My promise to myself is to use this difficult situation as opportunity to forget all and write and ultimately gain independence from this – Joytika Singh to Maebh Long, 7th June 2013.
With regards to my personal life, things should be much better by next weekend so am looking forward to a lot of peace and my own space to work – Joytika Singh to Maebh Long, 26th June 2013.
The introduction for this issue on the event was originally planned as a minor foray into various theorists’ engagements with the event. But in the early hours of the 27th of June 2013 a violent event took place. On the 27th of June Joytika Singh was murdered by her husband. Joytika was my MA student, working on a project entitled ‘Television Spectatorship and Body Image Formation Among Young Women in Fiji: A Cross Cultural Comparative Analysis’. She was a committed and dedicated feminist, being the assistant secretary for WINET-Fiji, an active participant in One Billion Rising, and was involved in multiple forums, trainings, and movements organised to improve the lives of women in Fiji. Her husband, realising that she had finally resolved to leave a relationship increasingly troubled by emotional blackmail and manipulation, ceased to threaten suicide and asked her simply if, before she left, she would spend some time teaching him how to live alone. She agreed; it was while she was there, helping him – as she thought – to learn to move on and live without her, that in the early hours of the 27th he cut her throat with a meat cleaver. Some hours later he killed himself.
In Fiji 64% of women suffer violence at the hand of an intimate partner (Fiji Women’s Crisis Centre, 2013). However, prior to the act of murder, Joytika was, to the best of my knowledge and that of her friends and family, never subjected to physical violence by her husband. She was never scared of him, but scared for him, worried about his inability to cope with her life, and later with her leaving him. It was only at the very end that she began to sense a danger in his desperate need for her, but as an innately kind person, and as a woman socialised to be receptive to male wants, she ignored that sense of threat and stayed with him.
In 2012 Joytika played a role in Suraji: Empress of the Sun (dir. Mohit Prasad, 2013), which explored the exploitation – physical, sexual, economic – of female indentured workers in Fiji. Strongly outnumbered by male overseers and labourers, they were subject to assaults borne of jealousy and greed. As Joytika’s character, Lalita, and a friend Kalyani reminisce:
Kalyani: One women became wife to three or four men …
Lalita: After this depravity … they bore the assaults of the overseers.
The women became commodities whose circulation caused them both to be possessively guarded and yet contemptuously devalued: they were subjected to murderous sexual jealousy while being deemed promiscuous and disposable. As Brij Lal writes in Bittersweet
Women everywhere were blamed for murders and suicides on the plantations and sometimes even for the high infant mortality rates. To the overseers and planters, the women were ‘immoral’ and ‘socially unredeemable’. Indeed, so low was their esteem for the indentured women they met in Fiji, some men regarded marriage with them as a temporary convenience to be discarded on returning to India. (14)
The overseers and the Indian sirdars (foremen) allocated the women their work, and any refusal of sexual advances was met with harassment and violence (Lal, 14-15). With few options or means to protect themselves should they refuse the men, they were nonetheless blamed for the men’s aggression. As the women in Suraji say:
Lalita: On mothers, daughters, grandmothers and sisters was branded the stamp of prostitutes. No-one escaped.
Kalyani: The one who stamped upon me the title of prostitute … Bastard overseers; in the annals of history they remained pure and whitewashed.
Joytika’s character Lalita, known as Chinamma during her period of indenture, was sexually involved with the overseer. When the women finally resolve to fight humiliation with humiliation, cornering the abusive overseer, pinning him down and urinating in his mouth, they separate Chinamma and threaten her. Her defence is simple: ‘What I’ve done today, you’d do someday. The overseer’s violence will not discriminate between you and me’. Chinamma does not argue on the grounds of the innate corruptibility of the human, but on the principle that in a context of entrenched power imbalances, where she was desired and controlled as a disposable object of temporary gratification, blame cannot be imposed on her. If someone has been rendered an object he or she cannot be held accountable as a subject; the situation denied Chinamma any real autonomy or individuality, and therefore any choice worthy of the name. Placed in a position where she was desired simply as the avatar of a woman, and would be eventually discarded and replaced by another avatar of a woman, condemning her as a free, singular subject would be unjust. As she, as Lalita, later says: ‘There is no shame in what happened. The stamp of a whore was given by men, both the whites and our own. Where could we go for justice?’ Men desired, men disposed, men blamed.
The extreme vulnerability of the indentured women seemed remote from Joytika’s life. She was an educated, economically independent person, a teacher before she began her research, a woman who married for love rather than within the system of arranged marriages. She was not placed in a position of severe sexual exploitation the way Lalita/Chinamma was, yet she was the victim of the jealousies associated with painfully similar ideologies about gender roles and the power-structures. The denial of Chinamma’s individuality is structurally conjoined to Joytika’s husband’s denial of Joytika’s individuality – while he claimed he found her unique and irreplaceable to the point that he could not live without her, his actions were a rejection of everything that was Joytika’s ipseity and subjectivity. He wanted a traditional wife, an avatar of a woman, not an autonomous subject. As a woman whose education was beginning to outstrip her husband’s, whose charm and vibrancy far outshone his, and whose feminist interests disturbed his patriarchal control, she was a structural disruption to the traditional marital hierarchy. She did all she could to help him adjust to her life and interests, but his insecurity and possessiveness turned to a manipulative obsessiveness, first marked by threats of suicide, and finally by murder.
When Joytika attended the Double Dialogues conference in 2012 she was struck by Margaret Mishra’s paper – included in this journal issue – which outlined the forgotten story of Mawlee, an indentured labourer decapitated by a jealous partner. The two links between indenture and Joytika’s life are deeply troubling – so long after the end of indenture the enslavement of women to restrictive gender roles continues. Mawlee was murdered in 1890; 123 years later Joytika was killed in much the same way. In Suraji Radha says ‘Cane knives and the necks of women in these islands have a milk and blood relationship’. From indenture to the present has nothing changed but a refinement of blades?
My sense of representing the singularity of Joytika’s death is marred by a difficulty in my bearing witness. I want to testify to her life through the repetitions and echoes involved in the structures of its gender positions and the nature of its ending, and yet I do not want in any way to preserve or retain the individuality or person of her killer. I do not want to write his name, I do not want it remembered. I find his act an act of cowardice, of selfishness, of evil. Perhaps I am thus guilty of a disregard for the potential darkness of mental illnesses, for the effects of what might have been a difficult childhood, or of a system that restricts men from emotional expression or assistance. Her husband, according to her family’s description of the coroner’s report, appears to have researched a mode of execution which would be swift and relatively painless – he intended an act, it seems, of cessation rather than torture. Perhaps Joytika’s husband was an ill man who deserves my sympathy rather than my anger. Be that as it may, I retain my sense of the evil of the event, and I feel no obligation to conceal my anger.
Badiou was asked, in interview, about the nature of evil. He answered:
There is evil each time egoism leads to the renunciation of a truth. Then, one is de-subjectivized. Egoistic self-interest carries one away, risking the interruption of the whole progress of a truth (and thus of the good). One can, then, define evil in one phrase: evil is the interruption of a truth by the pressure of particular or individual interests. (2001/02)
Joytika’s husband’s act was unambiguously one of egoism, what Badiou might call ‘a brutal renunciation of the good, in the form of a love process’ (2001/02). In a twisted understanding of ‘love’, Joytika’s husband violently brought her life to a halt.
Joytika’s murder was an event of death. Death is both the epitome of the singular – no-one can die for me, my death can only ever be mine – and of the universal – I cannot be human unless I have death as my limit, death as – for Heidegger – the possibility of impossibility. Death is my own, and yet always a repetition. Joytika’s death was utterly her own, borne of her singular situation, and yet so utterly, sickeningly familiar, particularly within a Fijian context. If, following Badiou, we understand an event as an unforeseeable, contingent irruption of the new, that which belongs to no previously existing order of things, then Joytika’s death must be recognised as an event. Not another murder explained and condoned as an act of passion and jealous rage. Not a non-event of repetition which serves to do nothing more than continue a dull, accepted ideological ‘truth’: that men are possessive, jealous, violent and that women are better served protected, isolated, restricted. Not a non-event serving to perpetuate a historical process which presents and understands itself as continuing along an inevitable, unchanging, ‘natural’ path. Not a non-event that allows the current hierarchies of gender, economics, politics, race, sexual orientation to continue. In the time to come the murder of Joytika Singh must be looked back upon as an event of change. It must be recognised as an event that demanded of us a fidelity, an activism that worked to rewrite the order of things. It must be recognised as a truth process which developed something new and universal. The evil renunciation of the good committed by Joytika’s husband must be an event which brings into being the good.
The articles in this issue engage with events of love, death, religion, philosophy and power. Margaret Mishra’s article, ‘Mawlee’s Murder: A Minor Historical Event‘, tells of the decapitation of an indentured woman by a jealous partner, detailing the event within the event – his drinking of her blood. Maebh Long’s piece, ‘Surviving the Event of Death‘, details Flann O’Brien’s and William Golding’s literary excursions into posthumous survival. Russell Smith’s ‘Event Contingency Repetition: Donnie Darko vs Eternal Sunshine’ looks at repetition and fidelity in love, while Josephine Scicluna & Tom Kazas explore how love is effected by 21st century technology in ‘Love Politics and Time‘. Christopher Norris works to provide a theoretical framework for political song in ‘The Ontology of Political Song: Some Ideas from Badiou’. In ‘OnThe Road: An Event, a Narrative, a Correlation, a Practice‘. R. A. Goodrich examines the way in which the literary event and the ‘real’ event coincide, while Kathryn Keeble links Olliphant’s atomic bomb to the writings of Beckett and Badiou in ‘”The end is terrific… I prefer the Middle“: Badiou, Beckett and Olliphant’s Atomic Bomb’. Thomas White formulates a theory of the relation between the religious and the secular through the structure of the right hand/left hand binary in ‘The Secular as Event: Religion, on the Other Hand…‘, and Sutapa Dutta’s article, ‘The “Mad” Minstrels of Bengal’ explores the narrative processes of the Baul singers of West Bengal. In ‘Appropriating Being: the Advent of the Event as the Second Beginning of Philosophy‘ Lehel Balogh relates Heidegger to Asian philosophy, and finally, in a burst of colour and light, Anurag Subramani’s article ‘ Sholay: From Chaos to Super-Duper Event (in glorious 70 mm … with stereophonic sound)’ explores the phenomenon that is Sholay.
In various ways the events discussed in this issue form themselves around the event that followed the writings of these articles, the murder of Joytika Singh. The resonances to her life and death were neither planned nor foreseen, but the articles are now impossible to read without a sense of loss and, occasionally, uncanny foreshadowing. It is to Joytika that I dedicate this issue, in friendship and in deep sorrow. Your murder not only robbed those of us who knew you of a wonderful person, the women of Fiji have been robbed of a strong advocate and defender.
Badiou, Alain, interviewed by Christoph Cox & Molly Whalen (2001/02) ‘On Evil: An Interview with Alain Badiou’ Cabinet Magazine 5 Winter. No pagination. http://www.cabinetmagazine.org/issues/5/alainbadiou.php [accessed 4th July 2013]
Suraji: Empress of the Sun (forthcoming 2013). Kana Mada Productions. Dir. Mohit Prasad. Unpublished storyboard.
‘Pregnancy and Partner Violence’ (2013). Fiji Women’s Crisis Centre Press Release. No pagination. http://www.fijiwomen.com/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=194:pregnancy-and-partner-violence&catid=41:press-releases&Itemid=89 [accessed 4th July 2013].