This weekend over a family dinner, I was seated at the ‘women’s table’ as usual, wondering when did I morph from child to woman, old enough to be the invisible ear for middle-aged Ladies who need to vent out their LadyEmotions through the forms of humour and snark. As the conversation turned to ungrateful husbands and disobedient children I looked at the table at the end corner of the room where a young mother kept on glaring at her daughter of about six years of age for hiking up her dress or sitting ‘inappropriately’. I always had the same problem growing up; I could truly empathise and almost wanted to send her an invisible signal reassuring that she’d learn to ignore such comments soon enough as I watched her burst into tears later. Body policing is something Ladies Of The Dark Regions learn very quickly and rather subtly, only when someone points it out, the cracks in our disciplined bodies become visible. I remember reading Freud’s theory on Penis Envy — and rolling my eyes to eternity of course! — and realising how bourgeois and Euro-centric the theory was considering MudSquatter kids like I and my friends
weren’t generally allowed didn’t play with boys till about the time we were aware just how and why our bodies were different, we knew how girls were supposed to run, jump and be and how ‘those boys’ could be as carefree as they wished, to ever want to voluntarily see the little dudes up, close and personal to ever develop envy for that dangly appendage. In fact, after facing direct sexism and existing under the thumb of patriarchy as many DustyLadies do, then this supposed envy comes out, just so we can — for a while — be as unmarked as the culture lets us be.
The point is, as ‘occupied bodies‘ the body — theoretical or literal — is a taboo subject to explore, discuss or even think about. There is a popular superstition that if a little girl swings her legs — non-applicable to little dudes –, one of her parents will die thus effectively blackmailing the girl into sitting still and poised at all times. The body is something that hardly goes unnoticed out here which is directly ironic to how much effort goes into negating it. The motive is to police, tutor and chart it the way the DudeCouncil wants, which will make these unruly bodies into wives and mothers of the Dutiful Variety. I went to a Girl’s Convent school and can still remember how certain Muslim girls would suddenly start wearing full length tights under their uniforms in sixth or seventh grade, the way other girls would whisper “she got the curse¹!” much to the poor girl’s embarrassment. The shock on seeing classmates changing into the hijab or donning the veil everyday the moment they stepped out of school is still raw, I could never reconcile the Girl I Knew with the Girl In The Veil, to me they were separate bodies altogether, one marked as someone else’s and the other as bits of ‘herself’. I am not saying the veil is an imposition and there is never a possibility of it being a choice, rather that to a person who will never be expected by society or her religion to practice veiling, the invisibility of the veiled body bears a certain meaning to me, which may or not go along with the traditional space of hijab and its many practices.
On a personal level, the body stands as a space for negotiation of meanings and values, albeit this transaction is unheard and often airless. My cook gets very uncomfortable seeing the scar on my hand endured because of a vicious assault some years ago, she always asks me to wear full-sleeved things around her, whereas I think it is a reminder of what transpired and what is left of me despite of it. But I do wear full-sleeved clothes in public to make sure no one knows or thinks it appropriate to prod further with inane insensitive questions and remarks. If I’d be forced to reveal my ‘marked’ patch in public, I’d be acutely uncomfortable too, just like Muslim women of Maharashtra will be if the latest effort of the Shiv Sena to police ‘heathen’ (which is any non-Hindu entity) bodies comes through. While there are real security reasons behind this burqa ban — or so they’d like us to believe — the other motive is to reveal, bare, break Her resistance and ultimately make her available, a body that has adjusted to being perceived a certain way due to societal and religious norms. This UnVeiling is just as political and lacking in agency as it sounds, especially when the ‘ripe’ availability is offered to the DudeCouncil to benefit from. Like the DoucheColonial Empire, the State becomes the Coloniser of bodies in this scene, operating under notions of ‘liberation’ and the deeply paternalistic notion of ‘empowerment’, which when stripped of all its high-minded aims just becomes a dance of ownership and control with the aftertaste of stealing collective agency. The desire to see is overwhelming, a powerful motivator to go behind the Purdah, without even an inkling of concern or consent. Branded with caste and sect by the LocalColoniser’s Eyes and Race in the GlobalColoniser’s Gaze, the UnVeiling of such hued bodies is a sight akin to non-consensual ventriloquism.
As a student of Postcolonial Studies, even references of the ‘marked’, ‘possessed’ and ‘occupied’ maps, lands are offensive for they bear reminders to the invasive seeing of our bodies and minds for me. We argue that the ‘rape’ between the coloniser and the colonised country is possible because of the feminisation of land and spaces; what about the feminisation of the BODY? In Discourse From The Empire — colonial or present day — almost always, the ‘body’ that is under subjection, scrutiny is the Female Body (for which other body fulfills the role of complete powerlessness?). What is this but another form of colonisation, exposing bodies and by extension ‘forbidden’ horizons piece by piece, under each veil? On whose terms do we want to blur these boundaries of marked bodies, to whose benefit are questions that have been silenced, in its space the bigger farce of National Security² ebbs, till those words are inscribed on the skin. By this time my mum was giving me the Olde Glowering Eyelid, bringing me back to one ‘women’s space’ as I left another one behind. Who knows, maybe that little girl did hear me after all.
1. It’s amazing to what lengths we can go to avoid the term ‘period’ or ‘menstruation’.
2. I am certain there are other, less invasive methods of securing National Security, IF we want to avoid mass-control of bodies that is.