It is hard to look anywhere in the main campus at JNU and not encounter the spectacular mural posters painted by student organizations and their powerful political messages. Coming from European universities, where one needs to search to find visible mobilization over issues of social justice, I was struck by a dynamism in the academic life at JNU and its significance extends far beyond the confines of the campus. Politics matter.
What drew me to Delhi was the opportunity to research India’s Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Amended Act. This instrument addresses caste based violence and was introduced in 1989 in response to massacres and other atrocities committed against Dalits and tribal communities. While it was a model piece of legislation on paper, in practice it was poorly implemented, providing scant justice for victims and their communities, and hence was amended in 2015. Mr. Krishnan, the former Commissioner for Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes who was the architect of the original act, and one of the foremost experts on Dalit rights and criminal accountability for caste based atrocity shared with me his writings and insights into the law. I was seeking to understand the reasons for the disconnect between the formal law and the stark realities on the ground. A number of leading Dalit activists were very generous with their time, and shared their insights into both the PoA and the context in India that has obstructed its effective realization.
As an international lawyer, my interest in the SPECTRESS project’s thematic work on cultural trauma emerged from working on prosecutions for atrocities and international criminal law. Prof. Jyoti Atwal arranged for me to give a seminar at JNU’s Centre for Historical Studies that Prof. Josh generously chaired. I spoke on the International Criminal Court (ICC), and had the pleasure of engaging with graduate students on how the narratives of international criminal justice and the movement for accountability from the Global North and South diverge and why this is so. As a lawyer placed in a history department, I benefited from conversations with postgraduate research students. Prof. Aditya Mukherjee kindly invited me to meet with his supervisees, where I learned about their field research, that was mostly focused on understanding their historical questions through direct encounters with people about whom they were writing. Their work was engaged and impressive and was concerned with ensuring that the lived experience of their sources was captured in their analysis. I also had the pleasure to visit overlap with another SPECTRESS colleague, Kosta Bovan from Croatia, where I enjoyed learning about his work and discussing shared research interests.