DR SABREEN AHMED
Crime Justice and Women by journalist and writer Indrani Raimedhi is a realistic blend of psychological probe and social commentary in the arena of crime by ordinary women as well as women extremists’ mainly in Assam and beyond. The writer’s intense documenting account exposes hidden realities and emblematizes the inversion of gender roles and feminine fierceness of the socially notorious femme fatale archetypes; however, the charm of the book lies in the representation of these women in crime whom she terms as the “voiceless and forgotten members of sisterhood” in their everyday mundane selves through the female narrator’s sensitive humanistic lens. The crux of her narrative as defined in the preface seems to suggest that “every crime is a failure of the community and it is deeply disturbing to realize that no punishment has ever possessed enough power of deterrence to prevent the commission of crimes”.
The book has presented an exhaustive research as well as personal repertoire on the part of the writer on criminology and women’s linkage to the same. The key features of contemporary feminist criminology include an explicit commitment to ‘intersectionality’, an understanding of the unique positionality of women in the male dominated fields of policing and corrections, a focus on masculinity and the gender gap in serious crime, a critical assessment of corporate media and the demonization of girls as well as the importance of recognition of girls’ studies along with women’s studies to the development of a global critical feminist criminology. The book begins with the writers’ interviews with the inmates of the women cells of several jails in Assam including those in Guwahati, Tezpur and Silchar where many publicly faceless women convicts slog in psychosocial conditions, some along with their young children waiting for justice and freedom, while the later sections of the book delve deep into the ideological/moral dichotomy and criminal agenda of the erstwhile ULFA leaders such as Pranati Deka, Kaberi Kachari and Runima Chetia Chowdhary who are still distantly hopeful of a new sunrise for Assam. The narrative also takes us further through a briefly sweeping account into the role of women offenders and suicide bombers in the anti-state groups in Kashmir, in India’s Red Corridor of Maoist insurgency and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam in Sri Lanka.
The book has thirteen chapters excluding the preface and the afterword. In the first chapter the writer makes a clear distinction between crimes of greed that often hit the new channels and crimes of passion that float non-glamourized on legal parameters and it is the latter that she engages her own interest and for that matter the interest of her reader in the book. Focusing on the prostitution racket at Guwahati she says that crime around Guwahati city by women often starts innocently with a lure for effluent lifestyle. In the second chapter she dwells with the feminist theory of criminology as the offshoot of second wave feminism and highlights the patriarchal thrust of criminology against the genteel codes of female behaviour and stresses on the different angles of studying criminal behaviour in women.
The third chapter of her book describes the pitiable living conditions of the women prisoners in Assam and other parts of the country. Some of the common problems affecting these women were emotional, physical or sexual abuse. Most of them were uneducated and the unwed mothers or wives of violent drunkards, drug addicts or criminals, some have undiagnosed mental problems lacking psychiatric medication living in overcrowded cells. The author’s interesting take on the progressive prison literature across the globe dismally reveals that it doesn’t contain a single woman. In the fourth chapter entitled “Pathway to Crime” reveals a growing sisterhood amidst prison women in their solidarity of being poor, marginalized and in the painful suffering in waiting for justice. The methodology of feminist criminologists in locating linkage of crime with inequality is well reflected through the interviews of women from the downtrodden sections of the society. Most of them seem to be ignorant of the constitutional rights granted to Indian women convicts. “Until mid-2013 nearly 3000 women languished in Assam prisons for various offences”. (61) The book reveals the following essential details about women prisoners in India:
“Studies in India have revealed that women are generally held guilty in one or more of these ten offences. They are — dowry harassment and dowry death, murder, prostitution, excise act offences (selling of illicit liquor or narcotics), violation, terrorism and disruptive activities, cheating, theft, abduction, kidnapping and abetting suicide”. (65)
The book lays the fact that there are 31 jails in Assam and an open jail in Barpeta called Nari Sadan which has been shut down. According to a July 14, 2013 report the Assam government is planning to set up two all-women jails in Upper and Lower Assam under phase II of the modernization of prisons programme of the centre but the narrator doesn’t provide the latest update on the issue. In the fifth chapter entitled “A life of Shame” the writer presents the salient features of the report conducted by The National Institute of Criminology and Forensic Sciences about children and women prisoners in India which focussed basically on the idea of a loss of home for these convicts and their deranged mental conditions.
However, the most interesting sections of the book are the author’s portrayal of the intricate live details of the top women cadres in ULFA who have been generally dismissed by many social researchers as mere camp followers and combat wives without taking a proper account of their painful struggle as extremist women. In 1995-98, when ULFA gained position and strength with a manpower of 3000, its women cadres consisted of a considerable strength of 500. Her personal repertoire with women ULFA leaders brings to fore the gendered nature of extremism in militant outfits. One-time cultural secretary of ULFA Pranati Deka’s interview in the book highlights the inclusion of women in extremist activities as a subversion of coercive patriarchy. She speaks of the organisational activities of the women’s wing “Nari Bahini” of the outfit where women mainly looked after communications, administration, medical aid and transportation and building networks for the release of arrested leaders. Her narrative also reveals her association with Indira Goswami and the unfulfilled task of penning a book on her experiences by the latter. Kaberi Kachari’s narrative reveals more radical thoughts on women’s role in the ULFA though she refrains from calling herself a feminist she exposes the gender-class hierarchy maintained in the outfit while Runima Chetia Chowdhury is the quintessential Indian wife and mother for the narrator.
The book in the chapter “Burning Resentment” tries to draw parallel between the other outfits across the country where women members coexisted and tries to reveal the fact that militant women are many times misrepresented as manipulated suicide bombers lacking a clear political agenda in the interplay of emotional commitment and idealism. The later section of the book in the chapter “The Daredevils” includes interviews of higher designation women police officers like Sanjukta Parashar, Indrani Baruah, Violet Baruah and Bonya Gogoi who have waged a war against ULFA or Bodo militant outfits and they have shown great courage in situation of extreme danger. The book also chronicles the role of certain top legal professionals among women in Assam like Juctice Meera Sharma the first woman advocate of the Gauhati High court, young advocate Nikita Baruah and senior advocate Kuntala Deka in the chapter “On the side of law”. The book concludes in the last chapter entitled “Probing the truth” with an interview of a forensic specialist Richa Pandey, the first forensic specialist in Assam as well as the entire Northeast.
Studies reveal that there is an overwhelming lack of interest in female criminality displayed by established criminologists and deviancy theorists and a considerable silence around the whole area. An engagement through writing on crime and the legal system exclusively from a women’s perspective by a woman itself is a Promethean task keeping in view the risk and psychological commitment involved in the entire venture. Indrani Raimedhi a name to be reckoned in world of English writing from the Northeast diligently encapsulates her words and conveys her message with a hope for a gender equal justice system which is reformative rather than punitive. The book could have come closer to be a precursor in the field of transformative critical feminist criminology from Assam on the global map, one that explicitly theorizes gender, one that requires a commitment to social justice and one that must be increasingly global in scope had it been designed with of the technicalities of a good publisher without the obvious fetters of the current one. Though the gravity of the subject is justifiably maintained in the journalistic discourse, the book in itself brings up a lot of typological errors and some repetition that is anomalous in respect to the seriousness and meaningful delivery of the theme concerned that calls for a lack of proper copy-editing by the publisher, an otherwise reputed name in the field. However, despite of it the book shall remain a well-crafted source of valuable reading material for a progeny interested in the scene of crime and justice in Assam.
Dr. Sabreen Ahmed has received her PhD from Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi in Feb 2013. Her Thesis is entitled “Muffled Voices: The Zenana in the Fiction of Muslim Women Writers from South Asia”under the guidance of Prof Makarand Paranjape. She has done her post- graduation from the University of Delhi (2005) and graduation from Cotton College, Guwahati (2003). Her area of interest is Gender studies, South Asian English Writing and Contemporary Theory. She has published a academic papers in international and national journals and has an anthology of poems entitled Soliloquies to her credit. She also edited a seminar proceeding in book form captioned Indian Fiction in English and the Northeast. Currently she teaches in the Department of English, Nowgong College, Nagaon, (Assam) as Assistant Professor.