Skip to main content
Article thumbnail
Location of Repository

The ethical ambivalence of resistant violence: notes from postcolonial south Asia

By Srila Roy


In the face of mounting militarism in south Asia, this essay turns to anti-state, ‘liberatory’ movements in the region that employ violence to achieve their political aims. It explores some of the ethical quandaries that arise from the embrace of such violence, particularly for feminists for whom political violence and militarism is today a moot point. Feminist responses towards resistant political violence have, however, been less straightforward than towards the violence of the state, suggesting a more ambivalent ethical position towards the former than the latter. The nature of this ambivalence can be located in a postcolonial feminist ethics that is conceptually committed to the use of political violence in certain, albeit exceptional circumstances on the basis of the ethical ends that this violence (as opposed to other oppressive violence) serves. In opening up this ethical ambivalence – or the ethics of ambiguity, as Simone de Beauvoir says – to interrogation and reflection, I underscore the difficulties involved in ethically discriminating between forms of violence, especially when we consider the manner in which such distinctions rely on and reproduce gendered modes of power. This raises particular problems for current feminist appraisals of resistant political violence as an expression of women's empowerment and ‘agency’

Publisher: Palgrave Macmillan
Year: 2009
OAI identifier:
Provided by: Nottingham ePrints

Suggested articles


  1. (1997). Alexander and Chandra Talpade Mohanty (eds.) Feminist genealogies, colonial legacies, democratic futures, New York: Routledge Manchanda, doi
  2. (1987). also Custers
  3. (2004). Between Reality and Representation: Women‟s Agency in War and Post-Conflict Sri Lanka‟, Cultural Dynamics, doi
  4. (2002). De-Eroticising Assault: Essays on Modesty, Honour and Power, Kolkata: Stree Kannabiran, Vasantha and K. Lalitha doi
  5. (2001). Hindu wife and Hindu nation: community, religion and cultural nationalism, London: C. Hurst ---(1991) „The Women as Communal Subject: Rashtrasevika Samiti and Ram Janmabhoomi Movement‟, Economic and Political Weekly,
  6. (2002). iiiWomen‟s groups like the Stree Shakti Sanghatana, responsible for the collection and publication of women‟s oral testimonies of Telengana, are themselves a product of radical left politics, deeply invested in the potency of left revolutionary ideals.
  7. (2005). iv The increased participation of women in armed movements is not limited to south Asian countries; recent studies offer the basis for a good comparative approach to a transnational feminist ethics of political violence. See, for instance, Hasso
  8. (2007). Militarism and Motherhood: The Women of the Lashkar-i-Tayyabia in Pakistan‟ Signs: doi
  9. (1991). Talpade doi
  10. (1970). vii It is also because we cannot know in advance the outcomes or consequences of the use of violence that violence (unlike power), according to Arendt
  11. (1994). We speak for the planet‟ in Alison Jaggar (ed.) Living with Contradictions: Controversies in Feminist Social Ethics. Colorado: Westview Press Omvedt, Gail
  12. (2001). Women & the nation’s narrative: gender and nationalism in twentieth century Sri doi
  13. (2004). Women as Agents of Political Violence: Gendering Security‟, Security Dialogue, doi
  14. (1999). xiv On the limitations of binary thinking especially around power-as-exclusion and power-as-inclusion in Indian feminist thought, see Gedalof

To submit an update or takedown request for this paper, please submit an Update/Correction/Removal Request.