Papori Bora, Assistant Professor, Centre for Women’s Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University
Recent feminist engagement with the law in India in the wake of the horrific gang rape of a young woman in Delhi in 2012 have critiqued the sovereignty model of understanding power that reiterates state centric understanding of power and modes of sexual surveillance. This builds on a long history of feminist engagements with the law in the Indian context engaging with questions of consent, the constitutive aspects of legal discourse in the making of gendered subjects at the intersection of caste, class, religion, and state violence. The attempt has thus been to understand both the disciplinary and bio political aspects of power. However, what has been missing from this discussion is how sovereign power of the state works in tandem with other forms of power in terms of disciplinary and bio political forms. This paper will engage with the specificity of the sovereignty of the postcolonial Indian nation state by centering on questions of gender, race and political violence at the margins of the nation state. At the center of this analysis will the political activist, Irom Sharmila, from the state of Manipur in Northeast India, who undertook a fast for sixteen years protesting against the emergency law, the Armed Forces Special Powers Act in India’s Northeast. This Act allows security personnel to shoot and kill suspected militants on mere suspicion with limited judicial oversight. After being force fed by the Indian state for sixteen years, Sharmila broke her fast in 2016 to pursue other means of protest to challenge the imposition of the emergency law in India’s Northeast.