Accepted Paper:

'Who has taken my son (amar cheleke ke nilo)?': comprehending state abductions, custodial death and disappearances in times of violence and conflict  

Author:

Atreyee Sen (University of Copenhagen)

Paper short abstract:

This paper traces the life of a missing persons file registered by Shanta, whose son disappeared in Calcutta, a city in eastern India, during the peak of a revolutionary uprising in 1974. I explore women’s encounters with state kidnappings and illegal deaths in regions marked by guerilla movements.

Paper long abstract:

This paper explores women's encounters with state kidnappings, custodial death and disappearances, and the sudden absence of politicized youth that often characterize regions marked by guerilla movements. I trace the life of a police file -- a missing persons complaint registered by Shanta, whose young son disappeared in Calcutta, a city in eastern India, during a revolutionary uprising in 1974. This paper shows how the expressive nature of Shanta's loss was molded by her agonizing and affective relationship with the tattered file; the latter became her 'appendage' as she staggered around the city for the next forty years seeking answers from the police, former revolutionaries, politicians, influential families and her neighbours. 'Who has taken my son (amar cheleke ke nilo)?' remained her question to a modernizing urban society gradually erasing its history of violence. The anthropology of violence highlights the role of collective action by mothers who have lost their children to state atrocities in South Asia. For example, de Alwis (2008) highlights the authenticity in maternal grief through the lens of the Mother's Front, which comprised of women protesting the abduction of young men during the civil war in Sri Lanka. My paper makes a contribution towards this anthropological literature on death, disappearance and conflict. Instead of exploring the experiences of women through conventional frameworks of trauma and suffering, I narrativise the invisible, individual journeys of women whose complex relationships with material cultures (related to their loss) enlivened memories of injustice, but eventually led to their social death.

Panel P045
Missing persons, unidentified bodies: addressing absences and negotiating identifications