In September 2019, the CSGS organised a research meeting in Delhi for scholars pursuing different projects under Governing Intimacies, a five-year long research project funded by the Andrew Mellon Foundation. The project encourages new and interdisciplinary scholarship on gender, sexuality and intimacy in postcolonial societies, and the CSGS is housing the project in partnership with the University of Witwatersrand, South Africa. Over the two days of the research meeting, 18 grantees presented their research, alongside activists and academics from Delhi-NCR. To tie the panels together with the overarching theme, we had activist Kavita Krishnan and filmmaker Paromita Vohra deliver public lectures on the right wing’s regulation of sexuality and on radical ways of loving, respectively.
Writing feminist and queer histories requires an engagement with queer intimacies, often formed in “closets” of systemic discrimination. Archiving queer lives, therefore, requires interpreters and cultural historians to piece through letters, photographs, underground newsletters, and obfuscated archives to assemble narratives. Simultaneously, an ethnography of queer politics has to be sensitive to the co-existence of pain and pleasure, even amidst the violence enforced by the state. Against this backdrop, the panel addressed what it means to create archives centred on queer lives out of state-sanctioned modes of recognition, and how such an exercise can contribute to building political solidarities.
Chair: Ishan Mehandru (CSGS, Ashoka University)
Speakers: Debjyoti Ghosh (Asian University for Women); Keval Harie (Gay and Lesbian Archives for Action-GALA); Caio Araújo (University of Witwatersrand)
The panel examined how the lens of intimacy complicates the binary of public and private, because it transposes concepts more conventionally associated with the private sphere (such as affect, difference, needs and care) into the public, i.e., the space associated with plurality as well as supposed neutrality. The speakers used their research on spaces such as public transport, elevators, beauty salons, and metropolitan cities to address how complex relations of gender, race, caste, and sexuality mark out space in the global south, and constitute an “intimate subject” outside of the subject produced by the state’s regulation of sexuality.
Chair: Alankrita Anand (CSGS, Ashoka University)
Speakers: Durba Chattaraj (Ashoka University); Bridget Kenny (University of Witwatersrand); Atreyee Majumdar (Jindal Global Law University); Nandita Dutta (CSGS, Ashoka University); Nicky Falkof (University of Witwatersrand)
With its campaigns of ‘Beti Bachao’ (Save Daughters), Swacch Bharat (Clean India) and Population Control, and with the enactment of a law to criminalise Instant Triple Talaq, the Government of India, ruled by the Hindu-supremacist BJP, has crafted a progressive, reformist image for itself. This progressive rhetoric matches its slogans of globalised development but a closer look reveals how these campaigns mesh with the BJP’s and the Sangh’s organised Islamophobia and anti-feminism. What helps the government campaigns, the agenda of pro-corporate globalisation, and the far-right Hindu-supremacist activism come together can be understood as a politics of what the Sangh calls ‘familyism’, according to Kavita.
The need for sex-education, and a sex-positive conversation has been an urgent and necessary one in the light of cultural and political stigmatisations of and prohibitions on desire. The idea that sex and love are separated from each other and that sex is not spoken of and thus, becomes an area of shame, has propelled ‘open’ conversations about sex. But in the process the conversation about romantic love remains unexplored and relatively untouched. This in fact emphasizes the schism between love and sex, between feeling and sensation. Through a discussion on her work on modern love and Agents of Ishq, a multimedia project on sex and desire in India, Paromita discussed the need for a radical emotional approach and vocabulary to create possibilities for a love-sex revolution.
In order to understand gender in the postcolony, it is necessary to complicate it along the lines of race, caste, and class using the lens of intimacy, because the law regulates all of these aspects of one’s identity, and more. Although the term “intimacy” refers to affective relations between people, recent writings have adopted a much more expansive usage of the term to capture aspects of social and institutional relations more broadly. In such a framework, sexuality has become a cornerstone of post-colonial national, political, and cultural agendas, and it is a marker of who gets to be a “good citizen”. The panel looked into how sexuality complicates the conception of the racialised and gendered post-colonial subject.
Chair: Nandita Dutta (CSGS, Ashoka University)
Speakers: Jaya Sharma (Independent Writer and Researcher); Dhiren Borisa (Independent Researcher); Ntokozo Yingwana (University of Witwatersrand)
The law is intimately involved with the lives of people. While recognizing that it can be used to tackle inequality, feminist scholars have pointed out that the law often reinforces the social constructions of gender, culture, and tradition by regulating intimate relations among subjects, and preoccupying itself with sanitising gender and sexuality into easily intelligible categories. The panel examined the social relationships privileged in law, and particularly debated if marriage as a system of regulating intimate relationships still held relevance. In the wake of the court striking down Section 377, the panel also discussed what extending marriage laws to same-sex relationships reveal about marriage as the central mode of governing property and parental rights.
Chair: Caio Araújo (University of Witwatersrand)
Speakers: Nafisa Essop Sheik (University of Johannesburg); Cassandra Dorasamy (University of Witwatersrand); Crystal Dicks (University of Witwatersrand); Madhavi Menon (Ashoka University)
Most postcolonial feminist literature on the state turns to the question of whether to think of the state as either oppressor or saviour of women. The panel looked into the question from a fresh perspective, investigating the spaces in which the state, law and citizens convene to understand how gender is understood, articulated and made material to systems of governing. The panel also examined the implications on women of the forms in which modernity was constituted in the colonial period. An interesting question that the panel debated was if protesting sexual violence changes the discourse on gender and violence and if it constitutes alternate common senses and counter-publics.
Chair: Ishan Mehandru
Speakers: Lyn Ossome (Makerere University); Nechama Brodie (University of Witwatersrand); Aparna Vaidik (Ashoka University)
The postcolony is currently reeling under the stranglehold of neoliberalism, the outsourcing of labour by the West through the use of a cheap and/or migrant workforce, and the gendered re-organisation of care work that it demands. Amid all this, religion still remains a powerful force shaping people’s intimate lives and mediating their relationship with various actors of the state. The panel, therefore, explored the tumult in the spheres of gender, law and religion, studying how subjects in the global south fashion their lives in the context of present-day socio-economic forces, whether this refashioning informs the organisation of intimate relationships, and whether religious histories offer lessons to deal with the present.
Chair: Jessica Breakey
Speakers: Mehita Iqani (University of Witwatersrand); Lorena Núñez Carrasco (University of Witwatersrand); Natasha Erlank (University of Johannesburg); Abir Bazaz (Ashoka University); Alexandra Verini (Ashoka University)