ECSAS 2023 – Turin 26-29 July

‘Diya’: A Spectral Haunting of the Patriarchal Society on Abortion and Reproductive Agency in India


M Swathi - Vellore Institute of Technology, Chennai Campus, School of Social Sciences and Languages, Chennai, India


37 – Violent births and deaths: coping with challenging life experiences in South Asia


 Twenty-four years after independence, India legalized abortion for women in 1971. As per the law, medical abortion requires only the pregnant woman’s consent if she is not a minor and is of sound mind. However, even decades after, the social reality is far from this; pregnancy and abortion are more of a social stigma in Indian society when unmarried women are concerned. This is captured aptly in the Tamil movie, ‘Diya’ (2018); the heroine’s pregnancy out of wedlock is aborted forcefully by the family resulting in the aborted fetus’ manifestation as a spirit to avenge her death. Her ghost kills everyone who forced her mother to abort, thereby depicting unwarranted violence to foreground the movie’s stand against abortion. The paper critiques the movie’s failure to record the mother’s stand on abortion and her complex physical and psychological trauma and to address the crux of women’s agency in reproductive choices in a stigmatized society. This paper argues how the movie becomes a spectral haunting of the patriarchal notions of reproductive agency in Indian society and cinema. The paper also criticizes the film’s justification of violence, which trivializes the sensitive issues and strives to interpellate the viewers that abortion is murder. The paper draws on the critical theories of Derrida’s hauntology, Freud’s uncanny, agency and appropriate Alvarado’s racial stereotype theory to show the hazard of oversimplifying the nuanced issue by normalizing violent deaths.