ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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A Woman without a Past or a Future

Cultures of Violence

Based on the story of Manisha, a homeless mentally-ill woman who met with an untimely end in a mental hospital, this article raises questions about the cultural practices of the scientific-medical paradigm, the state legal system, and society that allows a vulnerable woman to vanish without a trace. It ponders the ways in which we can talk about the cultures of violence even in apparently benevolent institutions, and how science and the law are complicit in the violence that takes place in the name of helping the helpless.

Here is a young woman, who through partly known and partly unknown historical, familial, and economic circumstances arrived in a mental hospital, and two months later was lost to us and the institution that took care of her earlier.1 One way of looking at this story is to find out what happened in a legal manner, supported by evidence, and that is a necessary task. The other is to reflect on what could have happened, and to think of alternative epistemic and institutional structures that would prevent such occurrences in the future. This article is focused on the second.

Now, one can always ask what our interest is in this event and in this loss. One, there is the register of “feeling”, where we remain troubled by the loss. A sense of connectedness marks our ambivalent relation to a woman we never knew, who is now only a figure of exclusion in a file carefully hidden from prying eyes. Two, there is an intellectual concern. One is intrigued by the structure of mental health institutions in India, which give a home to homeless, mentally-ill women, only to render them homeless, but in a deeper sense.

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