Detention Solidarity Network (DetSolNet) is an online space to critically engage with the structures and experiences of detention that constitute the carceral state in India. DetSolNet, with its focus on the lives of individuals and communities affected by detention, will serve as both a repository of resources and a site of active reflection and learning. We want to extend solidarity and lend greater visibility to activists, lawyers, and journalists at the forefront of grassroots struggles for the dignity and emancipation of marginalized peoples.
We understand “carceral state” to not only refer to the criminal justice system but also to dominant ideas of criminality, security, and citizenship, and how they shape social relations and state practices. We use ‘detention’ as an umbrella term for the range of carceral impulses and institutions that center around punishment, crime prevention, protection, or care in our societies.
These include prisons and juvenile justice homes in the context of the criminal justice system, psychiatric institutions, shelter homes for the homeless and destitute, and detention camps for immigrants and stateless persons. This seemingly unrelated set of spaces is legible to the carceral state through specific conceptions of deviance or criminality. We aim to serve as a collaborative platform for those engaging with these issues to reflect on experiences, strengthen strategies to dismantle oppressive structures, and articulate new visions for a just future.
The structures, procedures, and practices of detention as we know it in India regularly violate human and civil rights, normalise a culture of dehumanisation, and disregard the social context within which institutions operate. Their history is entangled with that of British colonialism—institutions and norms intended for colonised populations remain in our legal and bureaucratic system and continue to shape the criminal justice system in India today. A critical perspective would be attentive to the subcontinent’s colonial legacy and the patriarchal caste society that the Indian state operates in. This would complicate any natural or universal category of ‘crime’, and encourage us to consider how criminality is historically constituted.
Historically oppressed groups continue to be targeted by the police, are likely to have limited access to justice, and are vastly overrepresented among the prison population. In India, existing majoritarian dynamics, alongside the global discourse of “anti-terrorism”, and the ascendancy of Hindutva nationalism have come to mean that people from Muslim communities are particularly vulnerable to arbitrary detention, ill-treatment, or prolonged incarceration. More recently, the effects of the National Registration of Citizens (NRC) process in Assam, and the enactment of the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) threaten to exacerbate the precarious status of immigrants and refugees. The prospect of statelessness and disenfranchisement looms over millions of people as the state builds detention centers and devises new forms of surveillance.
Issues of policing and institutional reform are not merely questions of legal ‘excesses’ or exceptions to the ordinary functioning of the state. Instead, these are on a continuum— a range of institutions and practices underwrite the state’s everyday interactions with vulnerable populations, including the homeless and mentally ill, and constitute a wider carceral landscape.
Challenges to the carceral state and struggles against political repression often operate with constraints on time, financial resources and access to information; grassroots movements are most at risk of persecution under the existing legal and political apparatus. This has led us to see value in the network as an autonomous, collaborative space for those engaged with issues of detention to reflect across contexts and experiences. We have, so far, invited activists, lawyers, and academics to curate our Twitter, share resources, and articulate their perspectives. We want to augment this work by inviting people to write on our blog, sharing materials on our resources page, featuring proposals and calls to action on our support page, and exploring collaborations on the projects page (coming soon).
Hosting such a platform online compels us to navigate growing privacy concerns, censorship and the influence of consumption metrics that are intrinsic to our digital world. Nevertheless, we see potential in online counter-publics which can facilitate access to information, foster global solidarities, and draw attention to voices of dissent. We hope that the resources and discussions on this space can help us critically examine the structure of the carceral state, understand everyday experiences of detention, and challenge normative ideas of criminality and punishment. Our commitment to the abolition of carceral institutions is oriented towards articulating alternative means of understanding deviance, addressing harm and achieving justice.