Nikita Dhawan

Postcolonial Governmentality and the Politics of Rape: Gendered Vulnerability, Sexual Violence and the State

Given the routineness of rape, the unprecedented nationwide anti-rape rallies in India protesting the gang rape and gruesome assault of a young student in the country’s capital in December 2012 have been hailed in the global media as a sign of an “empowered” Indian public, which managed to shame the Indian state into action against sexual violence. The troubling questions are whether the protests would have been so widespread if the young woman had been from a marginalized group or had “only” been brutally assaulted, instead of being raped. Do the protests and media coverage simply reflect the fetishization of penovaginal penetration?

Against the deployment of sex as a site of power, Michel Foucault recommends “desexualization of rape” as a strategy against disciplinary power. The sexual definition of rape, he argues, reinforces the genitalization of the body, thereby justifying the disciplinary targeting of sexuality. He provocatively asks why an assault with a penis should be distinguished legally from an assault with any other body part. Given his distrust of law as well as the state, Foucault seeks to delink desire and crime, sexuality and the law in an attempt to immunize sexual acts from becoming target of state intervention.

Drawing on Angela Davis’ important work on colonial rape politics and prison abolition as well as revisiting Foucault’s controversial proposal to treat rape like a “punch in the face”, the proposed article will investigate the role of civil society and the state in promoting and obstructing gender justice by addressing the following questions: How is the problem of rape constituted in post/colonial societies? What knowledge is produced towards handling and solving the problem? How are specific forms of interventions rationalized? How does the tactical deployment of vulnerability of women simultaneously make them “governmentalizable”? I will argue that while new modes of collective agency can emerge by drawing on gendered vulnerability as a site of political agency, the production of the female vulnerable subject also functions as a technology of postcolonial governmentality. At the same time, against pursuing for or against positions vis-à-vis the state as a facilitator of gender justice, the article will engage with the Derridian/Spivakian idea of the postcolonial state as Pharmakon – poison as well as medicine.

Nikita Dhawan is Professor of Political Science and Gender Studies at the Leopold-Franzen University Innsbruck. She has held visiting fellowships at Universidad de Costa Rica (2013); Institute for International Law and the Humanities, The University of Melbourne, Australia (2013); Program of Critical Theory, University of California, Berkeley, USA (2012); University of La Laguna, Tenerife, Spain (2011); Pusan National University, South Korea (2011); Columbia University, New York, USA (2008). Her publications include: Impossible Speech: On the Politics of Silence and Violence (2007); Hegemony and Heteronormativity: Revisiting “the Political” in Queer Politics (co-ed., 2011); Decolonizing Enlightenment: Transnational Justice, Human Rights and Democracy in a Postcolonial World (ed., 2014); Postcolonial Theory: A Critical Introduction (2015; with Maria do Mar Castro Varela, in German); Global Justice and Desire: Queering Economy (co-ed., 2015).