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Fear, Secrets and Lies: The Uncanny World of Law after Media

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3.1 Fear, Secrets and Lies: The Uncanny World of Law after Media

  • Panel Coordinator: Lawrence Liang

    Chair: Ravi Vasudevan

    Panelist: Ravi Sundaram, Sarai/CSDS

    Title: The Secret and the Transparent after Media Modernity

    Abstract: Technology’ and media access, once slogans of the 1990s, are now marked by their remarkable efflorescence all over the country. Today growing sections of the population, including sections of the working poor, access low cost media like cheap mobile phones that combine voice, digital photography and video. This media-enabled  urban population produces amateur photographs, videos, text messages that are shared horizontally or in  online social networks. A massive media archive of amateur and recombined media now reaches the internet and draws from politics, culture, and everyday life. This media producing population is now the source of various efforts to mobilize and
    channel its potentialities – by government, civic groups, communication companies, media industries. At one level, the idea of ‘transparency’ through media technologies seems to vitalize both modernizing schemes as well as new stories of empowerment.

    Transparency stories make their way into statements by judges, police criminology, RTI activists, and reform discourse in general. Transparency has now emerged in liberal public discourse as the ethical filter to understand the world. This discursive space includes information activism as well as the television sting.

    The other narrative is the significant disruption of a domain that was considered secure, notably the ‘inner’ life of individuals. The idea of the secret may have to be updated for the digital age; the ‘leak’ and the ‘sting’ almost seem integral to contemporary culture afflicting both the very powerful and the ordinary.  Personal(and sometimes public) media archives of audio, photos and videos are rearranged and re-circulated everyday- sometimes publicly and brutally –  a failed relationship with images/videos circulating online, scandals, images of death, tragedy, sexual intimacy, a politician’s conversation. Existing arrangements to manage these worlds are in a state of disorientation, courts puzzle over new domains that demand their attention everyday.

    In the first narrative ‘transparency’ becomes the tool to harness the energies of a post-media population for liberal modernization, in the second, mediatisation produces new sites of disaster.  This presentation looks at some of the sites of this disruption and considers what is at stake for media and social theory.

    Panelist: Ranjani Mazumdar, School of Arts & Aesthetics, Jawaharlal Nehru University

    Title: Framing Conspiracy: Terrorism, the City and Cinema

    Abstract: This paper looks at the terrorist films set in Bombay to explore the relationship between conspiracy, surveillance and the city. The films I look at are Anurag Kashyap’s Black Friday, Raj Kumar Gupta’s Amir, Nishikant Kamat’s Mumbai Meri Jaan and Neeraj Pandey’s A Wednesday. All these films refer to various terrorist attacks of the last 20 years. The films work with an investigative cartography, mobilizing the city through narratives cluttered with evidentiary details, an aggressive marking and arranging of information and a constant presence of the television camera as the ultimate arbiter of knowledge. Conspiracy works as the organizing principle through which urban paranoia, civil disturbance and political intrigue, find a voice. Conspiracy also produces the movement between the police, the interrogation room, the terrorist hideout, the site of death, government offices, the news room, public spaces and courtrooms. The films open out the events through re-enactments and precision style unravelling to generate ‘fantasies of knowing’. Thus a “mobile script” on terrorism is carved out to negotiate the relationship between paranoia and citizenship. If the social practice of paranoia is rooted in the belief that the truth is not fully available, then in these films, conspiracy is the form through which the spectator is provided a sense of comfort and sense of control over contemporary events, the city of Bombay and history.

    Panelist: Lawrence Liang, Alternative Law Forum

    Title: The Erotics of Law and Scandal

    Abstract: The Sting Operation’s revelation of public corruption and SMS sex scandals have been two important signposts of contemporary media life. They have also been at the heart of legal debates over privacy, media ethics and the legal disorder. The ‘scandal’ has always been of one of the sites for the production of a public discourse on law and the relationship between the public, private and the secret, the accelerated world of media circulation reworks our understanding of the scandal and the divide between ideas of public and private. What conceptual challenges do they pose to the law, and how have legal institutions responded to the erotics of power and corruption. This paper examines how the discourses of corruption and sexuality in media constantly reference each other as they meet in the ‘inappropriate overlap of public and private desires’.
    3.2 Title: Spaces of Displacement and Futures in Law

    Chair: Eesvan Krishnan

    Panelist: Nicola Perera, Post-graduate student, Conflict Studies, Colombo University

    Title: Securing the City: The Kompannya Veediya Evictions

    Abstract: This paper focuses on the practices of identity construction revealed in the July 2008 eviction of a group of residents in Glennie Street, more familiarly known as Kompannya Veediya, in Colombo. It is a response to the perspective, in media coverage etc., that they were evicted, because their proximity to the nearby High Security Zone surrounding the Air Force Headquarters represented a threat to national security. The South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) summit Colombo would stage in July-August was also used to explain the evictions – both in terms of the removal of a potential security threat and as part of the local authorities' attempts to spruce up the city. The Colombo venue of the SAARC summit was significant, since Sri Lanka had transferred the meeting to itself from Bangladesh, the actual scheduled host that year. The SAARC summit was the state's pointed demonstration that its prosecution of a military solution against the LTTE had not weakened or undermined the nation.           

    I draw my research objective from the line of argument above – what were the constructions of national identity, state, security, belonging and patriotism which the Kompannya Veediya community was supposed to endanger? I seek answers to this question in analysing the discursive framework of the eviction incident, drawing primarily upon its coverage in the press. Also, in conversation with a small group of former residents, I trace their self-representations as Sri Lankan, in consonance or contradiction with mainstream understanding/s of this notion. I suggest that the heavy Malay composition of the Kompannya Veediya community exposes the hegemonising and exclusionary practices of a Sinhala Buddhist national ideal. However, I also believe that the blurring of ethnic and language boundaries within the community problematises the strict binaries of Self and Other supporting the dominant paradigm of Sri Lankanness. The residents’ working class status within the city and their ethnic and religious diversity resulted in their assertions of nationalism, at times congruent with and at times challenging the Sinhala Buddhist ideal. I look also at how sexuality and gender intersect with these nationalist discourses.

    Panelist: Nandan Nawn, Assistant Professor, National University of Juridical Sciences, Kolkata

    Title: Justice, Values and Principles— Law’s Engagement with Compensation

    Abstract: Value is a contested domain in law: in regulations and justice delivery mechanisms alike. This is particularly acute, in the context of compensation. This possibility may arise out of an unplanned accident or from planned land acquisition. Further, number of victim varies: from one in a sexual harassment to a few in a passenger car accident to many in a nuclear disaster. A Pareto superior outcome calls for a ‘perfect’ or ‘just’ compensation in each of these circumstances. Market plays virtually no role in this exercise of valuation and it is decided entirely by the state, and thus the principles and methods—from legal to social, or from environmental to economic—assume much greater importance. Their ignorance has left ‘just’ compensation largely elusive, despite notable efforts on the part of the state.

    In case of rehabilitation and resettlement of ‘project affected people’, the focus of this work, the last seven years has seen three policies (2003, 2006, 2007), one bill (2007) and its variant (2009) and a Parliamentary Standing Committee (2008). Efforts ranged from widening of the purview of compensation to “disabled, destitute, orphans, widows, unmarried girls, abandoned women […] who are not otherwise covered as part of a family” to effecting ‘special and differential’ compensation to those below poverty line and other marginalized social groups to the provision of a variety of training and employment. But yet, dissatisfaction is all pervasive.

    This paper tracks the evolution of compensation in R&R policies/bills of the Centre while linking them to the methods and principles followed, if any, and, also pointing to their absence or wrong applications. Further, it tests the suitability of incorporating established valuation methods developed in disciplines of environmental and ecological economics in this widely contested area, acquiring more importance each day.

    Panelist: Swagato Sarkar, Associate Fellow, CSCS

    Title: Capitalism, Land Acquisition and the Impossibility of Compensation 

    Abstract: The displacement of people for executing ‘developmental’ projects is quite common in India. Over the last few decades, the question of displacement has become a contentious one. And often it is assumed that the problematic is about providing adequate compensation to the displaced or ‘project-affected’ people and working out the modalities for disbursing the fund.

    In this paper, I argue against such a position, and try to show that at the heart of the contestation over displacement is the issue of capitalist transformation and the related antagonism which can never be overcome by deploying the trope of compensation. Rather the limit of the compensation [i.e. contractual ethics] has been foregrounded by the anti-capitalist movements. The resolution to this deadlock can only be found through the application of violence, which negates any ethical presupposition of compensation.

    Panelistt:  Sudha Vasan, Associate Professor, Department of Sociology, Delhi University

    Title: Limits of Legalism: Adivasis and Forests in India  

    Abstract: The Forest Rights Act, 2006 (FRA) is an astounding piece of legislation from a socio-legalist perspective.  It not only recognizes historical injustice and livelihood concerns, it reinterprets ‘forest’ as a livelihood resource and recognizes in a back handed way the mis-classification of cultivated land as forests in earlier law.  The sustained broad-based activism that lobbied for this legislation is also evidence of the democratic influences in Indian law. However, what is equally remarkable is the concerted effort by state actors to undermine this law once it came into force.  Starting with the inordinate delay in formulating rules and promulgating the law, attempts have been made to misinterpret it, to completely ignore it, and sections within the State have attempted to subvert it in every way possible.  Reports on the implementation of the FRA 2006 from across the country clearly indicate that agencies of the State violate its own law.  FRA activists in critical adivasi forested regions also live under threat of arrest.  Given this situation, the struggle for livelihoods of forest dwelling communities at least in one sense now lies outside the limits of legalism. The problem in practice for adivasis to access and control forest resources in India appears to be not the absence of law but the presence and then irrelevance of law.  Two aspects that confront the adivasi struggle are the legitimacy of eminent domain that continues to under-grid law and ‘extraordinary’ actions of the forest department often legitimized through discourses of environmentalism.  Adivasi right to use forests is framed within these two discourses – of property rights, encroachment and eminent domain on one hand; and of the public priority of environmental sustainability on the other. This paper argues that adivasi struggle for forest rights in India has to continuously engage with the limits of legalism, in a situation in which on the one hand law enters their life space riding on the notion of ‘eminent domain’, while on the other the legally mandated state institutions are often the principal violators of ‘rule of law’.  
    3.3 Title: Enframing Technology: Constructions of Public(s), Law, and Ethics
    Panel Coordinator: Sitharamam Kakarala
    Chair: tbc

    Panel Abstract: The last decade witnessed a variety of public controversies around the developments in what has come to be known as ‘New and Emerging Science and Technology’ (NEST). This session will engage with these controversies with a view to ask questions that may help to rethink the connections between law, technology and ethics in framing our understanding of the ‘Public(s)’: How have these controversies resulted in redefining the understanding of democracy and its relationship with knowledge? In what way such newer challenges thrown by science and technology have pushed the boundaries of the conventional legal and regulatory frameworks? How these controversies construct a confrontational site of the Public(s)? In what way these controversies raise some of the profound ethical and philosophical dilemmas of our times? What is the idea of being and humanness constitutive in these new and emerging science and technology and how does it relate to the questions of democracy and regulation?

    Panelist: Naveen Thayyil, Tilburg University, The Netherlands

    Title: GMOs and Re-articulations of the Scientific as the Legitimate Public in Europe

    Abstract: European Community regulation has had a fascinating experience grappling with issues of governabilities of genetic modification in food and crops. Described as the locus of a difficult relationship between “law, science and democracy”, and a “hotbed of public irrationality” by expert communities, the last two decades saw three different regimes including a complete break-down of the community regulatory system. Much like the varying rhetoric about the technology itself (from panacea to Franken-foods), regulatory emphases have swung in a pendular fashion from an emphasis on pure science, to a recognition of “the inevitable politicization of risk issues”, to a claim of an appropriate convergence of scientific and public rationalities. This continuation of regulatory controversies in the development and use of Genetically Modified Organisms in such a obvious fashion is inordinate for a legal framework that has succeeded in generating tolerable neoliberal consensus in a variety of regulatory issues.

    The present legal regime bifurcates risk regulation into two stages, of political management following a prior scientific risk assessment, with formal provisions for public information, consultation and participation, as a way out of the deadlock of the moratorium of the nineties. This was claimed to be undertaken to further internal public credibility and external (read WTO) expectations, with precaution invoked as the guiding principle of the regulatory system. What are the assumptions behind this bifurcation, and how does law conceptualise the sovereign public in regulation. How is the precautionary principle framed within this regime and how does it affect democratisation of new scientific governance in Europe. What have been the implications of the persistence of disagreements in the regulatory structure, and what does it reveal about the real nature of the “public” in regulation.

    Panelist: Sitharamam Kakarala, Senior Fellow, Centre for the Study of Culture and Society

    Title: “Slumbering Sentinels” in Knowledge Society: Human Rights and the Framing of the Ethical Publics in the Debates on ‘Harnessing Technologies for Development’
    Abstract: An important question before the international community in the immediate aftermath of World War II was evolving a framework of governance for scientific and technological advancements in a way that balanced the interests and freedom of scientific and commercial creativities vis-à-vis public ethics as represented by the core Constitutional and International Law standards. The debates expressly acknowledged the difficult and slippery nature of the balancing act, for it potentially threatened scientific creativity and freedom. Nevertheless, the framing of science and technology policies ultimately held the foundational belief that the ethical core of the constitutional and international Law frameworks must be the guiding standards. Accordingly, human rights emerged as the most articulate and legitimate set of ethical standards in performing that balancing act.
    Over the last three decades, however, there have been dramatic and rapid shifts in the nature of scientific and technological advancements, which have created a three-fold crisis to the post-War consensus. First, law and human rights are increasingly being identified as ‘slumbering sentinels’ as they fail to keep pace with the changes in science and technology. Secondly, the intrusion/diffusion of technologies in everyday life have made a number of ethical concerns of 20th century appear dated, for what was considered as ‘violation’ has become normalised (and thus by default acceptable). Thirdly, and more generally there is a new (and substantive) wave of ‘technological optimism’ that projects technological solutions as panacea for persisting social problems, for example, poverty and inequality. I would like to suggest that this three-fold (performative) crisis of law and human rights is contributing to a slow but profound change in our orientation to the framing of the ‘ethical’ in contemporary times. Towards conclusion, I ultimately aim to comment the way in which this changing dynamics influences the relationship between technology and democracy.

    3.4 Law and the Politics of Religion
    Chair: Milind Wakankar

    Panelisttt: Bhrigupati Singh, Bhrigupati Singh, Post-doctoral Fellow, Weatherhead Center, Harvard University

    Title: Mitra-Varuna: A Bipolar Concept of Sovereignty

    Abstract: Building on recent discussions in anthropology and political theory on the concept of sovereignty, I ask: how do we imagine power? In a famous definition of the term ‘political theology’, Carl Schmitt asserts that our idea of sovereign power is a ‘secularized theological concept’. I extend this question by asking - what image of a deity stands behind our conception of theology or ‘theos’? In contrast to Schmitt (and Giorgio Agamben’s) more monotheistic absolutism, I argue that a pluralized sense of theos may open up richer ways of thinking about power.

    I explore an instance of this conceptual plurality in relation to extended ethnographic fieldwork in Baran (Rajasthan, India) focused on the Sahariyas, a community of former bonded laborers. I analyse state power as it is experienced by the Sahariyas in contradictory forms as both violence and welfare. Engaging this seeming contradiction, I set out a concept of sovereignty as relations of ‘force/violence’ and ‘contract/care’ as the two faces of state power, a ‘bipolar’ potential that I find aptly named by the Vedic political theology of Varuna (force) and Mitra (contract/care). I use this bipolar concept of sovereignty to explore aspects of the spiritual and material life of the Sahariyas, showing how a pluralized definition of ‘political theologies’ may provide an alternative to overly dichotomous definitions of religion and secularism.

    I elaborate the Mitra-Varuna concept of sovereignty through the work of the philosophers Deleuze & Guattari in their reading of Georges Dumezil’s classic work on Vedic mythology (1988). In contrast I argue that Agamben’s concept of sovereignty, widely taken up in current anthropology and political theory, involves a global elevation of Varuna (the ‘terrible’ face of power) and a total elimination of Mitra (contract/negotiation). Starting from a different image of theos, I offer a more gradated and variable picture of power.

    Panelist: Mathew John, Doctoral Candidate, LSE

    Title: Reinforcing Religiosity: The Peculiar Case of Indian Equality Jurisprudence 

    Abstract: The Indian Constitution's resolution of the minority question claimed to have cleansed the body politic of the poison of communal politics, and contributed to the building of a secular democratic state. In this paper I will argue that this claim is questionable and more importantly that a curious form of constitutional religiosity underwrites the resolution of the minority question in India. The minority question as it was inherited by the present constitutional arrangement was resolved and spread across various aspects of the present constitution as a commitment to substantive equality. I argue that significant aspects of Indian constitution’s commitment to substantive equality are informed by a peculiar form of constitutional religiosity I demonstrate my case through examples from important political and constitutional debates in contemporary India. Viz. Debates on 1) Scheduled Castes, 2) religious minorities 3) 'other backward classes' and 4) Uniform Civil Code.

    Panelist: Chandan Gowda, Associate Professor, Centre for the Study of Social Exclusion and Inclusive Policy, National Law School of India, Bangalore
    Title: Bracketing Culture and the Dissatisfactions of Secular Policy

    Abstract: This paper examines the difficulty of bracketing culture in order to keep the state’s policies secular through a critical reading of the 2006 Sachar Committee Report on the Social, Economic and Educational Status of the Muslim Community of India and the 2008 Reports of the Equal Opportunity Commission and the Diversity Commission. While these important state texts recognize the paramount value of working the terrain of value commitments, their secular mandate restricts the parameters of their policy prescriptions.  In the light of clearly evident contradictions and active repressions in these texts, my paper argues for a critical reconsideration of the secular policies regulating inter-community life which strive to be apart from the substantive value commitments shared by communities in India.

    Panelists: Serene Kasim and Elizabeth Thomas, CSCS, Bangalore

    Title: Legal Discourses around Social Practices: An Enquiry into the Cattle Slaughter Bill 

    Abstract: The newly introduced Cattle Slaughter Bill has become a contentious issue in the state of Karnataka. The bill has led to many volatile debates and has contributed to the polarization of society in some parts of the state, for example, in the Dakshin Kannada region. Several people in the political spectrum, civil society activists and ordinary people have found the bill to be “anti- democratic”, against the minority communities and particularly harmful to the life and livelihood of poor farmers. Activists also point out that the present bill is different from previously proposed legislation in other states, in its adoption of stringent laws of transportation and the inclusion of other bovine varieties than just the cow. On the other hand, those supporting the bill maintain that the cow is a ‘sacred’ national symbol and so the state and the citizens have the right and duty to protect it; thus slaughtering it is a crime and a violation against a culture. These positions have almost led to an impasse.  

    These debates evoke the question of why cultural practices such as these become issues for society. How for instance, does the issue of banning cattle slaughter find a resonance with people who have co-existed with practices such as the consumption of beef for centuries? What makes it available for a legal discourse in the present? The explanations which coalesce on the Brahmanical discourse becoming a widespread phenomenon feeding into what many secular activists call a “Hindutva” project does not sufficiently answer the above set of questions, nor does it seem to throw much light on what are the implications of the seemingly broad base of support this proposed legislation seems to attract. The current paper would attempt to examine how social practices become part of a juridical discourse borrowing from this particular instance. Have there been other comparable practices which have become available for this kind of politico-legal discourse? We hope that the paper will also open up a more fruitful enquiry into conflicts arising between communities around similar issues.

    3.5 Title: Legal Continuities and Legal Change: Historical and Theoretical Perspectives

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