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In Search of Justice through Failures of Reconciliation,The Volatility of Dissent and Systemic Forgetting: A Performative Analysis - Rustom Bharucha


Structured in three sections drawing on performative evidence from different parts of the world, this talk will focus on a wide range of artistic, cultural and activist practices lying outside the jurisdiction of law. It will begin by examining how the institution of law can acknowledge its inability to deal with the sheer scale of violence resulting from long histories of apartheid and genocide. In the process, governments seeking transitional justice have legitimized experiments like Truth and Reconciliation in post- apartheid South Africa and the grassroots adaptation of people’s courts (gacaca) in post-genocide Rwanda. To what extent are these extra-legal performative measures effective forms of justice? Turning to different forms of dissent through applied theatre practice, the talk will ex- amine the potentialities and risks of enacting peace in states of war and institutionalized violence. Through examples of prison theatre in Durban, South Africa and the rehabilitation of Tamil child-soldiers in states of war in Sri Lanka, the talk will address how such peace-building performative initiatives can be hijacked by inter-ethnic dissensions and conflicts within oppressed communities. The unquestioned ‘right to intervene’ can result in a backlash of vigilante justice. In the final part of this talk, the focus will shift to images of some of the most searing scenes of suffering endured by people during the pandemic in India, notably the non- availability of oxygen and the absence of transportation, food and healthcare. While such blatant neglect (and systemic forgetting) on the part of state and civic authorities are widely recognized in the public domain, the evidence of such ‘crimes against humanity’ may not hold up in the eyes of the law. This leaves us as civilians with the imperative to search for more communitarian and less technocratic forums of justice in civil society in direct dialogue with survivors of violence. Paradoxically, these forums cannot give up on law even as they are excluded by it.

Rustom Bharucha is a writer, cultural critic and dramaturg based in Kolkata. He is the author of several books including Theatre and the World, The Politics of Cultural Practice, Terror and Performance, The Question of Faith, In the Name of the Secular, Another Asia: Rabindranath Tagore and Okakura Tenshin, Rajasthan: An Oral History, Performing the Ramayana Tradition (co-edited with Paula Richman), and more recently, The Second Wave: Reflections on the Pandemic through Photography, Performance and Public Culture. He taught in the School of Arts and Aesthetics at Jawaharlal Nehru University between 2012 and 2018 and is a corresponding fellow of the British Academy.

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