Listening to Dr. Uma Chakravarti

Yesterday I had the opportunity to listen to Dr Uma Chakravarti speak on “States of Emergency, sexual violence and Impunity” under the public lecture series on “Development and Justice” at IIT Delhi.

Here I would try to summarise what she talked about in as little words as possible.

‘States of Emergency’ are government declaration which alter the ‘normal’ constitutional provisions and laws. There are usually used to handle emergency situations like natural disaster,war etc. However, governments the world over have used these as they saw fit.

Post-independence India saw emergence of regions of relative instability. The state responded with emergency laws e.g. AFSPA. However this created a state of emergency with grey areas of accountability. The armed forces seem to have inordinate powers but little or no accountability – the explanation being that certain acts are done in the line of duty. There are cases of unexplained killings, missing persons etc.But Sexual violence can never be an act in the line of duty. Many cases have been reported – the manorama case in Imphal, the kunan Poshpara incident etc.

A pertinent issue here is an absence of options available to civilians to legally address their concerns. The court system run by armed forces is opaque to civilians and there is no reason a civilian should be forced to undergo a process there. This state-granted immunity to security personnel defies the principles of justice. The security forces seem to enjoy a formalized impunity.

The speaker also compared the relative attention given to cases of sexual violence in ‘mainland India’ and the far-flung pockets like the North-East, Jammu and kashmir. These cases generally not given the same importance as the ones happening on the mainland. The way we engage with the remote parts of our country is just sorry. We can’t hope to achieve the goals of development without inclusion of everyone from every part of the country.

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