and the world wars. when kraeplin and others offered the initial behavioural descriptions of mental disorder, there were two main categories, idiocy and insanity.
in colonial times, when all of our mental asylums were built, the segregation of irrationality was state policy. exclusion from civil society was literally physical seclusion. however, in the post-war period the ideology of democracy proscribed such practices as barbaric. interestingly, the invention of psychoactive drugs during and after the war proved to be a far more potent method of controlling deviance. hysteria is a classic example of a man-made category devised to stigmatise and exclude women, and others seen as being like women, from political participation. the value system underlying the diagnosis is obvious in constructs like depression, where notions such as sinning, shame and guilt form the phenomenological core.
the possibility that people more organically connected with their ecology could have a very different, more embodied way of experiencing themselves and their worlds, that they could have a different psyche, was never discussed. they were seen as totem worshippers, magical, hypersexual and superstitious. indeed, the opinion that these rural folks are superstitious is an abundantly colonial psychiatric theme. the many therapies, which were invented during the late colonial times and the war, also reflected such western cultural biases. the cultural interstices of psychoanalysis are well known. however, nearly all the available therapies do show similar biases. they are all built on the premise of a transcendental self and not a material self. they place an all-encompassing emphasis on the cartesian aspects of self-language, cognition, introspection and self-realisation. so other more holistic ways of individual or community statement, such as possession or trancing, were seen as hysteria, evidence of a weak intellect, suggestibility, neuroses, psychoses, etc.
in india, the professionals who received education in the mental and behavioural sciences in the early 1900s such as psychiatry and psychology were the elite, upper caste babus. comparative psychiatry thrived wherein the dominant cultural ideas and values of brahmanism were systematically built into the science. the brahmanical emphasis on a superior transcendental life, constructed with reference to the scriptures coincided well with the abstract rationalism of western science. like hinduism, sciences like psychoanalysis were tethered to the text and valued the word over doing. both sciences and brahmanism encouraged a political status quo and the cultural hierarchies with the stress on an individual's inner life. (the author is a researcher in mental health based in pune)

Thursday, November 24, 2005

Education, campuses and violence

By Kalpana Kannabiran
The Hindu Tuesday, Oct 29, 2002
When even the family is no longer a private space, how can a campus or worse still a hostel be one? Legal education cannot be confined to the classroom, but must encompass the entire space that teachers and students inhabit. THIS ARTICLE will explore the dilemmas that teaching law from the common ground created by the intersection of law, social sciences, women's studies and feminism throws up. It will also attempt in the process to trace the boundaries of pedagogy, rather the rigid confines within which pedagogic practice is forced to locate itself today, in institutions of formal education in general, and the ways in which this confinement can undermine in very direct ways the teaching of law itself. In other words, it will look at the classroom, campus (and different "internal" spaces therein), and society as territories that although contiguous and overlapping, are territories nevertheless, each with its own parameters of "integrity" and normative order and its own rules and constitutions. As a first observation, it is important to state that each of these territories at every level is gendered and structured by power, hierarchy and hegemony; moving inwards in a sense from the dynamic of society to the smaller spaces that constitute it — the family, the campus, the hostel, the classroom, each of these spaces constructed as "internal" spaces, analogous to the family. An understanding of this shifting definition of "the private" and the use of the familial analogy is important if we are to understand the troubling reality of violence on campuses and our inability to deal with it.
As a result of persistent campaigning by the women's movement over two decades, the issue of sexual harassment and heterosexual violence has entered the mainstream discourse in different ways. Yet, masculinity and femininity continue to be constructed in strictly regimented ways with very little space for women students particularly to raise questions of discrimination, harassment or derogatory/obscene representation. This is and must remain a dialogue between male students, and the resolution must also happen between them with women on both sides being passive spectators. I will return to this point a little later. Logically, then, it would follow that there has not been any significant decrease in violence and sexual harassment on campuses; in fact, the violence has become increasingly strident, an instance being cited of a campus on the subcontinent where the hundredth rape on the campus was celebrated! The positive side of this is that there is protest and resistance and persistent campaigning by women's groups and small groups of men and women — teachers and students — on campuses, in Delhi and Rajasthan for example.
To come now to the troubling question of masculinity. This dialogue between male students, whether about women, or about the right of senior students to services and obeisance from juniors, or about a general policing, is by definition violent and involves extreme physical abuse. And masculinity is constructed around the ability to bear pain, the prowess in inflicting pain, the ability to be an active spectator, the capacity for silence, a firm belief in the patriarchies of age and gender and an utter contempt for any recourse to legitimate redress. The heroes are those that bear all these characteristics. In other words, there is a complete normalisation of violence in institutions of education, and while we are able to address some, such as heterosexual violence, there are others, same sex violence for instance, especially battery, that remain invisible, unspoken about and give cause for serious concern. As a law student I once met said to me, "Yeh to boys hostel mein hota hi hai", and asserted that these were not matters that the authorities ought to mess around with because they would get resolved within the hostel. And I am sure students of other disciplines would not speak differently.
How does one process this reality as a teacher of sociology in a law school and as a feminist? Processes of discrimination, hierarchy, power, patterns in the use of violence, the criminalisation of some forms of violence and the exclusion of other forms from the definition of violence itself, as also the continuities in these practices and processes across seemingly dissimilar social spaces, are best understood from the standpoint of sociology. But that is not enough. The feminist slogan, "the personal is political" opened up the family for public scrutiny in the face of increasing violence against women within marriage three decades ago. Despite stiff resistance to any "interference in family matters", domestic violence has systematically been forced into public view — the courtroom, legislative bodies and curricula in family law. The fact that there cannot be a derogation of rights — to life, to dignity and bodily integrity, to the freedom of expression, to the freedom of association — even within "private spaces" is one that must be appreciated through the lens of "the personal is the political" slogan. When even the family is no longer a private space, how can a campus or worse still a hostel be one? Legal education cannot be confined to the classroom, but must encompass the entire space that teachers and students inhabit, in order for it to make sense.
Women students in elite institutions have resisted quotas for women in the unions, and non-Dalit students (men and women), have generally opposed quotas for Dalits as well. I have not yet heard of an instance where Dalit students, on being offered a quota in unions have refused it. The argument of the women students in at least one instance that has come to my notice was that they were a sizeable number — a little over half in that institution — and that they would get into the union "on their own steam". And yet when the elections took place, 85 per cent of the seats went to the men. This experience outside the classroom ties in with the teaching of the equality provisions in constitutional law and the questions raised in equality jurisprudence: the distinction between formal equality and substantive equality, the wisdom and indispensability of affirmative action, and the fact that the right to equality binds all historically discriminated against groups. Reservation was not only for "Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes'' but was necessary for women too.
Violence is both the subject of law and its context. And violence is always embedded in a social context ridden with unequal power and privilege. Witness the constant threat of sexual violence that women are confronted with and the inoperability of the law when it comes to sexual offences. Or even the ease with which it is possible for men to speak publicly in extremely derogatory sexual terms about women students and teachers — the opposite rarely being the case. The patriarchy of gender takes precedence over that of age! Silence is often the only recourse. Even this will pass. What happens in the courtroom is mirrored in the classroom, the campus, public spaces and the family. Clearly, the IPC cannot teach us why. Sociology cannot either on its own. Only feminist sociology can help make sense of this.
The point of this exploratory exercise has been twofold.
  • First, it is an attempt to underscore the indispensability of a thorough grounding in feminist sociology and a commitment to human rights to pedagogical practice in law.
  • Second and more important, it points to the necessity for teachers in undergraduate institutions particularly to break out of the confines of a rigidly circumscribed job, opening up a conversation with young adults on the connections between violence, dignity and learning; drawing these connections for them both within and outside the classroom.

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