[Reader-list] SociologySeminar at SAU: Bhagat Singh and the Question of the Death Penalty

Diya Mehra diyamehra at hotmail.com
Sat Apr 18 01:27:36 CDT 2015

The Department of Sociology, South Asian University,
cordially invite you to a seminar: 


Bhagat Singh and the Question of the Death Penalty


by Dr. Simona Sawhney,
Indian Institute of Technology, New


Wednesday, 22nd April 2015, 2.30 pm, Mezzanine Hall, South Asian University,

Akbar Bhawan, Chanakyapuri, New Delhi 110021


Abstract: In
discussing the Kantian defense of the death penalty, Jacques Derrida brings to
the fore Nietzsche’s mockery and inversion of the Kantian stance: What if the
death penalty were not, as Kant believed, an impersonal and principled act of
reparative justice, and hence an act that structurally precluded cruelty. What
if it were instead precisely a staging of cruelty, one where what is at stake
is nothing more or less than enjoying the suffering of the (legitimate) victim.
In the context of Indian historiography, a gesture we could perhaps call
analogous has been performed by those who (Gyan Pandey, Veena Das) have
questioned the statist, secular narrative of modern Indian history by pulling
to the center instead that which had been read as aberration and accident,
namely, “communal” violence. Engaging both sets of arguments, this paper thinks
about the “afterlife” of the deep and intense opposition to the death penalty
during the early twentieth century in India. Though there are only scattered
references to the death penalty in Bhagat Singh’s own writings, he is widely
believed to have contributed to the monumental Phansi ank
(“Hanging” Special Issue) of the famed Hindi journal Chaand (1928). I
discuss the grounds on which opposition to the death penalty is advanced in
this volume, as well as at some other moments in Bhagat Singh’s work. I am
interested in thinking about the relevance and force of those arguments and
interventions today, when our psycho-political life seems to be dominated by
fantasies of bringing ever-increasing swathes of the population within the
category “foreign-hence-torturable.”


Sawhney teaches in the Department of Humanities and Social Sciences at
IIT-Delhi. She has held previous appointments at the University of Minnesota
and the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champagne. Her book The Modernity of Sanskrit
appeared in 2009 (University of Minnesota Press and Permanent Black). She is
currently thinking about a series of questions that come to us refracted
through the startling phenomenon that was Bhagat Singh. 		 	   		  

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