List of abstracts


Panelist: Paul Boyce, Institute of Education, University of London Title



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Panelist: Paul Boyce, Institute of Education, University of London

Title: Telling Sad Stories: Narratives of Sexual Violence and the Wounded Sexual Subject

Abstract: This paper is about the everyday nature of sexual violence, not only in terms of physical brutality and vulnerability but also in terms of the casual, emotionally sad and brutal nature of love and sexual connections. The paper arises from research conducted with people of transgender and men who have sex with men in West Bengal, which focused on asking people to simply 'tell their sexual stories.' A striking, if perhaps not entirely surprising outcome of the research was that people's stories  were predominantly stories of sadness - lost loves, rejection and emotional and physical violence. The commonality of such stories engendered reflection on the research process as a potentially confessional space, which may offer a context for catharsis but perhaps with little thought to the ongoing trauma of people's sexual and emotional worlds. Moreover the research also provoked thoughts on how stories of sexual violence are integrated into narratives of identity and their importance in understandings of self.

Panelist: Akshay Khanna, Institute of Development Studies at the University of Sussex

Title: A State of Arousal: Eroticism and Violence in the Making of Homophobia 

Abstract: This paper is concerned with the experiences of violence visited upon Queer folk and the peculiar predicament where such violence becomes a resource for the Queer movement to lay claims to speaking for and as an injured body, and ultimately to make claims to citizenship. Where social, political, economic conflict/tension plays out on particular bodies, activists find themselves engaged in the work of bringing these instances to bear upon their projects of citizenship. In order for this to happen the global form of 'homophobia' is evoked and these experiences are in turn made intelligible as instances of 'Homophobic Hate Crimes'. This is a process, I suggest, through which the erotic dimensions of these experiences are disavowed. This is also a process through which a ‘bad’, sexualised Queer body is distinguished from a ‘good’ one. Based on fieldwork in Shillong, a small city in the North Eastern state of Meghalaya, a few months after the particularly brutal murder of a local gay man, this paper examines the relationship between eroticism and violence and argues that the extraction of the former from the latter disables our ability to acknowledge homoeroticism within the State. 

Panelist: Nayanika Mookherjee, Lancaster University

Title: The Absent Piece of Skin: Gendered, Racialised and Territorial Inscriptions of Sexual Violence During the Bangladesh War

Abstract: This paper addresses how the womb of women and absent skin on the circumcised penises of men becomes the predominant sites on which racialised and gendered discourses operating during the Bangladesh War are inscribed. This is explored by examining instances of sexual violence by Pakistani soldiers and their local Bengali collaborators. The prevalence of these discourses in colonial documents about the Bengali Muslims underscores the role of history, the politics of identity and in the process, identifies its link with the rapes of Bangladeshi women and men. Through this, the relationship between sexual violence and historical contexts is highlighted. I locate the accounts of male violations by the West Pakistani army within the historical and colonial discourses relating to the construction of the Bengali Muslim and its intertextual, contemporary citational references in photographs, interviews. 

I draw on Judith Butler and Marilyn Strathern’s work on gendering and performativity to address the citational role of various practices of discourses of gender and race within colonial documents and its application in a newer context of colonization and sexual violence during wars of women and men. The role of photographs and image-making is intrinsic to these practices. The open semiotic of the photographs allow an exploration of the territorial identities within these images and leads us to the traces of the silence relating to male violations. Through an examination of the silence surrounding male sexual violence vis-à-vis the emphasis on the rape of women in independent Bangladesh, it is argued that these racialised and gendered discourses are intricately associated to the link between sexuality and the state in relation to masculinity.



Panelists: Jaya Sharma, Feminist and Queer activist, Delhi Kaushik Gupta, Advocate, Kolkata

Title: Power, Pain and Pleasure: Some Reflections on Bondage, Domination, Sado-Masochism

Abstract: This paper will seek to share some reflections on the exchange of power, pain and pleasure, or to use a better known term Bondage, Domination, Sado-Masochism. The authors believe that we all have experiences of the exchange of power, pain and pleasure in our sexual lives. Some of us also identify as being ‘kinky’ or part of the BDSM community.  It is on the basis of insights offered by some such individuals who are members of an Indian BDSM community that this paper will be written.  The paper will seek to highlight the centrality of informed consent as being at the heart of BDSM.  An understanding of this centrality of consent in BDSM illuminates through difference, as it were, what lack of consent means in other contexts.  The paper will look at how the importance of consent translates into practices and the culture of BDSM especially in terms of the importance placed upon open negotiation, honesty, codes enabling exit, trust building etc. The paper will also address the contribution that BDSM makes to understanding power. Perhaps in a similar manner in which gender performativity helps understand gender, in the BDSM context the Power exchange involved in domination and submission helps understand power per se.  The other area of contribution by BDSM which will be examined is the challenge posed to the binary between pleasure and pain.  The paper will also look at some of the challenges faced by individuals who practice BDSM and the community.  The linkages between these challenges and those faced by the queer community will be highlighted as well as the subversive nature of both. Reflections of individuals who are queer and kinky will also be shared. The paper will also underline that queer and kinky, although related in that both share marginalization based on sexuality, are also distinct discources. Although there is are no water tight categories possible or desirable, the focus of the discourses related to queer issues tends to be ‘who’ we desire and BDSM is perhaps more about ‘how’ and even ‘why’ we desire.

4.6 Title: Picturing Law

Chair: tbc



Panelist: Chakravarti Patil, Research Associate, Jindal Global Law School

Title: Conflicting Ideologies of Society, its Laws and the Cinema

Abstract: Through this paper, the author will enquire into the correlation between the law, and motion pictures. It aims to look into how, on one hand, the films portray the society and the law and how on the other, the society and law perceive these art works. The enquiry begins with brief study of transition from the glorified image of legal system in 80s and early 90s in the Indian Cinema (much similar to, if not inspired from its American counterpart) to the gradual degradation of this image in later times. While there cannot be one view on whether films depict what happens in the society, or whether society imitates what is picturised on the screen, the paper will examine the mix of this notion by discussing two aspects. First, it will look into films as a medium of exercising the freedom of expression. Film makers of all genre have used their work to address strong social realities that require immediate attention. Through bold cinematography, Deepa Mehta’s Fire and Shekhar Kapoor’s Bandit Queen, (among many others) have called for controversies and criticism by challenging the set norms of society and its system that often turns a blind eye towards its inherent issue. In reference to these works, the paper will analyse situations where the law has protected this right and has stressed on the need for accepting the societal reality. The second aspect of the paper then examines the situations where the films have exposed the cruel face of legal system, as in ‘Gangajal’ in the background of Khatri v. State of Bihar.

In conclusion, emphasis will be made on the need to develop critical consciousness in the contemporary societal set up by promoting Cinema which is bold and at the same time does not exaggerate system’s drawbacks by misleading the audience through its unnecessary melodrama.



Panelist: Shireen Mirza, Doctoral Candidate, Department of Anthropology, SOAS

Title: Cityscapes of Islamic Media: Re-thinking Counterpublics through Practices of Shi’a Reformism?

Abstract: I propose to present an ethnography of the public screening of Islamic films during the annual Muharram commemoration, as a cityscape. Islamic films, part of on-line Shi’a networks, were freely downloaded, dubbed into Urdu, screened, copied and sold by a Shi’a activist group, Tanzeem, in stalls that lined the streets of the old city of Hyderabad. The films circulate unconventional meanings of Muharram that read Karbala as an eternal fight against oppression, relating the ethical battle of Karbala to the 2006 Lebanese war and the Palestinian struggle against Israeli occupation. In my presentation I elaborate and describe the manner in which Tanzeem activists sought to insert themselves in a modern Shi’a imaginary through the screening of radical Islamic films, contending local Muharram practices.

The presence of Islamic acoustic elements as part of the complex urban environment, in which discipline and deliberation, language and power are interdependent, are similar to the spaces in Lara Deeb’s Beirut and Charles Hirschkind’s soundscapes of cassette sermons that undergird the revivalist daw’a movement in Cairo as “counterpublic spaces” (Deeb 2006; Hirschkind 2006). Unlike the pure moral economy of modern technology in producing pious dispositions in the Islamic cityscapes described by both Deeb and Hirsckind, I describe the manner in which religious media practices played in the streets are part of the noise of postcolonial cities as “cultures of recycling” that fashion subjectivities and permeate bodily senses (Liang 2005; Sundaram 2004), seeking to re-inscribe and transform traditional Indian Islamic practices.

Through this I explore shifting notions of an ethical community in continuity with modernity, in which beliefs, practices, collective memory and modes of belonging from a ‘pre-modern’ past are sought to be recuperated and re-inscribed in an otherwise homogenous present. I reflect on ways in which an empty homogenous time of nation, that Walter Benjamin apprehended as a uniform and unfilled space, interacts with multiple social experiences of modernity. In particular I speculate if the presence of Islamic acoustic elements and screening of ‘radical’ Islamic films in the city can be read not only as a moral inhabitation of the space of the nation but could also interrogate liberal notions inherent in the framing of notions of ethical and legal communities.   

Panelist: Amar T. Khoday, Faculty of Law and Centre for Human Rights and Legal Pluralism, McGill University, Montreal, Canada

Paper Title: Valourizing Disobedience Within The Ranks 

Abstract: The use of resistance to counter dominant and oppressive power (and the norms that such power produces to solidify its authority) has been a compelling device to seek changes to the legal status quo. Resistance often entails an element of outlawry, yet depending on the circumstances, certain acts of defiance prove legitimate. Narratives of “rightful” resistance that are waged for such purposes often make for compelling artistic material, whether it is in film, television, theatre and/or literature. Taking the position that such forms of artistic and cultural endeavor are sites of legal normativity, my paper shall examine, amongst other things, how, within such “Theatres of Justice”, resistance is presented as a normatively legitimate device for obtaining and securing justice or an otherwise justifiable goal when pitted against a legalized or otherwise legitimized oppression.  

Given the rich amounts of material that explore the relationship between law and resistance, particularly in film and television, I shall focus my attention to one specific realm of artistic endeavor – the valourization of resistance within the context of depictions related to military service within theatres of war, conflict zones or matters related to national security. Popular notions of military life often imagine a highly regimented world where orders are to be followed despite misgivings a subordinate might have. Films and television have presented an alternative vision of law where subordinates challenge orders by superior officers and, at the same time, challenge the latter’s presumed wisdom. As such, they present normative ideas not only about when such acts of defiance by subordinates are justifiable but perhaps also expected.  

This paper forges together my two main areas of academic interest: (1) law and resistance; and (2) law and popular culture. I currently contribute writings to a law and popular culture web log which I co-founded called Jurisculture. I have also written an article that was published last year on the cultivation of a unilateral American Responsibility to Protect on the once popular American television program, The West Wing.   

Panelist: Anja Kovacs, Fellow, Centre for Internet and Society, Bangalore

Title: The Fragile Connection: The Internet and Freedom of Expression in India

Abstract: For long, the possibilities that the Internet provides for freedom of expression have been hailed as revolutionary. Increasingly, however, it is also recognised that when states are intent on doing so, circumscribing the right to freedom of expression can be achieved online almost as effectively as it can offline. Parallel to this growing realisation, the United States in particular has now in fact started to use campaigns in favour of online freedom of expression as another strategic weapon in its fight against select authoritarian states.

In this context, how has the Internet affected possibilities for freedom of expression in India? This paper will examine this question from two angles. On the one hand, it will investigate the challenges thrown to existing restrictions on freedom of expression as defined by Indian law not only, as is usually highlighted, by the ways in which terrorists use technology, but also, for example, by the appearance on the Internet of videos of young women who were filmed with their consent while stripping (although they may not have consented to the subsequent distribution of this clip).On the other hand, the paper will explore how the international political economy of campaigns to promote freedom of expression online affect the space to resolve in a progressive direction such challenges at the national level. As will be shown, while the growing spread of the Internet as such provides an excellent occasion to reopen the debate on laws on freedom of expression in India, the way in which the question of online freedom of expression has gotten caught up in world politics makes it very difficult for these possibilities to actually come to fruition.



5.1 Title: Doing Legal Philosophy in India: Reflections on the Legacy of Chhatrapati Singh
Panel Coordinators: Arudra Burra & Mathew John
Chair: Mohini Mullick

Panel Abstract: Legal philosophy has been a neglected aspect of Indian legal scholarship. With notable exceptions, very few Indian scholars have explored how philosophy illuminates legal questions and helps resolve legal problems. In this context the exceptional scholarship of Chhatrapati Singh assumes considerable significance. Chhatrapati Singh studied philosophy at St. Stephens College (Delhi) and at the University of Ottawa (Canada) where he obtained his doctoral degree. Returning to India in 1982, he joined the Indian Law Institute (ILI) where he worked for nine years. During this time he published his first book, Law from Anarchy to Utopia, a path breaking philosophical exposition on the nature of legal rules and their role in sustaining a just order. During his years at the ILI, his interests steadily moved towards issues in environmental law and in 1991 he became the founding Director of the Centre for Environmental Law (World Wide Fund for Nature, India). Exploring conceptual issues in environmental activism, his notable publications in the field include Common Property and Common Poverty: India Forests, Forest Dwellers and the Law (OUP 1986), Water Rights and Principles of Water Resource Management (1991) and India’s Forest Policy and Forest Laws (2000). By the time of his death in 1998, Professor Singh had left behind a large body of scholarship which included numerous co-edited volumes and articles on topics ranging from the ontology of law, Wittgenstein’s theory of language, a general theory of numbers and papers on Indian legal and moral philosophy, a topic that captured his interests from his earliest to his last work. Taking Chhatrapati Singh's work as a starting point, the Panelists examine various ways in which philosophy can contribute to the understanding of the law, not only in its more abstract aspects, but in its various contemporary manifestations.
Panelist: Upendra Baxi

Title: Chhatrapati Singh and the Idea of a Legal Theory

Abstract: Chhatrapati Singh [CS, hereafter] was India’s finest legal philosopher and continues to be the only legal philosopher India has produced. And yet, he is the least read Indian law schools; and departments of politics or philosophy.

The puzzle depends when we also find that his work has scarcely been noticed by jurisprudents in the ‘West.’ Two examples must suffice. In workshop on utopian legality (at King’s College, London, November 25, 2005) there was an air of incredulity when I mentioned CS as amongst the finest students of Leibniz! And as late as 2009 Amartya Sen in The Idea of Justice has no reference whatsoever to the CS reflections in his analysis of the conceptions of justice in Indian philosophy. And but for this LASSNET event, his germinal text Law from Anarchy to Utopia [hereafter LAU] would have gone unnoticed.

Trying to unravel this gross disregard of the contribution of CS in terms of sociology of knowledge or social epistemology must remain a task for another day. What is important to recall is the fact undeterred, CS continued his primary interests, above all in the pages of The Journal of Indian Law Institute. But CS also realized that he needed to translate his philosophical concerns in the contexts of social action for justice. Thus is born CS-II, a figure more familiar than CS-I, writing imaginatively about the common property rights, water law and jurisprudence, environmental law generally, and legal education and research. Even then the consumers or connoisseurs of CS-II rarely revisited CS-I!

In this conversation, I address primarily CS-1, though I have fond memories of working   constantly with CS-II.   We agreed most of the time1. Of course, we also went through a cycle of tenacious disagreement, for example, over the nature adjudicative leadership (triggered by social action litigation) and his reading of the scandalous judicial settlement orders in the Bhopal Case. CS was prone to regard the amount of US$470 million an act of indirect apology to the Bhopal-violated! I thought this as cruelly naïve indeed --given the fact that that the Union Carbide Corporation induced this settlement against India’s claim of US $3 billion, and further did everything possible to hurt and harm the Bhopal-violated. CS insisted that his way of reading was hermeneutically open; I counter-insisted (putting this point here rather summarily) that texts may only be read within the contexts and further that acts of reading are annexed always with fiduciary responsibility towards the worst off and right-less co-citizens and co-persons. He was not entirely persuaded but, as I far as I can recall, CS eventually did not publish his views by way of a ‘letter to editor.’

CS was given a most undignified institutional treatment. My successor at the Indian Law Institute literally drove him out of the Institute; I visited the then Chief Justice of India protesting at this rabid denial of dignity but to no avail; and I recall having mentioned this in an obituary note published in The Hindustan Times. Lesser minds considering appointment to Chair or readership at Delhi University denied him the appointment on the miserable ground that he was not a law degree-holder! My own notions of respecting autonomy of the departments and faculties unfortunately prevented me from recording a minute of dissent from the decision of the selection committees.
Unfazed by the venality of institutions, and with support of friends including Justice Leila Seth, CS was able to found and run an independent centre in environmental studies, which instantly proved a runaway success both in terms of research agenda and training programmes. In this otherwise reticent person lay oceanic forms of resilience. Had CS lived his full term of life, his would have been a catalytic presence in the spheres of human rights and social movement activism in a neoliberal’/’hyperglobalizing India. I think that his work in so many fecund ways already anticipates the World Social Forum motto: ‘Other Worlds are Possible.’

Panelist: Sanil V.
Title: Critique and the Possibility of a Science of Law

Abstract: Chhatrapati Singh sets for himself two objectives: to provide modern law with a secure foundation, to prepare the ground for a new reception of Indian tradition in philosophy of law. His book Law from Anarchy to Utopia is an attempt to combine both these tasks in a productive manner. Securing the foundation of modern law demands a re-examination of the relation of modern western philosophy to its own tradition. He realized that a post-Kantian project to ground the idea of law has to take necessary recourse to the pre-Kantian metaphysics of Leibniz. However, this is not a regression to pre-critical naiveté. Chhatrapati returns to Leibniz not because of the embarrassing persistence of metaphysics within critical philosophy. For him modernity is not an abrupt break with the tradition of metaphysics. Instead it is a break with the metaphysical idea of tradition. Modernity while freeing thought from the blind authority of tradition allows us to have a free relationship with the traditions of thought. Chatrapati’s return to tradition - both the pre-critical metaphysics of the West and Indian philosophy - is made possible by this free relationship which is constitutive of modern thought. However, Chhatrapati was too much of a post-Kantian to accept the availability of Indian philosophy as a set of doctrines or texts.

In this presentation I shall briefly examine Chhatrapati's approach to Dharma sastras. He rejects the claim that these texts are codification of customary laws. Nor do these sastras speak to us through works of sociologists, lawyers or philosophers. These sastras seem to be making a claim on constituting an independent science of law. We moderns need to pose a critical question to such sciences - what are the conditions under which a body of knowledge can claim to be an independent science? To pose this question, Chhatrapati thinks, we need to establish an ideological continuity with these sciences. However, he knows that the modern idea of law does not allow us to look for continuity with a science of law. In the modern academy legal science does not even figure in the list of social sciences. Chhatrapati holds positivism responsible for the absence of a modern legal science.

Chhatrapati tries two routes to establish "ideological continuity" with classical Indian legal philosophy. One of them involves a careful sliding behind the critical mode of thought as it happens in his post Kantian retrieval of Leibniz. I see this move as one of overcoming the critical moment without regressing into pre-critical naiveté. The second route is through a critique of positivism. I think the former route offers more possibilities than the later. Critique and positivism are strange bedfellows. Despite their enmity they both are made possible by the same conditions which define modern thought. Following Michel Foucault I would call this condition human finitude. Under this condition, thought in its very nature is called upon to encounter its limits and recognise these limits as the ground of its freedom. Such thought of finitude is so immediately practical - crisis ridden and also anxious- in nature that it cannot propose a theory of practice or ethics. Communitarian critique of modern thought misses this in-eliminable and debilitating practical orientation of modern thought. To think the possibility of a science of conduct we need to overcome this critical and practical orientation of modern thought and its ontology of human finitude. I think such a move is necessary to engage with the question of emancipatory violence in modern society. Chhtrapthi's thought contains the intimations of such a project.



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