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Great Conversations: 3rd i NY presents Conversation on Torturing Democracies: Past and Present

Mon, November 14, 2011 7:00 pm at Alwan for the Arts

(View all great conversations »)

Free and open to the public

Doors open at 6:30pm

Our conversation will start off by situating the discourse on torture in the United States in a larger context of debates on law and violence in liberal democracies. Then we focus on three other themes from Jinee Lokaneeta's book, Transnational Torture: Law, Violence, and State Power in the United States and India, that have implications for understanding torture and state violence in Sri Lanka and India: Colonial Continuities, Exception and the Norm, and the interventions of human rights groups.

The permanence of extraordinary laws such as Prevention of Terrorism Act (POTA), and Terrorism and Disruptive Activities (Prevention) Act (TADA) in India, and the Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA) in Sri Lanka has to be understood in relation to the British colonial interventions. Colonial policies introduced a “rule of law” alongside spaces for extraordinary acts enabling postcolonial states to implement repressive policies. The use of torture, custodial deaths, and disappearances in South Asia has to be addressed in this context.

The justification of diluted safeguards in extraordinary laws often relies on a distinction between a temporary exceptional legislation to address terrorism and a well protected routine criminal justice system. In India, it appears as if the exception or state of emergency has emerged either during particular periods (1975-77) or in certain areas more than the other (Kashmir and North East for example) but in Sri Lanka, the state of emergency has been existing for decades. The question is how do these specific histories help understand this distinction made between norm and exception and the integral relation between the two.

The human rights movements in both the countries have emerged in response to state violence but over time, groups such as Andhra Pradesh Civil Liberties Committee (APCLC) and University Teachers for Human rights (UTHR) have been forced to address the violence of non state actors such as the Maoists and LTTE. How have they addressed the issue of human rights and human dignity particularly since the non state actors in question claim to represent the people fighting for social transformation and autonomy?

About the Book

Evidence of torture at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq and harsh interrogation techniques at Guantánamo Bay raise the question: has the “war on terror” forced liberal democracies to rethink their policies and laws against torture? Transnational Torture focuses on the legal and political discourses on torture in India and the United States—two common-law based constitutional democracies—to theorize the relationship between law, violence, and state power in liberal democracies.

Analyzing about one hundred landmark Supreme Court cases on torture in India and the United States, memos and popular imagery of torture, Jinee Lokaneeta compellingly demonstrates that even before recent debates on the use of torture in the war on terror, the laws of interrogation were much more ambivalent about the infliction of excess pain and suffering than most political and legal theorists have acknowledged. Rather than viewing the recent policies on interrogation as anomalous or exceptional, Lokaneeta effectively argues that efforts to accommodate excess violence—a constantly negotiated process—are long standing features of routine interrogations in both the United States and India, concluding that the infliction of excess violence is more central to democratic governance than is acknowledged in western jurisprudence.

About the Speakers

Jinee Lokaneeta is an Assistant Professor in Political Science at Drew University, New Jersey. Her areas of interest include Law and Violence, Human Rights, and State Violence in democracies. She has published in journals such as Studies in Law, Politics and Society; Economic and Political Weekly; Theory and Event; and Law, Culture, and Humanities. She is also a member of South Asia Solidarity Initiative, which is an organization based in the United States that stands in solidarity with progressive social movements and democratic politics in South Asia and in the US. Prior to coming to the US, she taught Political Science at Kirorimal College, Delhi University, India.

Ahilan Kadirgamar is an activist with the Sri Lanka Democracy Forum, a member of the South Asia Solidarity Initiative in New York , a contributing editor for Himal Southasian and blogs on Kafila. He is interested in the political economy of South Asia and writes on questions of state and society in Sri Lanka in forums such as the Economic and Political Weekly, The Sunday Island and the newly formed Sri Lankan social justice magazine dissenting dialogues.

Moderator Ali Mir is the co-author of Anthems of Resistance, a book about the iconoclastic tradition of poetry nurtured by the Urdu progressive writers’ movement in the Indian subcontinent, and of the forthcoming book Faiz Ahmad Faiz: The Poet as Revolutionary. He writes occasionally for Hindi cinema, and has penned lyrics for over 40 Bollywood songs. He has also co-written the story/script of the 2006 movie Dor, and has contributed to the scripts of several other films.

Ali is a Professor of Management at William Paterson University, New Jersey, USA, where he teaches Organization Studies and International Management, and has published extensively on the changing nature of work in late capitalism.

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The Great Conversations Series

The Great Conversations series invites thinkers to choose people from other disciplines who are of intellectual and inspirational interest to them in an attempt to enlarge the scope of our understanding of the production of knowledge. The series is meant to offer a paradigm of comparative experiences, where other forms of knowledge can better enrich consciousness of the self.

Great Conversations is made possible in part with public funds from the Manhattan Community Arts Fund, supported by the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs in partnership with the City Council and administered by Lower Manhattan Cultural Council.

About 3rd i NY

3rd I New York’s monthly film/video/media/conversation salon is designed by local filmmakers and cultural producers to showcase the works of independent media makers and intellectuals of South Asian, Central Asian, and Arab descent. Providing alternative forums for these voices, who often have few venues to showcase their work and whose cultures and histories are often demonized or misrepresented in mainstream media, not only increases their visibility, but also provides a social forum for peers and audiences to participate in an ongoing discussion. We are thankful to the SINGH Foundation for acting as our fiscal sponsor.

Last updated: 2011-11-14 10:42:37

Jinee Lokaneeta
Jinee Lokaneeta
Ahilan Kadirgamar
Ahilan Kadirgamar

Alwan for the Arts

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New York, NY 10004
(646) 732-3261

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