Epistemologies and Ontologies of Gendered Citizenship after Orientalism
In “The Politics of Translation” Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak suggests that “The task of the feminist translator is to see language as a clue to the workings of gendered agency.”
In December 2012, the brutal gang rape and murder of Jyoti Singh Pandey in New Delhi lead to massive protests throughout India and sparked a national and transnational debate regarding gender justice within the Indian subcontinent. In 2009, thousands took to the streets to celebrate the reading down of Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code, India’s Sodomy Bill, following a tireless campaign by activists and allies.
In these instances and countless others, I believe one can see an ongoing tension between gendered bodies and bodies of law. In instituting secular, western legal ideas of “rights”, British colonialism and subsequent Indian nationalist ideals of “democracy” served to translate the body into text. What might be lost(and found) in translation?
My research currently looks at modes of gendered subjectivity that pre-date British colonial rule and the rise of the secular legal “rights” based person within the Indian subcontinent. I am interested in how figures such as Hijras, and other gendered subjects within India, historically enacted and continue to enact modes of political subjectivity that might not be fully translatable within the grammars of Occidentalist citizenship and legal personhood.
While the move to “rights” based approaches to political subjectivity are often seen as undisputed forms of “progress,” my work questions whether translating diverse enactments of gender into quantifiable modes of legal personhood is always a necessary good.
Judith Butler suggests that “…hegemonic concepts of progress define themselves over and against a pre-modern form of temporality that they produce for the purposes of their own self legitimation.” While the slogan “India shining” has been used to brand the nation as a neoliberal success story owing to transnational capitalist investment and the growing IT sector, does this “progress” translate into forms of bodily justice?
When “Commonwealth” games displace slums and reported rape has increased 25% within the last decade in New Delhi, the remedies neoliberal capitalist “progress” can offer for contemporary India should perhaps be questioned.
My research is an attempt to use archival research and fieldwork within the Indian subcontinent to explore some of the lingering questions of justice that law and “rights” often leave behind.