Angela Davis was in Mumbai recently to deliver the 8th Anuradha Ghandhy Memorial Lecture titled “Black lives, Dalit lives: Histories and Solidarities”. At a press conference, she signed an appeal to president Pranab Mukherjee to repeal the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA), one of India’s most contested and critiqued laws. She termed the Act a symbol of state power and militarization and a weapon of oppression against Kashmiris who have been spearheading mass protests against repressive state violence over the years. The Act has been in place there since 1990, affecting the lives of multiple generations.
She also commended Manipur’s Irom Chanu Sharmila, whose 16 year-long fast was in resistance to the injustice facilitated by the AFSPA. Its prolonged application has not only institutionalized militarism and a climate of impunity but has also alienated the public and failed to establish a political and participatory alternative to martial law.
Davis also said, “Such symbols and laws can only be challenged by feminist voices, analyses and solidarities.” In Are Prisons Obsolete? Davis advocates prison abolition, an idea considered as “radical” as the repeal of the AFSPA. There are striking parallels between the experience of imprisonment and life under the rule of this ‘lawless law’—termed so due to perpetration of several atrocities, particularly against women. She writes, “Sexual abuse, which like domestic violence is yet another dimension of the privatized punishment of women—has become an institutionalized component of punishment by the state.”
Powerlessness imposed by the state constitutes the core of the prison lived experience, a fact well understood by her Indian counterparts.