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Harvard to the rescue!

February 16, 2013

Some good news for embattled and weary Indian feminists. All those endless submissions to the Verma Committee prepared and submitted, all those critiques of the Ordinance written and disseminated, all those street protests, all those meetings with students and the public, all those delegations to government officials, ministers…not to mention decades of efforts to amend the rape laws.

It’s been a long hard haul, so it’s a great relief that the Harvard Law School has stepped in to take this burden off our shoulders.

A post on the Delhi gang rape on the Harvard College Women’s Centre website has announced that a Policy Task Force titled “Beyond Gender Equality” has been convened to offer recommendations to India and other South Asian countries in the wake of the New Delhi gang rape and murder.  Diane Rosenfeld, Director of the Gender Violence Clinic at Harvard Law School and Professor Jacqueline Bhabha, will head this group.

Their principal task this semester is to produce a working paper that advises on the implementation of the recommendations from the Verma Committee. The committee in a bold move, points out the need to reassess the military powers that are allowed to operate with impunity in conflict zones. Part of our discussion will focus on real reparations and support for survivors of sexual violence, in a manner that allows them to function as integrated members of their communities.

It’s so good to know that there are Harvard Professors to make all the “bold moves” that Indian feminists have never made.  Attack the impunity of security forces? Now that’s a bold move indeed – would any of us shy  Indian women be so bold as all that?  I wonder where the Verma Committee got that crazy idea from?

Posts on Kafila on the Justice Verma Committee and the Ordinance

See also:

49 Comments leave one →
  1. February 16, 2013 1:11 PM

    Hahaha. Ridiculous but so typical.

  2. Nadim permalink
    February 16, 2013 1:26 PM

    Now, it’s the white women saving the brown women from brown men.

  3. Melanie permalink
    February 16, 2013 2:04 PM

    How very magnanimous of them! Guess Indian feminists can just sit back and hang up their boots whilst Harvard Law School does all the hard work!!

  4. Neelanjana permalink
    February 16, 2013 2:16 PM

    White privilege is alive, unabashed and thriving!

  5. shiva shankar permalink
    February 16, 2013 3:23 PM

    You seem to have got confused. The “bold” in the press release is for Verma commission, not for harvard comittee, so it seems post is misplaced. After all, varma recommendations were indeed bold for gov commission.

  6. Dharini permalink
    February 16, 2013 4:29 PM

    From what I understand from the post on the Harvard College Women’s Centre website, ‘the committee’ in the paragraph you quote refers to the Verma Committee,not HCWC themselves. It is the Verma Committee’s work that is being characterised as ‘a bold move’. I am confused as to what the author has issue with – that the Committee is being applauded without giving due credit to Indian feminists; or that this new ‘policy task force’ dares to comment on issues in India.

  7. February 16, 2013 7:09 PM

    May be they should take care of the rapes/gang rapes being done right here in the USA first.

  8. Vandana permalink
    February 16, 2013 8:22 PM

    Sometimes it is easier to look through a telescope and guide those on the other side, because studying history has given academics insight into a movement workings, womens suffrage or otherwise.
    We forget to look in our own backyard because right around my immediate surrounds, within the university and family set up, we have people with the same mindset and jargon.
    And, might often gives us the right to preach what we …umm…dont practice. Fix-it. Fix-them.
    What does the regular modern woman hiding behind the purdah of civilization and education say about the ‘success model’ of de-mystified sex, multiple courtships and weddings have to say?
    Zero negatives in a patriarchical society, also with patriarchy in religion (that helps bring order to society) that will not vote for a female President? Hmmm.
    Maybe the feminist movements can join hands to come up with a global approach to de-mystify antiquity of patriarchy itself.

  9. C. M. Naim permalink
    February 16, 2013 9:42 PM

    Please do read the original news at the link, thankfully included above. Indian experts need not panic.

  10. Nivedita Menon permalink*
    February 16, 2013 9:54 PM

    Shiva Shankar and Dharini, thanks for pointing out that the word “bold” refers to the Verma Committee and not to the task force set up by Harvard. Nevertheless, the real problem is with the assumption that US academics can advise South Asian countries on how to deal with rape – can you imagine academics in India doing likewise for the US?
    Dharini, your confusion as to what is my problem, is inexplicable. My problem is not about “credit” (Indian feminists don’t need certificates or “credit” from the US), nor is it about feminists in other parts of the world “daring to comment” on India. It is about US academics having the arrogance to set up a task force to advise South Asian countries how to implement a report that has come precisely out of the serious interventions of Indian feminists. Our government doesn’t take our interventions seriously, hence the highly problematic Ordinance, but that’s our struggle here.
    I might add that many US feminists are extremely embarrassed by this step Harvard has taken. Who do you think brought it to our notice?

    • Sanjay Srivastava permalink
      February 17, 2013 2:00 AM

      Well said, Nivi.

    • Anuradha Pati permalink
      February 17, 2013 10:36 PM

      Yes, arrogance, thats what came to me first, then I laughed.

    • Lakshmi permalink
      February 21, 2013 5:24 PM

      Bravo :) Typical American attitude to go out and ‘reform’ the rest of the world.

  11. Vinay Kamath permalink
    February 16, 2013 10:28 PM

    If american pressure can bring about reforms in laws relating to the safety and well being of the female sex in India, what’s wrong with that ?? The way I see it, the Indian feminists should have welcomed the Harvard committee’s move as a shot in the arm, instead of being derisive and nursing a bruised ego as seems to be the case above. Isn’t it a shot in the arm for the Verma committee that its recommendations have found global acceptance ?? The real culprit here is the reluctance of the Indian government to implement the Verma committee’s recommendations. Why open up other seemingly irrelevant fronts ??

    And what’s this thing about the “white man’s privilege” as someone wrote above ?? The parliamentary system of governance, the concepts of democracy are all western creations but haven’t non western societies adopted them ?? Where was our self respect then ?? How long is the white man supposed to carry around the “white mans burden” ?? Who amongst the orientals is going to give away certificates of good behavior to the “white man” ?? What about the modern feminist and the human rights movement themself ?? Do they owe nothing at all to the Western world and are in fact totally indigenous constructs ?

    • Neelanjana permalink
      February 17, 2013 10:18 AM

      White privilege is something women of colour and third world feminists have struggled with, identified, and written about for several decades (you can find out more about it, because your reading seems a little off). Also, you just displayed male privilege by advising ‘Indian feminists to welcome the Harvard committee’s move ‘instead of nursing a bruised ego’.

    • Vandana permalink
      February 17, 2013 10:53 AM

      Global acceptance for the Verma committee report!
      When?
      Where?

  12. passerby permalink
    February 17, 2013 12:11 AM

    I see no issues in this because time and again, in India reports from universities like Harvard, studies from Human Rights Watch have been so favorably cited and used to tell us how horrible the situation in India is and the solutions from these reports have also been cited/used. How many times have we questioned the need to cite them or for that matter the continuation of white mans burden image. But do the reports and studies done by Indian groups or for that matter the ones published in Indian languages get the same attention among Indian academics and activists. Is it not a fact that there are many academic tiny/cottage industries which survive to a great extent on preparing these reports, disseminating them and seeking funds for them. Is it not a fact that both rightist , liberal and leftists intellectuals are all part of these cottage industries which includes seminars, conferences, journal issues and workshops. So what a big deal if a Committee based in Harvard offers recommendations to India and other South Asian countries. Perhaps they got it wrong by not including anyone based in south asia but there are always opportunities for projects that have members from two countries or more. If not Harvard such a committee can emerge from another Ivy League University. Don’t lose hope dear south asians :).

  13. aditya permalink
    February 17, 2013 1:26 AM

    much as i like nivi, i wish she wouldn’t treat kafila like her facebook wall.

    this ‘post’ does the website no credit. i don’t think anyone comes here to revel in petty academic cat fights (atleast i hope not!). and sarcasm is a weak substitute for a well formed argument, especially when its based on a deliberate misreading of the object of your ire.

    • Nivedita Menon permalink*
      February 17, 2013 1:44 AM

      Hey Aditya, thanks for liking me, but you do know I dont do FB? Kafila is all I have.
      I wish you could see the anger and amusement in feminist circles in the US and India over this Harvard initiative. Why are Kafila readers so enraged by this post? I’m baffled.
      I’m making a serious point about political struggles, location and the way in which First World feminists can appropriate struggles elsewhere, and you term it not merely a “petty academic fight” but a “cat-fight”? Really? Because women are involved?

    • A Reader permalink
      February 17, 2013 1:46 AM

      There it is. There is no escaping it anywhere. It is something that comes attached to the male eardrum and is activated the moment an intelligent woman opens her mouth to speak. No matter what the topic, the tone, the words; all that the man hears through his filter of barely-concealed sexism is a catfight.

    • Fatima permalink
      February 17, 2013 10:00 AM

      Your innocence about yourself is so touching, Aditya, you pompous young man (from my age, you can only be young:). Who is ‘Nivi’? You buddy? Or playmate? Is this your facebook page or or perhaps your private drawing room? But that is okay. After all, with a dangling manhood, you can never be frivolous and can do everything that you accuse the post author of, without fear of being challenged on these counts. I for one, could not see a word of reasoned argument in defense of the Harvard Task Force in your lines above. All you have is the ‘weak substitute’ – of sarcasm and invective – in far greater quantity than the post itself has.
      And do you really understand the difference between politics and academic disputes? From what I can see, the issue is a political one. It is not about academic disputations. But then that is a serious immanent reading of the HTF (as opposed to ‘Nivi’s’ ‘deliberate misreading’) of the matter at hand.And of course, I cannot resist saying something about your comment on ‘catfights’ – even though someone else has already noted and commented upon it. Is it that by virtue of being men, you acquire the right the minute you drop from your mothers’ wombs, to comment on women in disparaging terms – irrespective of whether they are senior professionals, academics, or merely your younger sisters? Catfight indeed! And pardon my curiosity, but are you by any chance in the queue for tenure in some university abroad? Just wondering.

  14. Nivedita Menon permalink*
    February 17, 2013 1:26 AM

    I’m really amused that while feminists from both the US and India find this Harvard initiative amusing and enraging simultaneously, some predictable Indian commentators on Kafila have used my post to launch off against their own pet peeves – from “leftists and liberals” to “academics and activists” to “indigenists”. Not to mention the cynicism of passerby who thinks everyone in India, is like him/her, dying to be in “projects” based in the US. Some of us, dear passerby, have not the slightest yearning of that sort, but you may not understand.
    Would be hilarious if not so maddeningly illiterate.

  15. A Reader permalink
    February 17, 2013 1:37 AM

    While our kind Harvard sisters step in to do the dirty work on our behalf, we can work on bringing the Steubenville crooks to justice.

  16. Aarti Sethi permalink*
    February 17, 2013 1:46 AM

    @ CM Naim

    No panic, just amusement. Thank you for pointing us to a link we’ve already read. We imagined lawyers would surely know the subtle difference between solidarity and presumption.

  17. Commenting from abroad permalink
    February 17, 2013 3:19 AM

    I know something about this pair (Jacqui Bhabha and Dianne Rosenfeld), and can say with some confidence that they wouldn’t know the politics of solidarity if there were a sign attached. They operate only in contexts of charity and the imposition of Ivy League expertise. Apologies in advance for not signing my name — I have personal experience of their vindictiveness, and have not known them to tolerate disagreement well.

  18. Radhika Chandiramani permalink
    February 17, 2013 3:59 AM

    Bleeeaah! Don’t they have enough problems of their own to deal with? Ah, duh! That’s why they are deflecting attention to (poor brown women of) India, silly me!

  19. Lawrence permalink
    February 17, 2013 5:44 AM

    So is there scope for any constructive engagement with this Harvard initiative? Would it, for example, help to have them:

    1) expand the scope of their initiative to make it multicountry but not limited to South Asian/”emerging”/”developing” countries)
    2) approach this in a participatory manner with Indian/South Asian feminist scholars (not just located in the US but also in India/South Asia) involved in designing what should be researched
    3) and not “advise” but research…though the research might lead to some useful ideas and comparatives/recommendations.

    From the note on their website it seems like they want to do some work on reparations. Correct me if I am wrong, but the notion of reparations is not as well developed as some of the other concepts around sexual assault and there might be some real utility to pushing that research agenda through (i.e. potentially mutually beneficial?) if they take on board the concerns of Indian feminists about how this is framed??

    Or are we saying that there is absolutely zero utility to any further research that’s initiated by Harvard even if they completely revamped how they went about it….?

    Nivedita, if Diane Rosenfeld writes to you tomorrow saying they were working on a concept note to circulate to Indian feminists and seek feedback, put together a joint research team, and planned to produce something useful and in a consultative manner, would that still be objectionable? That wouldn’t be “appropriating” the struggles in India…but showing sisterhood?

    Nivedita, also a request, it would be very useful to read more about how one determines at what point something becomes appropriation? How do Indian feminists deal with arguments about “appropriation” internally? For example, upper class/brahmin/Delhi-based/English-speaking feminists “appropriating” Dalit struggles, adivasi struggles…. or even “appropriating” law reform processes? Is there a process that you would recommend one follows? Is participation and inclusion the counter to appropriation or is there something else?

    • Nivedita Menon permalink*
      February 17, 2013 10:13 AM

      Hey Lawrence,
      Some thoughts:
      1. “scope for any constructive engagement with this Harvard initiative” – no, because the initiative is not asking for any engagement. This is a Task Force that has been set up to advise South Asian countries on how to implement the Verma Committee Report. It was not set up in consultation with feminists in India. At best we could petition it to be heard – dont want us to do that, really dont.
      2. “not ‘advise’ but research…” – well, it is precisely set up not to research but advise. So you think we should approach this Task Force and request them to change themselves into a research group? So your query – “Or are we saying that there is absolutely zero utility to any further research that’s initiated by Harvard even if they completely revamped how they went about it” is again, raising a straw man, because I am all for research and endless research on all parts of the world by everyone – which feminist would not be – but Lawrence – THIS TASK FORCE IS NOT ABOUT RESEARCH BUT ADVICE ON POLICY.
      3. Yes, reparations are an important issue for us to address, but again – the substantive points they may or may not raise is irrelevant because of the form that the initiative has taken.
      4. “if Diane Rosenfeld writes to you tomorrow saying they were working on a concept note to circulate to Indian feminists”
      What is this hypothetical situation you outline, Lawrence? You know my politics and the politics of Indian feminism – why would that have been a problem? All of us are in constant engagement with feminists from all over the world. But consider your query – “IF” and “TOMORROW”. The Task Force has been set up already. If they approach anybody now, it is from that vantage point. And Lawrence, it might help if you read the feminist critiques of these kinds of high-level global interventions made into sexual violence by US-based feminists. These critiques are made by other US feminists such as Janet Halley as well as by Prabha Kotiswaran and others – they term this kind of intervention “governance feminism” – a development in which a certain strand of feminism has entered the corridors of international power. This is a white universalist, top-down, state-centred feminism, in which the specificities of politics in different locations are erased, and it is assumed that all conflict anywhere can be translated as part of the global ‘war on women’ as understood by white American feminists.
      5. And as for “appropriation” and how Indian feminism deals with that question internally – this is a long, continuing, self-reflexive and often bitter battle intellectually and politically within Indian feminism, by no means resolved. But I can tell you one thing – there is a fairly clear distinction between “solidarity” and “appropriation”, which doesn’t take much acumen to recognize. At the risk of sounding like I’m plugging my book, I do engage with this question frontally there. And as you know, I dont want anybody to necessarily buy, it – just read it By Any Means Possible. I wont go further here into a question that deserves a much longer and complex discussion.

      • Nivedita Menon permalink*
        February 17, 2013 10:26 AM

        Lawrence, the familiarity of my tone to you (and my assuming some familiarity on your part with my views) is because I thought you were my friend Lawrence Liang! But apart from that, my argument stands.
        Apologies to you and LL for that mistaken assumption!

        • Sva permalink
          February 18, 2013 1:15 AM

          As a feminist academic teaching in an American university, I cannot help but weigh in on the use of “sisterhood” in Lawrence’s first comment:

          “Nivedita, if Diane Rosenfeld writes to you tomorrow saying they were working on a concept note to circulate to Indian feminists and seek feedback, put together a joint research team, and planned to produce something useful and in a consultative manner, would that still be objectionable? That wouldn’t be “appropriating” the struggles in India…but showing sisterhood?”

          Given the history of the term ‘Global Sisterhood’ as a vehicle for racist, condescending and uncollaborative interventions that were propagated in the West and deployed (sprayed?) against women, in particular, in the non-West, in the service of trying to ‘help’ them – as well as the ways in which this dynamic has fostered some violent and, frankly, crazy rationales for military intervention (‘their women need saving’) – I do not think we are going for ‘sisterhood’ here, but, as several people have said in this discussion, ‘collaboration’ (which would start before a committee, for example, is even formed) or, my preference, ‘solidarity.’ I do thank you, and everyone here, for getting at a question that I think is very much at the heart of the matter: how do we craft new models for working together across space and time, without repeating the pitfalls of the past?

  20. Sva permalink
    February 17, 2013 7:10 AM

    @Vinay Kamath, American pressure only every brings about one thing: more American pressure. The most offensive thing about the Harvard Committee is the way it completely bypasses, ignores, and therefore erases Indian feminists’ immeasurable work on the issues raised in the Verma Report, not to mention their work in the Report itself existing. And, @passerby, international human rights orgs are a different story – they are not perfect, by any means, but they do sometimes care about what local activists think, and, in rare but important moments, even work at their behest. Ivy League universities in the U.S. have a history of initiating projects with none of these concerns in mind (re: the Harvard committee at hand). We should all beware Ivy League Committees bearing the gift of intervention, especially when no one asked them for it.

  21. Aditya Nigam permalink*
    February 17, 2013 9:30 AM

    Dear Lawrence,
    I think you are conflating two different things here, especially when you say:
    “Or are we saying that there is absolutely zero utility to any further research that’s initiated by Harvard even if they completely revamped how they went about it….?”
    Surely, you know very well that a Task Force is not about research? And surely, you should know that all of us are routinely engaged in collaborative research with univiersities abroad. Our experience of such collaborations too often leave much to be desired because these Universities from abroad come with their pre-set agendas and want us to simply ‘join in’. Our intellectual inputs in setting the agendas are not required – but that is another story that nevertheless highlights the skewed nature of power relations between ‘them’ and ‘us’.

    So, if feminists in India and in the US are (angry and embarrassed respectively) about this (this alert was sent by the way, by a very prominent feminist scholar in the US), there should be something that should prompt you to stop and think. I am saying this to you because you seem to recognize at least that there is something to debate here – unlike many others on this thread. At least I have no doubt that your comments express a real puzzlement – but I think you too seem to assume too much and even before you find out what is angering feminists so much.
    You hypothetical poser (“Would it, for example, help to have them:”) is really neither here nor there. My question to you would be the reverse:

    So, what are the protocols of political interventions? Anybody who has been even marginally involved in political struggles will know that you do not fly in from outer space and start dealing with the governments (or authorities in question, in that specific case), but first make attempts to make connections with people who are in struggle in that field. That is not what has happened here. Now that the initiative has been taken, it is, according to you, the responsibility of Indian feminists and political activists to approach them and request that our concerns – as listed by you should be taken on board.

    So, now additionally, apart from petitioning and pressurizing our government here, we should start pursuing these scholars – one more task on our already full hands!

  22. Shilpa permalink
    February 17, 2013 10:38 AM

    It seems like several things are being said here and on facebook (yes I’m on facebook, and NO I do not think that this post resembles a personal peeve of the FB kind but is a considered sarcastic (we are still allowed to do that, right aditya?) reflection on what appears to be an unreflective move by some Harvard academics to set up a Task Force to offer advice to India.

    Some are suggesting this is a blog by a student and not substantiated by anything elsewhere. Fair enough, this is a blog but its on the Harvard College Women’s Center (HCWC) blog page – if its inaccurate then they need to be more careful about what they say and how they say it.

    Other accusations include calling Nivedita Menon an elite academic feminist – I am really tired of this old cliched way of arguing especially when the writer has nothing really substantial to say. If you have a substantive comment make it but please don’t resort to such cliches.

    One of the reasons this is annoying is that it is part of a larger malaise where neo-colonial attitudes persist even in ought-to-be-informed supposedly post-colonial contexts. While its perfectly acceptable to study anything anywhere the idea of “offering policy suggestions” to my mind is a bit presumptuous.

    Its about not wanting to collaborate or that efforts elsewhere have no ultility – they certainly do. But there more than a suggestion of arrogance in the way this Task Force (not research endeavour) is articulated. If there’s another explanation then we’re happy to hear it but for now we have to assume that this blog is accurate.

    In writing this response, I feel like I’m stating the obvious but clearly it isn’t obvious!

    • Akshay permalink
      February 17, 2013 6:57 PM

      Shilpa,
      References to ‘elite Indians appropriating subaltern perspectives’ reminds us of an older perspective regarding ‘educated natives’ vs.’real’ Indians with ‘authentic’ worldviews. It would be interesting to know more about how elite-ness is being imagined: that Nivedita Menon supports corporates, or the Indian state’s position on, say, Kashmir and the North-East? Or does she earn an American academic’s salary? How is is that American academics can articulate subaltern points of view, but not middle-class Indians?

  23. Lawrence permalink
    February 17, 2013 11:09 AM

    Nivedita, Aditya,

    There is no puzzlement at my end. If you read my post carefully, no where do I ask either you or other Indian feminists to petition the Harvard team. On the contrary, it was actually written in the hope that some members of the Harvard Task Force, or their friends, also reading this post, might venture to read the comments…. And if they are thinking individuals who respond to criticism, they will go back to the drawing board.

    So the post was actually written for the benefit of Diane Rosenfeld and her team…our exchanges, I believe, outline a constructive road map about salvaging and converting the Harvard initiative into a meaningful research collaboration on reparations, which will benefit everyone involved. Her students might petition her? Other US profs might petition her? The dean might speak to her? Anyone else might choose to let her know the importance of not losing this opportunity. Despite how it began, things can change mid course? They might understand that real meaningful policy-changes happen when rooted in strong research and the research agenda needs to be set in collaboration, not prescribed?

    Nivi, your book was anyway on my list to read so I will read it. If your book engages with this question, I am all the more keen to read this. Identifying appropriation is less a function of a acumen and more a function of location. But I wanted (again not for my benefit, because I know it exists, but for the benefit of other readers of Kafila) an acknowledgment from a feminist of your stature that Indian feminists also struggle with questions of appropriation as much as others outside do. The nature and manner in which these function are clearly not the same, but there are similarities.

    • Nivedita Menon permalink*
      February 17, 2013 12:11 PM

      Thanks Lawrence for this clarification. But of course, when you come in on my post on Kafila, addressing me by name, asking me questions, there is no reason to imagine that you are actually addressing the Harvard Task Force! If in fact you were obliquely (too obliquely!) addressing them, in the hope that, as you now say, “They might understand that real meaningful policy-changes happen when rooted in strong research and the research agenda needs to be set in collaboration, not prescribed” – then of course, we’re on the same track.

  24. Sam permalink
    February 17, 2013 11:28 AM

    If you look at the actual event that is happening (rather than the women’s center blog post description), you will see that it is a student panel of South Asian students and student groups that are hosting the event. It was a misleading blog post from the Harvard College Women’s Center that choose to recognize the Western professor who is moderating the discussion rather than the South Asian students who are putting the event on. http://southasiainstitute.harvard.edu/event/sai-student-seminar-2/

    • Nivedita Menon permalink*
      February 17, 2013 11:55 AM

      Let me say once again, and for the last time – the link to Harvard College Women’s Centre and the information about the Task Force was brought to Indian feminists’ attention by a prominent American feminist disturbed by it, and who works closely with Indian feminists on issues of sexuality. There is considerable discomfort among feminists based in the US and the UK over this initiative. If the blog post is misleading, then Harvard Law School and the Professors involved need to issue a clarification because this is not my own individual simple misreading, but a widely prevalent impression that has been created, inadvertently or otherwise.
      The question is not whether students are hosting this event or not. The question is – is there such a Task Force whose self-assumed role is to advise South Asian countries on what do about sexual violence. If there is such a Task Force, there is no misunderstanding on anybody’s part.

  25. February 17, 2013 12:21 PM

    Its really a bold move ma’am.

  26. Shama Zaidi permalink
    February 17, 2013 12:57 PM

    Shouldn’t they be concentrating on what their soldiers do by way of rape molestation torture etc. etc. in countries which they invade “to bring democracy”

  27. Vandana permalink
    February 17, 2013 5:50 PM

    Anything can become a habit! Over centuries…habit of invading a different world, teaching them the ‘right way,’ recording everything about them, creating systems/ problems, solving problems, … back to advising, teaching.
    It is a huge laboratory…this world. One system works and ‘one size fits all.’ It better! All others must be classified as third world.
    Convert to one success model. Through force, war, diplomacy, democracy, education, religion, training, chappals, food, …pretty please.
    BTW, lets not get judgemental. Would that be an intelligent choice?

  28. nurnasreen permalink
    February 19, 2013 11:52 PM

    Hello! Thank you for bringing these concerns to light. I speak on behalf of the group at Harvard that is putting together this discussion. We were referencing the Verma Committee (and not the policy task force at Harvard) as the committee that “in a bold move, points out the need to reassess the military powers that are allowed to operate with impunity in conflict zones.” Our apologies if the language was not as clear. As our discussion progresses, we hope to bring in more voices and look at prominent individuals working on the ground to raise awareness. Furthermore, the policy group that is being put together is not simply comprised of Harvard professors, but students who are actively involved in work in India and who hail from South Asia.

    • theglobalnorth permalink
      February 21, 2013 9:04 AM

      Unfortunately, this comment does not respond to the substantive critique of the creation of a “Policy Task Force” to make “recommendations” to the GOI. The focus on Menon’s misreading of the “bold move” – which she has since corrected – is really an evasion of the larger critique. Moreover, the comment about “hail[ing] from South Asia” smacks of “native informant” attempts to claim authenticity.

      I am sad about the lack of reflexivity in the Women’s Center’s response to these issues. The language is perfectly clear; it is presumptuous and patronizing, and the Women’s Center has taken no steps to address this (whereas, as mentioned, Menon has responded to the feedback about her minor misreading of the “bold move” comment).

      Moreover, there is a tendency to reduce the critique to a “universalism/relativism” divide, which, as Carole Vance’s critique clearly shows, is not what this is about. It is possible to engage in transnational conversations. It is possible, though I believe extremely difficult, to collaborate across borders to recognize similarity and difference and positionality. This is not what you are doing. In the name of a “global sisterhood,” you are imposing your expertise on others.

      I understand that you have good intentions. British colonialism, similarly, had good intentions. What I am saying, in line with Dipesh Chakrabarty, is that good intentions can be oppressive – sometimes even the most oppressive – of forms, producing incalculable epistemic violence. I hope in the coming days, the Women’s Center genuinely reflects on this issue, and comes up with a more thoughtful engagement with these critiques.

  29. Nivedita Menon permalink*
    February 20, 2013 10:11 AM

    nurnasreen, thank you. You would note that I have corrected myself and my misreading of the word “bold” in that quoted passage, after two commentators pointed this out.
    The substance of my concerns remain intact though, as expressed also by Carole Vance, Prabha Kotiswaran and a group of Indian feminists on Kafila. But hopefully, this is the beginning of conversations. It is still not clear where you want to “raise awareness” (in the US? in South Asia?) and also, not clear at all on this business of the Task Force advising South Asian governments.

  30. Achyut Chetan permalink
    February 24, 2013 12:36 AM

    This is not addressed to anyone in particular but to draw attention to a fact and ask if it has any implication for that debate. In the list of a hundred people who “interacted” with the Verma Committee are names of at least two Harvard professors and two Oxford academics. One of these is Diane Rosenfeld, the object of ire of Indian feminists and of one prominent American feminist. Since I know nothing about these professors, except the guess that I rightly made that one of them Prof Jacqueline Bhabha, is married to the eminent postcolonial Indian scholar Homi Bhabha, also based at Harvard, I am not commenting on their locus standi in the matter. However, it remains to be acknowledged that many American academics (including some feminists with Indian passports) have engaged with Indian issues with great competence and activist zeal. The Indian women’s movement, as Nivedita Menon, seems to be pointing here, has never shut out contributions from ‘outside. Not even in the days before 1947, I would want to add. Of course, there was an attempt to distinguish the Indian movement from the Western one. The differences between first world and third world feminists are as inevitable as necessary but they may also complement each other. Perhaps they even do so and no Indian feminist would deny the importance of work, both conceptual and activist, done in the first world in sharpening our own politics. The arrogance of the Harvard move can only frustrate such positive aspects of an interactive movement like feminism. At the same time, however, I think, we may do well to look at the way committees like the Verma Committee seek suggestions from Harvard like institutions.

Trackbacks

  1. Unintended consequences of feminist action: Prabha Kotiswaran « Kafila
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