You are on page 1of 5

Archives, Power and Sexuality

-Santosh kumar

M.Phil
Roll No.-457

Submitted to- Dr. Charu Gupta


Archives can't be and should not be defined in a minimalist fashion because it is difficult to categorize
what is archive and what is not archive. Often archives are associated with the power and ideology of
the state but rather than talking about ideology of the state I think we should talk about the ideologies
of the state. And power is not to be treated as an overarching structure but rather how it emanates from
different nodal points. On one hand we argue the moral code and civilizational mission of the colonial
state which led to the extension of a particular morality to the colonized subjects but at the same time
this act of government is simultaneously an exercise of what is called the bio power, that is, the
extension of state power and control and discipline through the control of population 1. And here the
domain of sexuality becomes very important because simultaneously state is also a patriarch which not
only reinforces but actually institutionalizes patriarchy. This reinforcement is not always a conscious
enactment of state's ideology but acting as a teleological agent of the patriarchal society. Sexuality is
never repressed but is been talked about in silences and thus there is a need to read the silences and the
hushes and the negation in the language of archive which simultaneously also suggest that it is very
problematic to treat archive as a repository of data and facts because more than that an archive also
provides a narrative framework not only in it's primary discourse but also emanates in the secondary and
tertiary discourses. Thus if we look at the language of the colonial archive carefully most of the times,
not always though the sexual Promiscuities or sexual moors are explained in ambiguous terms like
pleasure seeking morally indecent acts etc. On one hand there is recognition of discursive elements of
sexuality on the other hand it also represents the anxiety of the state to locate sexuality in its legitimate
domain2. State functions as a patriarch in this context that it deems homosexuality as unnatural because
they don't serve the teleological purpose of sex that is reproduction and at the same time reduces sex to
an object of pleasure. This discourse appears not only in the colonial but also in the nationalistic
discourse though the intentions of not are somewhat similar but somewhat different as well. Thus there
is a need to look beyond the contours of colonial archive to alternative archives. When we look at the
archives this linguistic performance acts as a twofold agency- one, by continuous performance of
language of the archive these ambiguous references to sexuality in the garb of moral norms get
transformed into social categories by which the validity of the category was judged. And this aspect is
very important when we consider how queer identities were seen with a moral compass in the legal
taxonomies. The ban imposed on same sex relations imposed in 1861 under the article 377 was
predominantely based on its definition as unnatural sexuality even though the natural domain of
sexuality was identified in its hetronormative form3 which reinforces the idea that state acted as a
1
Michel Foucault; History of Sexuality Volume 1

2
ibid

3
Nivedita Menon, Seeing Like a Feminist
conscious or unconscious agent of patriarchy and archive through its administrative and legal function
played a vital role in this construct. According to comaroff "by appeal to a specifically legal sensibility
that the geography of colonies was mapped, transforming the landscapes of others-typically seen by
Europeans as wilderness before it was invested with their gaze-into territory and real estate; a process
that made spaces into places to be possessed, ruled, improved, pro- tected"4. That is, colonial gaze
became an important facet to how colonial subjects were gazed were constructed and reflected in the
archive. For comaroff, this approach was an essential feature of "criminalization of politics" 5. The rhetoric
of criminal subjects of these colonies the colonial government can enhance its iron hold over the
territory and at the same time create a discourse of transformation with violence as it's necessary
resistance. Also, he points out how through legal means economic rights, entitlements, and proprieties
were established, that the vigilance of labor relations became even more established and pertinent. To
be sure, the language of the law was the language that Europeans tended most avidly to try to teach6.
Knowledge became the instrument of power as the epistemology of this knowledge derived its roots
from the colonial state and ideologies. As charu gupta points out 5, how the archives of UP substituted
the explicit reference to sexuality of the prisoners in ambiguous moral terms which permeated
in the further discourse as we find references to terms like 'indecent behaviour', 'pleasure
seeking'7. As Foucault points out, through these silences and hushes sexual moors are talked
about without being named8. But the question arises, were the colonial subjects mere
recipients of the archive. And here we need to expand our definitions of archive, state, power
and agency. Archive should be expanded both in sense of source as well as a subject. That is,
not only we need to include new and varied sources be it written, oral, visual sources. Sources
can be written impromptu like pamphlets or news headlines or over a period of time. These
alternative archives help us to reinstate the agency and perspective of the subjects. Especially
important in this context is how the flourishing publishing industries in 19th and 20th century
India gave a boost to both expression and reception of alternative moralities which questioned
not only the colonial construct but also the nationalist imagining of the nation with a particular
role assigned to women particularly9. But this is not to say that these archives didn't have
problems of their own. What we find is that dominant discourses permeates it's way even in the
local literature and by no means the growth of alternative archive means a subversion of power,
but rather the very act of writing is also an act of power, and when we are talking about 19th

4
J. Comaroff; Colonialism, Culture, and the Law: A Foreword

5
ibid

6
J. Comaroff

7
Charu Gupta; Writing Sex and Sexuality $UFKLYHVRI&RORQLDO1RUWK,QGLD

8
Michel Foucault; History of Sexuality Volume 1

9
Orsini; Print and Pleasure
century for women and other marginal classes, reading was more of a privilege than a right and
thus the writings and perspectives that we generate from these texts as well as the ideologically
charged pamphlets reflects a particular perspective which by nature can be elitist or there is
always a possibility of alternative discourse. Here we must try to define certain notions that
often colour our understanding of archive. One is the understanding of subaltern, who is
counterpoised to the elite. But what actually constitutes a subaltern and what is the drawing
line between elite and subaltern is not always crystal clear. Dalits have emerged as a strong
contender who has tried to assert their perspective as against the elitist historiography of the
national movement as well as the general social discourse. Ranajit guha has often called for an
alternative understanding of archive more inclined towards the subaltern and trying to look at
the archives by "reading against the grain 10, by trying to decode and deconstruct the la gauge
and content of the archive. But scholars like ann stoler and gayatri social has criticized him fir
different reasons. Stoler has tried to study the archives not as a monolithic bloc with a particular
hegemonic perspective thrown in from above. Power is to be understood not as an overarching
structure with a dominant streak but rather try to locate its discursive domains through which it
asserts itself in different nodal points11. Stoler points out the need to look at the archive as a
subject of its own and not just a source encompassing subjectivities, inconsistencies,
perspectives and prejudices12. On the other hand gayatri social has pointed out the question of
agency. When the discourse is mediated by the elite or the colonial agents, when the narrative
is provided by them how we can ascertain that the faint voice of subaltern that we are trying to
chart out from our critical reading of archive reflects the authentic voice of the subaltern 13. Also
it is pertinent to ask is it enough to make the categories of sexuality, gender, class etc visible in
the archive or is it more necessary to make their voice, their agency also visible. And here we
come at the crossroads because we have a dearth of sources to do the latter and thus it limits
its horizon though the discourse remains important nevertheless.

10
Ranajit Guha; The Small Voices of History

11
Ann Stoler; Colonial Archive And the Art of Governance

12
ibid

13
Gayatri Spivak; Does the Subaltern Speak