Study Guide for use in conjunction with Deepa Dhanraj's film, "Invoking Justice." Created for Foreign, Comparative, and International Legal Research seminar at the Louisiana State University Law Center.
RESEARCH SEMINAR IN FOREIGN,
COMPARATIVE, AND INTERNATIONAL LAW
Foreign, Comparative, and
International Law Librarian
Study Guide: Invoking Justice
A film by Deepa Dhanraj
India, 2011, 85 minutes, Color, DVD, Tamil, Subtitled
In Southern India, family disputes are settled by Jamaats—all male bodies which apply Islamic Sharia law to cases without allowing women to be present, even to defend themselves. Recognizing this fundamental inequity, a group of women in 2004 established a women’s Jamaat, which soon became a network of 12,000 members spread over 12 districts. Despite enormous resistance, they have been able to settle more than 8,000 cases to date, ranging from divorce to wife beating to brutal murders and more. Award-winning filmmaker Deepa Dhanraj (SOMETHING LIKE A WAR) follows several cases, shining a light on how the women’s Jamaat has acquired power through both communal education and the leaders’ persistent, tenacious and compassionate investigation of the crimes. In astonishing scenes we watch the Jamaat meetings, where women often shout over each other about the most difficult facets of their personal lives. Above all, the women’s Jamaat exists to hold their male counterparts and local police to account, and to reform a profoundly corrupt system which allows men to take refuge in the most extreme interpretation of the Qur’an to justify violence towards women.
AWARDS, FESTIVALS, & SCREENINGS
Film Southasia, QFX Jury Award
Int’l Doc FF Amsterdam (IDFA), International Premiere
One World International Human Rights Documentary Film Festival, Prague
Helsinki Documentary Film Festival
Asian American International Film Festival
San Francisco International Asian American Film Festival
Hawaii International Film Festival
1) Why was the women’s Jamaat created?
2) How is it that the women were simply able to set up their own Jamaat? Where do the Jamaats get their authority?
3) Do you think that the women’s Jamaat is respected as much as the men’s Jamaats? Or at all?
4) What do you think of the police role in bringing male litigants before the women’s Jamaat?
5) Do you agree that the women’s Jamaat is acting as a Jamaat in its full capacity? Or are they acting in one or more slightly different capacity (i.e. as “lawyers” representing “clients,” as family law mediators, as a women’s rights advocacy group, etc.?) Is it possible to know whether the women’s Jamaat is acting in its full capacity based solely on the information provided in this film?
6) Did you hear anyone cite any law? How do you think these cases are being decided (i.e. application of “black letter” Sharia law, custom, equity, etc.?) Do you think that the method of adjudication differs between the women’s and men’s Jamaat’s? Is it possible to know?
7) Did you hear anyone refer to any other type of legal system? What are your thoughts on what was said?
8) Would you consider the women’s Jamaat to be “progressive”? Do you think that it is inherently restricted by “complicating factors” (i.e. cultural norms, custom, the poverty of its clientele, the substance of the law, how the law has been applied in the community in the past, etc.?)
9) How easy do you think it would be to research a case decided in this region? What would some of the obstacles be? How easy do you think it would be to research and sufficiently understand how the Jamaat courts work and what role they serve in the community? What would some of the obstacles be?
10) Regardless of whether you enjoyed the film, do you think it tells the full story of the women’s Jamaat? Is it biased? Did it give you a complete picture of how this region’s legal system works? Did it leave you with any questions regarding how the Jamaats work? What more would you want to know about the region’s legal system or about the women’s Jamaat?