South Asia

Organized Panel Session

2 - Melodrama, Tableau, Kinship Diagram: Re-Seeing the Frozen Moment from the Perspective of a Women’s Paralegal Organization

Saturday, July 7
2:40 PM - 4:10 PM
Location: Silveroak I, Ground Floor

In this paper, I argue that visual rhetoric is central to the work of women’s neighborhood councils in Delhi known as mahila panchayats. Particularly, I analyze how feuding families visiting the panchayat for dispute resolution become unwittingly enrolled as performers in visual expressive genres. Drawing on case studies, I show how panchayat paralegals work with families during the course of a counseling session, which is attended by an audience of women from surrounding neighborhoods. While paralegals encourage members of the family to share stories and grievances, they seize on points of climax to arrest the figures in a type of tableau arrangement. In this shifting mode of address, familial dynamics take the form of a visual diagram that is commonly found in classical Indian theatre as well as television melodrama. The resulting visual array offers a stabilization of bodies and resting point for the gaze. The panchayat, in particular, infuses the tableau with meanings derived from feminist, human rights and normative familial discourses. Feuding families are, momentarily, reconstructed as a place of entitlement for women. The paper considers the visual moral tableau as public rhetoric, comparing it to scholarly analyses of panchayat counseling that have located its sense of “frozenness” in private forms such as the conjugal contract or familial pathology.

Megha Sharma Sehdev

Johns Hopkins University, United States

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2 - Melodrama, Tableau, Kinship Diagram: Re-Seeing the Frozen Moment from the Perspective of a Women’s Paralegal Organization



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