Carceral Feminism and the Punitive State: Why I am not with the Mob — 3


 In the light of the above history it seems no surprise at all that mainstream feminists in Kerala do not seem to need a critique of the punitive state at all. Nor are they really troubled by the withdrawal of the welfare state or its perversion, even in matters that crucially affect women and children. Being moored in it, even the withdrawal of the welfare state from even support services to child-victims of sexual violence (citing ‘convenience’ which turned to be ‘convenience’ for the government alone), and the stuffing of crucial committees dealing with the welfare of and justice to women and children with dubious candidates with nepotistic connections – has rarely excited significant united protest from Kerala’s mainstream feminists.

Indeed, in a recent case of baby-abduction in which the infant born to Anupama Chandran, the daughter of a local CPM leader, in her relationship with Ajith, a dalit man, was trafficked with the active connivance of child welfare officials, this feminist mainstream was mostly silent; many prominent voices in it were rallied against the aggrieved mother; some of them even participated in the unspeakable cyber-lynching of the couple, spreading rumours and making unfounded accusations. Though the large numbers of young sexual violence victims belong to the oppressed castes, and though the Anupama-Ajith case was plainly one of caste hostility and violence, these features did not trigger animated responses from the feminist mainstream. These tepid or hostile responses are in sharp contrast to the manner in which sexual harassment campaigns are conducted.

And this is not all — even the outrage and protest against sexual harassment and violence accelerate in this style only when the accused is not politically connected. The present regime has notoriously protected many of their own men accused of sexual harassment and violence, and against dalit women too.

But more serious is that indignant public posturing against the accused that sets him up as guilty by default seems to leave little resources for actual survivor support. While the angry attacks that call for declaring the accused guilty by default might seem justified when the accused makes active effort to evade or distort the due process, abscond, or threaten/defame the complainant, they still draw away valuable energy that ought to be spent on meaningful effort at empowering the survivors to fight their battles. In this case, for example, the complainants’ cases, going by the evidence they cite, seem so thin that without insane luck, they are bound to crumble pathetically in court.

Why are the complainants, despite so much support from the feminist mainstream, allowed to compromise themselves so flagrantly? Though the remarks made in the anticipatory bail order granted to Chandran from the Kozhikode Sessions Court will (and should) be irrelevant in the trial court, the nature of the evidence provided by the prosecution – as well as the ‘open letter’ circulated in the social media which is said to be written by one of the complainants to Satchidanandan – do not bode well for the complainants. If the feminist mainstream had any commitment to the complainants, they would have worked patiently at building a strong, durable, coherent, and convincing case that cannot be worn down by the defence easily. They would have learned from the experience of failures in court – where each time, completely-explainable inconsistencies were carelessly ignored by the prosecution, exploited against the complainants. They would have helped the survivor understand the roots of her trauma – trauma in an intimate relationship need not always originate in it, its roots may lie somewhere in the past, related to negative experiences elsewhere.

Nevertheless the Civic Chandran case is one that the feminists should not fail, going by their earlier explanations of failure. In the earlier instances, the defendant was too strong and influential to fail; in this one, he is not. The state does not favour all men alike. The police and the courts in Kerala tend to favour those who are well-connected and resourceful and/or are powerful in mainstream left circles. Civic Chandran does not enjoy the latter privileges. He is of course well-known in Kerala, but it is precisely his social and cultural connections that have turned against him en masse, almost. A powerful man gaming the system cannot be an excuse this time. The feminist mainstream should be able to win even without this non-stop toxic torrent of lies, rumours, and bad thinking on social media – as long as no false accusations are involved, with careful planning and support to the complainants, you cannot lose.

I can imagine the mainstream feminist response to this: that the courts are patriarchal and unsympathetic to survivors of sexual violence or harassment. C’mon, then, in that case, why go to court at all, if we know already that justice is not forthcoming from there? Why thrust the complainants into further trauma, then?

Actually, in that case, you are closer to my position – that solutions should not be exclusively carceral; that we must turn to restorative justice which focuses on repairing harm rather than just punishing the criminal and promotes offender accountability in the process. Not in this case for sure, as I have repeatedly emphasized elsewhere, because such a process cannot proceed without consent from all parties, and both parties have chosen the path of retributive justice.

Indeed, the nature of the state in Kerala is rapidly changing and carceral feminisms that rely heavily on it are set up to fail – women’s causes are bound to fail on the one hand, and the hand of the state, that is most often raised against marginalized people, is bound to grow stronger still. The feminist mainstream in Kerala must abandon this bad-faith existence which simply refuses to acknowledge the ground crumbling beneath our feet, the growing mountains of misogyny all around us. It needs to reinvent itself if it does not wish to continue its present experience of continuous cancellation and constant humiliation by the ruling political power and the state.

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