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  • Virtual Roundtable on Mapping Gendered Violence
  • Raminder Kaur (bio), Maggie O'Neill (bio), Nicola Henry (bio), Krista Benson (bio), Anastasia Christou, and Cindy Cruz

Raminder KaurCan We Know No? Reflections on DomesticViolence in the Transit Lounge of Mishti Gals

What is it about relationships in which love and care continue to act as emotional adhesive despite the eruption of violence? What other positions exist apart from the more familiar victim-perpetrator, abused-abuser binaries, which more often than not uniformly contract the reality of many situations involving domestic aggression? What does it mean when an abusive relationship reveals a person who is far from subordinated by it but may indeed inflect it with his or her own personal stamp? It is precisely such questions that influenced me in my writing of a drama in 2016 on the relationships of Asian women based in East London in "Brexit Britain" that I elaborate in what follows.1 Fictionalizing the issues allowed me not only to reflect on social realities that extend well beyond Asian communities but also to appreciate the complexities of individual characters without compromising anyone's real-life identity on a sensitive matter such as domestic abuse. My focus here is on heterosexual women who are statistically most affected by intimate partner violence, whether they be married, cohabiting, or just involved in a romantic relationship.2

Knowing No

Feminist persuasions that "no means no" in the face of sexual assault and violence goes without question. They have indeed empowered many to assert [End Page 233] their rights in the face of (threats of) bodily violation, including influencing changes in rape legislation. But in several cases of national jurisdiction, marital rape, as one expression of intimate partner violence, is viewed as a contradiction in terms: rape in marriage is not even recognized as an affront, let alone outlawed as domestic abuse or sexual violence.3 When women are viewed as property, no cannot mean no. Similarly, in more conventional contexts, sexual violence is not recognized as a major issue among relationships where patriarchal heteronormativity dictates that the female be at the beck and call of male volition even if this borders on physical violation. In her book The Economy of Force: Counterinsurgency and the Historical Rise of the Social (2015), Patricia Owens notes a convergence of the domestic and domination, both having their roots in the Latin domus. Seeing women as predominantly tied to a home exercises a power over them that entrenches the patriarchal family, a form of household governance that might even be described as benign despotism. Violence in the physical or sexual sense becomes the more visible aspect of violence that is inherent in the very basis of domestic convention.

Among the British Asian diaspora, the focus of this short contribution, the situation is even more complex. While in Britain, for instance, all forms of rape are officially outlawed, several other countries have not yet criminalized marital rape. These include India, Bangladesh, and Sri Lanka. In comparison, Pakistan and Nepal are two South Asian countries where spousal rape is a criminal offence. These varying legislative, cultural, and regional contexts to which South Asian diasporic people owe wavering degrees of allegiance have a bearing on what might be socially sanctioned. These transnational sets of circumstances add another intersectional dimension to patriarchal conventions circulating in Britain, yet we need also to bear in mind the pitfalls of demonizing Asian men as retrograde and violent abusers as part of the continuing legacy of Orientalism.4

What has not been adequately considered is how the presence of violence—whether it be sexual, physical, verbal, psychological, or economic—in relatively established relationships might be navigated and countered in a space where "no" becomes entangled in other emotions of conviviality and ambivalence. This may of course dredge out the patriarchal understanding—that "no means not really no" and even "no means yes"—that the female speaker in question cannot even know what no means. But can there be a feminist or womanist rendering of the ambiguities of "no"? Can "no as not really no" be seen in a different light, a light in which the rights, autonomy, and dignity of the "victim...


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