Intersections: Gender and Sexuality in Asia and the Pacific
Issue 32, ??? 2013

Bishakha Datta (ed.)

9 Degrees of Justice:
New Perspectives on Violence against Women in India

New Delhi: Zubaan, 2010
ISBN: 978 81 89884 50 5 (hbk), vi + 358 pp.

reviewed by Manjeet Bhatia

  1. In 9 Degrees of Justice: New Perspectives on Violence against Women in India, the editor, Bishakha Datta, tries to include all kinds of injustices—both 'bad' as well as 'good' women—as the women's movement cannot overlook any category of woman. Datta presents essays in pairs of sub-themes. These are justice, space, tradition, choice, work and conflict which are a random ordering that could have been done differently with different perspectives.
  2. Essays by Farah Naqvi and Shamita Das Gupta fall into the 'justice' category. Naqvi reminds us of those famous cases of violence against women that were and still are, to some extent, the rallying points of women's movements and asks certain uncomfortable questions. Has legal justice been delivered? What is the meaning of justice for the survivor of violence and for activists? How is the law limiting in identity-based crimes against women? She discusses decriminalisation of domestic violence through the approach of women organisations, victim's demands and judicial practice. It is one of the very interesting sections where the paradox of practical approach and feminist principles is brought out well.
  3. Das Gupta has written on the not very widely discussed issue of violence against Indian women in the US—specifically when they arrive as secondary immigrants, the ones who are dependent on the primary immigrant. The primary immigrant (often a male) has the right to work, as the State recognises him on his own standing. Eighty per cent of male immigrants fall in this category and the majority of women are dependent on these men to enter the country. The paper brings to light the difficulties of those women who do not have full work permits as they are considered to be dependent. It highlights the ways in which the Indian community guards its image and keeps knowledge of domestic violence under wraps, and explores the reasons why a battered woman in the first two years of her marriage has a difficult choice of not reporting the matter or facing deportation.
  4. Both papers bring out well how feminist lawyers have to down play domestic violence. In the Indian situation to let women compromise to obtain a 'hardship waiver' and in the U.S., at the cost of bashing the Indian culture back home. The waibver is needed to save the battered women from being deported from the U.S.
  5. Each of the two essays on the space aspect of gender, focuses on violence, jurisdiction and power relations. Whereas, the essay by Shilpa Phadke on 'If Women Could Risk Pleasure' draws on the real physical space, the essay by Sharmila Joshi on 'Untangling the Web' draws our attention to the fast-growing virtual space where public/private boundaries are becoming hazy. Newer forms of violence against women have emerged in these virtual spaces and strategies to respond to such violence have not yet evolved. Though these essays illustrate the vulnerability of women in these spaces, they also encourage women to develop a positive outlook with caution.
  6. The book includes sexual harassment, and the issue of sati together under the theme 'tradition.' The author of the essay Puja Roy, submits that 'the assertion of masculine power is almost always the core reason for sexual harassment at [sic] workplace' ( p. 159). Along with the problem of not recognising the economic independence of women, when in public they are seen as out of place.
  7. Roy bases her arguments on a small number of women working in the formal sector, women's roles as workers not being recognised, and the grave vulnerability of women (78.4%) working in informal sector. The author draws on real cases to show the denial of justice.
  8. The chapter 'from Roopkanwar to Ramkumari' draws on three Sati murders to analyse, discuss and debate the issue of Sati. The article written by Purima Manghnani takes us through the journey of the women's struggles, documents the voices of activists on each case and the subsequent action or inaction of the State and its institutions. Scholars are of the opinion that criminalising the immolation of a widow on the pyre of her husband does not rectify the cultural traditions. Activists thus adopt both the strategies to work with communities and also using legal sanctions to address the issue.
  9. The subtheme choice is discussed in essays on a suicide by a lesbian couple and the murder of a couple for 'honour'. The essay, 'Anatomy of a Suicide' by Maya Ganesh traces the suicide of two dalit (lower caste) girls, aged fifteen and twenty-two years, and brings forth the factors of poverty, unhappy family environment, desire, language restricting migration, control of women's sexuality and the total unacceptability of the Choice of being a lesbian. The author, Ganesh, reconstructs the tragedy with the help of interviews of all those involved. In answering the question, 'was suicide the only choice?' the author stumbles upon the not-so talked-about violence that occurs 'every time … a woman feels married against her will [and] … every time [she] feels guilty for wanting to be happy … and [that when] a woman must die because she is unacceptable to society' (p. 223).
  10. The second essay in this pairing illustrates the killing of young Sanjay, a Schedule Caste (lower caste), married to an upper caste, Brahmin girl in Rohtak, Haryana. Rajashri Dasgupta tries to bring together many strands of the issue of Choice in marriage. Dasgupta alleges that women's desire and sexuality are not priorities with feminist activists; the article takes the reader through this complex terrain and brings to light all the contentious arenas. Dasgupta concludes that more work has to be done to address this issue.
  11. The chapter on Performing Sexuality deals with the glamour economy. The chapter is based on ethnographic interviews conducted by Manjima Bhattacharya over three years with thirty women in the industry, between the ages of seventeen and forty, living in the metropolitan cities of Delhi and Mumbai, who were involved in modelling on the ramp, for print advertisements and television commercials, in music videos, as well as former beauty pageant winners and contestants. Bhattacharya examines what this performance of sexuality entails and observes that if we put all women who work in the public domain on a continuum with one end of desexualised women (nun/widow) and on the other the commercial sex workers, glamour industry work would figure closer to the second end. Bhattacharya challenges the stereotype image of women who have chosen this profession that see such women as '"hypersexual" … available, and somewhat less than human' (p.281).
  12. Bhattacharya opines that sexual objectification and commodification of women is the focus of the debate created by globalisation and the free market. She laments that this debate, 'however, does not take sufficiently into account the subjective experiences and agency of women in the industry, nor does it offer a relevant critique of the underlying sexual moralities, both of which are critical to the challenges of the fundamental moralistic assumptions that continue to limit women's lives' (p. 282).
  13. Bishakha Datta has put sex work in a different light. She juxtaposes the abolitionists and sex workers perspectives brilliantly. She has drawn from activists, writers, sex workers' unions, sex workers, feminist writers and makes us think, along with others, that although it is true that the 'male gaze' constitutes almost all sexual relations, it is not the only possible meaning. She does not see prostitution as a grand narrative of sexual slavery alone and puts forward many countering positions. Morality, it seems, lies not in bashing sex work but in bashing sex work that stigmatises women. Datta's chapter raises new questions in these changing times, in that women as subjects again fall out of the feminist framework in the case of prostitutes, models in the glamour industry, and other such professions. The author boldly clumps both these occupations into the category of work-related violence.
  14. The subtheme conflict is the last section of the book. The conflict is placed in the Indian states of Kashmir and Mizoram. Both these chapters stand out in the style and lucidity with which they are written. Sonia Jabber's River Song is about the struggle of mothers and families of the young Kashmiri boys abducted and killed. They allege that their men are killed in false encounters. Jabber also finds that some of these men and boys are trapped by local petty jealousy, that lands them in jail or they become less respected and thus try to gain respect through militancy. The end result is women, who are without sons or husbands. The years of search and finally a touching protest at Jantar Mantar, New Delhi, deals with the violence that conflict unleashes. The last chapter, written by Mona Zote is a poem about the state of danger. It depicts violence in North-East of India; a life full of dangers, yet life flows on. The paradox of hope and devastation is well brought out:

      We have been bombed silly out of our minds.

      Waiter, bring me something cold and hard to drink. Somewhere there is a desert waiting for me and someday I will walk into it.

  15. Datta, through these twelve articles, has attempted to bring together a spectrum of violence against women and its impact on them. The book provides updates on different aspects of violence, such as violence through the internet, questions of justice in real terms of securing women's rights or arriving at practical compromises, understanding same-sex love, bringing the subject of the sex worker to centre stage, and countering the area of traditions where more work is required. It brings in current debates on women's objectification, globalisation and the market-oriented economy. It also offers a deeper understanding on the ever-present issue of prostitution. The chapters under the sub theme choice are most entrapping with no exit.
  16. The contributors, as claimed by the editor, are second or third generation feminists who try to think differently about the same issues that attracted women to feminism originally. The book is bold enough to juxtapose glamour and prostitution as work. It questions the approaches to issues that are devoid of women's subjectivity. Questions of violence and space, encourage women to take calculated and informed risks, so that their desires are expressed. The concluding chapters end at positive note of creativity that survives the onslaught of violence. However, there are important topics which are missing, such as the declining sex ratio and its implications. New perspectives on this issue would have been enlightening.
  17. The reader has to think, can we really accept glamour and prostitutions as work when Indian women have not even got basic effective rights of not being violated? Is it a class perspective that these feminist are putting before us? Can the women's movement take such class perspectives on board?
  18. This anthology, unlike many others on violence against women is new in raising uncomfortable questions even for feminists, and directing search lights on women as subjects in all violent situations. It is an important book for scholars working in the area of violence against women.


Published with the support of Gender and Cultural Studies, School of Culture, History and Language, College of Asia and the Pacific, The Australian National University.
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Last modified: 18 August 2013 1123