Volume 005


January 2024

In his groundbreaking 1980 publication Remarks on the Philosophy of Psychology, the Austrian philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein wrote, “Not what one man is doing now, but the whole hurly-burly is the background against which we see an action, and it determines our judgement, our concepts, and our reactions.”

When we published the Caseworker’s Dictionary of Violence, (co-authored with 12 caseworkers), it allowed us to pause and undertake a deeper exploration of how gender-based violence sustains itself in the hurly-burly of rural heartlands and kasbahs of Uttar Pradesh. The words opened up a world that manoeuvred us away from the temptation of engaging in popular discourse, to instead understand – what is the scaffolding that supports, nurtures and gives strength to violence?

We learnt some interesting things; the scaffolding is made up of not just the demonised or villainised, but those nearest and dearest to us. Violence, just like love, lives on a continuum.

Our Crime Edition is a continuation of this desire, if you will, to apprehend the hurly-burly that surrounds the criminalisation discourse. We pause to ask: what makes a crime, who is a criminal, and what in the hot white mess is a feminist way of looking at crime anyway? The background work on this edition involved a lot of old school study and new school interpretations. Together, we believe we have found something not unlike a kaleidoscope, where broken pieces of glass move synchronously to yield a pattern that is both unique and ubiquitous.

What a feminist way of looking at crime gave us, was an opportunity to sift through contemporary sound and fury to bring together law, activism, psychology, criminology, and the field, to generate knowledge that, quite frankly, is so loving of the ordinary person making their way in the world: so forgiving, so astute in its reading of what people need to be whole, that for a minute we thought this was an edition on Buddhism.

A feminist lens allows us to codify phenomena that often doesn’t get codified as ‘evidence’. Looking through this lens opened up interrogations of structures that inform caste and carcerality: how a criminal is constituted and for whom? It urges us to ask who is in prisons, who is being kept safe and from whom? 

As a gift, it allows us to document strategies of resistance that defy a killing of the spirit. It allows us to see possibilities that non-normative lives offer, and makes us suspend judgement for a while.

But most importantly, the feminist lens required us to pull back from the moment of a particular violence, of a specific crime, and look at the larger context in which the crime was situated, in tandem with the context of the perpetrator. Maitreyi Mishra from Project 39A pushes our imagination of care ethics to ask Does Care have to be at the Periphery if Crime is at the Centre? What kind of care and empathy was provided to the offender by those around him? And why is it critical to look at both – the offender and the person impacted by the crime? Can feminist thought move from scepticism to deeper listening when hearing perpetrators’ accounts of crime?

There are multiple ways to frame a reformation of those involved with crime; the rehabilitation of sex workers [debated at multiple levels] is one. We have Sharon Menezes from TISS and Prayas helping us see the holes in the ‘rehabilitation’ model. In her essay titled In Between Worlds, she introduces us to some critical experience of and arguments made by sex workers regarding their own rehabilitation. Since crime and structures of confinement are deeply intertwined, we have Mahuya Bandhopadhyay and Rimple Mehta, the editors of Women, Incarcerated helping us see the prison-social system continuum through the lives of ordinary women prisoners in “We went looking for Violence and found Love.”

The ordinary and the everyday brings us back to our Meet The Caseworker series which continues in the Crime edition. We publish two more video interviews with Rajkumari and Kusum – caseworkers from rural Bundelkhand who take us through their personal journeys and practice of working on the frontlines of GBV, while being deeply embedded in the community. Why do they keep doing this gruelling work? What moves them? How do they convince daroga saab to file that FIR?

This edition is also special because we launch our brand new show on Nirantar Radio: The F-Rated Interview. Season I speaks to some of India’s best women crime reporters, in conversations that bring together gender studies, journalism and the school of life. Episode 1 features acclaimed journalist Priyanka Dubey who worked on the Hathras case amongst many more in her 14-year career, and surprisingly, through this episode, brought back poetry into some of our lives. (Crime takes you everywhere, even rhyme).

As feminists interested in transformative futures, we have Shalom Gauri and Kushal Choudhary put together probably one of the first and most exhaustive primer on Restorative Justice: its origins, how it has travelled, and how it is playing out in India. Featuring insights through extensive interviews with child rights activists, grassroots practitioners and a thorough review of the archives, they draw from global movements to demonstrate the possibilities of centering non-carceral approaches in our many quests for justice.

In the meanwhile, in Pakur, Jharkhand, Ashraf and Ajfarul explore a conundrum: mining rips a land apart – and that’s criminal – but is starving without jobs less of a crime? A Learning Lab production, do watch and read this moving video essay Gaping into the Void.

And for our Hindi exclusive pieces, do read the Hindi editorial to guide you through fiction and non-fiction.

Putting this edition wasn’t straightforward; the age-old question of reform vs abolition came up in every interview and naturally, we also delve into the complex limitations of law vis a vis feminist ethics. To echo Professor Mari Matsuda’s powerful words, our crime edition lays bare the possibilities of days when both speeches are to be made — one at the door of the courtroom, emphasising that as long as courts are plagued by privilege, law won’t bring justice. And one inside the courtroom, holding truth to power, urging law to uphold fundamental values dear to life.

And as far as life-affirming contradictions go, we have realised that joy needn’t be at the periphery if grief is at the centre. And care needn’t be at the periphery if crime is at the centre.

Stay with us for the next three months for new pieces, podcasts and videos to help us frame a feminist way of looking at crime.

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