[INDOLOGY] Gender, Power, and Rape when Conducting Research

Camillo Formigatti camillo.formigatti at bodleian.ox.ac.uk
Fri Apr 27 16:49:44 UTC 2018

Dear colleagues,

If I may put my two cents in, although I am personally very interested in politics and latest news, I thought that this is a scholarly forum, not political or of social critique, so I do not see the point in discussing this terrible event here. I do understand that issues of power and gender influence the entirety of our lives, we experience them every day at home, at work, basically everywhere. I have my own personal opinion about gender inequality as well as many other political and social topics (including the case discussed in this thread), as I’m sure all of us have.

Please forgive me if I sound a bit naïve or maybe not engaged enough. I am well aware that academia too is political, yet I really think that this is not the right forum to discuss this kind of topic.

Best wishes,



Dr Camillo A. Formigatti
John Clay Sanskrit Librarian

Bodleian Libraries
The Weston Library
Broad Street, Oxford

Email: camillo.formigatti at bodleian.ox.ac.uk<mailto:camillo.formigatti at bodleian.ox.ac.uk>
Tel. (office): 01865 (2)77208

in Oxford University’s
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From: Walter Slaje [mailto:slaje at kabelmail.de]
Sent: 27 April 2018 08:33
To: indology at list.indology.info
Subject: Re: [INDOLOGY] Gender, Power, and Rape when Conducting Research

There is also this:
And this:
The Mahātmā moreover stated:
„I have always held that it is physically impossible to violate a woman against her will. [ . . . ] If she cannot meet the assailant's physical might, her purity will give her the strength to die before he succeeds in violating her. [ . . . ] I know that women are capable of throwing away their lives for a much lesser purpose. Only a few days ago a young girl of twenty burnt herself to death as she felt she was being persecuted for refusing to go in for ordinary studies. And she perished with such cool courage and determination. She ignited her sari with an ordinary oil-light and did not so much as raise a cry, so that the people in the neighbouring room were unaware of the happening until all was over.” Harijan, 25-8-1940 and 1-9-1940.
(Quoted from M. K. GANDHI, The Collected Works of Mahatma Gandhi (Electronic Book). 98 volumes. New Delhi: Publications Division Government of India 1999. [http://www.gandhiserve.org/ cwmg/<http://gandhiserve.org/cwmg/> cwmg.html] 79, Nr. 130: 126 f).

Modern American and traditional Indian notions of rape, honour, consent and “sexual interaction” (e.g., the exchange of kisses can count as such) seem to differ widely.

It is well known that “secret intercourse with a woman who is asleep, drunk, or mentally deranged” is categorized as a form of “marriage” in ancient Indian law books.
Manu (3.34) uses “upa-gam” – inire feminam (pw) / to approach a woman sexually (MW) – for the consummation of “marriage”. upa-gam is a common verb for “having sex” in a general sense.

In the given context, recent English translations use however “to rape” as an equivalent (see Olivelle 2005, p. 110). Interpretations follow suit: “Tantamount to rape” (Jamison in Olivelle & Davis (ed.), Hindu Law 2017, p. 130).

Unless supported by unambiguous evidence, such readings should be treated as notionally anachronistic interpretations reflexively projected onto ancient India. What appears to be “rape”, or to be “tantamount to rape”, in the eyes of 21st century Western Indologists, does not necessarily represent the viewpoint of a (pre)modern Indian society.

With regard to its connotation, Doniger (1991: 46) and Michaels (2010: 49) offer neutral and therefore more faithful translations of upa-gam: “to have sex with” and “Beischlaf”.

Actually, we are in dire need of a substantial investigation into the history of the notions of “rape” as they prevailed in premodern India. This will help to understand and assess their (dis)continuation also in the thinking of today.


Prof. Dr. Walter Slaje
Hermann-Löns-Str. 1
D-99425 Weimar

2018-04-26 15:27 GMT+02:00 Audrey Truschke via INDOLOGY <indology at list.indology.info<mailto:indology at list.indology.info>>:
Dear Colleagues,

I would like to share this insightful, brave piece written by a PhD student at Columbia University about her experience pursuing a rape charge against Mahmood Farooqui in the Indian judicial system. I think it is relevant for Indologists, especially for sending students to conduct research abroad, dealing with our own instances of sexual misconduct in the field, and thinking about gender and power dynamics.



Audrey Truschke
Assistant Professor
Department of History
Rutgers University-Newark

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