restricted access Constructing an Imperfect Citizen-Subject: Globalization, National “Security,” and Violence Against South Asian Women
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Constructing an Imperfect Citizen-Subject:
Globalization, National “Security,” and Violence Against South Asian Women

The landscape of antiviolence advocacy for South Asian women living in the United States has been altered in several significant ways. My research on legal advocacy for South Asian women suggests that distinct patterns of abuse against immigrant women are not easily addressed within existing legal paradigms of domestic violence because mainstream advocacy models continue to imagine as their primary subject women who do not experience interlocking forms of oppression. Drawing on ethnographic and archival data, I argue that South Asian women’s incomplete access to antiviolence laws in the United States provides further evidence of the salience of nation-state boundaries, particularly in the lives of gendered subjects whose enjoyment of citizenship,1 I argue, remains imperfect. In this essay I analyze the enduring link between women’s access to legal protections against domestic violence and their legal status in the United States. What endures, I believe, are the ways in which raced and gendered notions of citizenship continue to erode the meaningfulness of legal protections for battered immigrant women. What has evolved, however, are the ways in which transnational shifts have reconfigured the landscape in which antiviolence laws are being imagined and enforced within the modern nation-state. My study of the particular constraints in antiviolence advocacy for South Asian women draws on the following theoretical ideas regarding the reconfiguration of citizenship and the reterritorialization of power in a transnational age. [End Page 161]

Deterritorialization, Reterritorialization, and Migrating Citizens

Transnational feminist methodologies invite not only analyses of the movement of people, goods, and ideas across national boundaries, but also examinations of how boundaries themselves are transformed as a result of social, political, and cultural shifts (Grewal and Kaplan 2002). Law and activism must remain flexible in order to accommodate violence against women that arises in a more expansive range of local and global sites. The inability of the law to address adequately these changes can be partially attributed to shifting ideas of citizenship and nationality in the current sociopolitical moment. As Jacqui Alexander and Chandra Mohanty argue, “The citizenship machinery is not ‘blind’ to differences; in fact, it uses a legal apparatus to transform difference into inequality” (1997, xxxi). While transnational mobilities have altered long-established beliefs in the sanctity of the nation-state, an important body of scholarship cautions researchers to consider, more critically, the ongoing significance of national belonging and citizenship for marginalized groups.

Leti Volpp suggests that “recent theorizing about diasporic or transnational subjects, while productive in many regards, has on occasion minimized the continued salience of the nation, both in terms of shaping identity and in the form of governmental control” (2002, 1596). In a related call to interrogate the evolving meaning of national boundaries, Inderpal Grewal’s work highlights the connections between neoliberalism and geopolitics, remaining skeptical about theories of deterritorialization that assume an entirely decentered, global power structure. Grewal argues instead that “in the decentralization, new centers developed and deterritorialization was accompanied by reterritorialization” (2005, 21). I read this work in conjunction with work by scholars such as Amy Kaplan and Muneer Ahmad, who have examined how ideas of race and national identity have been altered in the United States since 9/11 (Ahmad 2002; Kaplan 2003). Both Kaplan and Ahmed have demonstrated that the U.S. government’s self-described “war on terror” and its call to safeguard the boundaries of the “homeland” produced, in fact, a climate of great insecurity in the lives of immigrant populations who were subject to arbitrary detentions, racial profiling, and hate violence. These ideas inform my analysis of how shifting ideas of race and citizenship, premised on global terrorist threats, make possible legislative measures at the nation-state level that severely undermine women’s safety within the domestic sphere. [End Page 162]

In the section “Coverture’s Modern Face: The Dilemma of Battered Indian Women on H-4 Visas,” I examine how recent demands for foreign skilled labor have created a category of South Asian women, who are particularly vulnerable to abuse in the United States via a modern permutation of the common-law doctrine of coverture. In...