Protest against Sexual Violence and NGO Activism: Disruptions of Female Solidarity

  • Janna Vogl (Autor/in)

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This article examines the mobilisation of protest against an aggravated sexual assault of women from the urban poor in Chennai, South India. All women who participate in the protest are organised in a local women’s rights NGO but their attempts to mobilize the NGO for the protest remain without success. By reference to narrations of women who organise and/or participate in the protest as well as the NGO director and staff, the article interrogates previous works about dynamics of inclusion and exclusion in practices of political mobilisation in India. The guiding question is, with reference to which moral and normative backgrounds the instance is rendered into an issue worthy of public intervention by women and how this definition of the situation is put into doubt by the NGO. On the basis of the empirical findings and literature about civil society and the public sphere in India as well as literature about development cooperation, I argue that the mobilisation of protest cannot be understood as a process of ‘translation’ (of concepts relevant in the NGO). Instead, women refer to a common form of female lamentation to render the incident into a ‘women’s issue’. Subsequently, I argue that the missing cooperation between NGO and women is not a result of this missing translation into a language that is accepted among civil society actors. Instead, it is useful to understand it as an outcome of situational processes of the actualisation of necessarily always vague normative ideas. I show how, in these processes, diverse, and sometimes conflicting, moral and normative references intersect to lead to practices of inclusion and exclusion in protest mobilisation.