Copenhagen ADI Conference 2017
9th annual international ADI conference
Asian Dynamics Initiative
University of Copenhagen 26-28 June 2017 

(En)countering Sexual Violence in the South Asian City

Atreyee Sen, Dept. of Anthropology, University of Copenhagen;
Raminder Kaur, Dept. of Anthropology, University of Sussex;
Emilija Zabiliute, NIAS, University of Copenhagen

This panel invites papers that address the theme of encountering and countering rising sexual violence (broadly defined) in cities in South Asia, and analyse such phenomena through the lens of urban social transformations in the region. There has been substantial literature which explores sexual violence in rural South Asia and its relationship with honour, class, caste, politics and religious violence. The bodies of women, especially those from marginalised village communities, have been historically desecrated, hanged, stoned and severed, often to return women to their lower social and gendered strata. Over the past few decades, incidents of rape, sexual discrimination, honour killing, acid attacks and sex-related murders have rapidly increased in urban centres. Media representations, celebrity support and the use of social media to express both outrage and endorsement of violence against women, have impacted how ordinary citizens view women’s right to the city. In the context of India, these anxieties came to a head during what became known as ‘the India rape crisis’: the brutal rape and subsequent death of a young student in Delhi that led to anti-rape demonstrations in many cities (Dec 2012). As more women enter urban labour economies and educational institutions, and exercise choice in terms of marriage, modernity, consumption, sexuality, dress and employment, questions of women’s mobility become largely reconfigured to accommodate debates about new sexual vulnerabilities in the city. The latter include concerns about religio-political protection groups, which supress sexual freedom. How are notions of femininities and masculinities articulated with regards to class, caste, poverty and ethnicity in the urban context? Are the choices of women and queer communities creating new forms of urban violence? What are the structural constraints faced by ordinary women workers while negotiating hostile urban landscapes? What urban resources are accessed to contest sexual vulnerabilities? How are gendered vulnerabilities reported and represented in the media? How do urban transformations of past years impact experiences and discourses of gendered violence in South Asian cities? These are only some of the questions that the panel is keen to explore.