A Conspiracy Of Silences

A couple of weeks ago, the lady I buy my bi-weekly magazines from near the railway station started talking to me. The caste system is so pervasive¹ that all we’d ever exchanged over the past three years is, “Has [x] magazine come yet?” — from me — and she’d say, “No Madam, no one reads this one, so I have to send out a special order for you” and we’d smile at that gesture, but that would be all. So two weeks ago, when I went to the stall after a few weeks of absence, somehow, she asked me about my plans after graduation and I mentioned something about going out of Mumbai and before I knew it she was telling me about her daughter; how she wants to study further but doesn’t have the means. I’d seen her daughter a few times, helping out around the stall, I’d thought she was around my age, but it turned out she had two years to graduation. That day, I put this newspaper lady in touch with a couple of activists who worked specifically with underprivileged Hindu girls — the newspaper lady’s family came from a challenged economic background, but as Hindu Brahmins, they occupy higher shelves of the caste system. I don’t particularly like these activists and their goals but knew they’d help these two women out. Yesterday, I come to know the daughter rounded up about nine more girls from similar economic backgrounds but from varying castes which of course, the activists couldn’t stand for and helped only the Hindu girls. As people, we are constantly choosing and prioritising one over another, even if we don’t want to; build-ing and break-ing communities and spaces, they always carry with them little parts of us we show and hide. I didn’t want to approach these activists at all for their restricted goals, but by reaching out to them six more girls benefitted. However, the three that get left behind, their silences roar the loudest.

When I heard this yesterday, the first thing I did was look for financial aid that would suit these three girls, and as it turns out being caste, religious and a gender minority means you enter How Oppressed Are You Really Game™ which is almost always designed to leave you out, and two of them didn’t ‘fulfill’ the criteria for receiving the aid; though the one who did get aid brought forth two more girls. Next week, these girls are seeing another educational reform activist — this one is specifically for Dalit women — and hopefully some solution will emerge. In social justice too, we are constantly con-structing similar communities — not speaking of individual acts, rather the ones that are cultural context based — whether these communities have origins online or in physical geographical borders, they are shaped by production process — read dominance of the digital dollar — and actual histories. What troubles me is, we start with logical and factual fallacies or the Need To Help As Many As Possible, like this small group of girls sometimes we too look at solutions only in singular steps and spaces. In the case of safe spaces, there is an overwhelming urge to create a space where silence isn’t an act of violence but a choice, maybe even a protective gauze that will save us from the omnipotent presence of the DoucheColonial Empire. I confess, this is a tempting and beautiful fantasy to even consider, the possibility of a space where marginalised bodies and voices can express themselves without being attacked and cracked open is too tempting– the myth of ‘reverse-racism’ would be the first one to go if I had my way — and then we’d be human equivalents of unicorns. But even in ‘safe spaces’ — virtual and otherwise — a dichotomy slips through that dictates who remains inside, who eventually speaks, who has the authority to be believed; virtually speaking in most spaces that I’ve interacted in, all we do ‘see’ are absences, ‘hear’ only absences. It gets even trickier when the body you’re interacting with has a face and a name to go along with², this voicelessness is ‘harder’ to ignore — of course we can quantify pain, humiliation and violence! Like this for instance  — and the desire to make an insular community deepens.

Given the differences in languages, dialects, caste and class statuses re-aligning margins and commonalities — within our unique marginality — is not only impossible, but an extremely dangerous concept to even consider. Providing one marginality and slipping into someone’s space is step one to obscuring someone else’s struggles, which flies into the face of the ‘safe space’ goal, not to mention how it serves to homogenise people and their specific intersecting locations. So instead of the Revolution™ or that Perfect Safe Space, can we just interrupt — if and when we have the ability — the bigger mainstream ideal, be it in feminism or elsewhere? I’m not insinuating that communities that have been proven unsafe over and again for marginalised bodies need to be contested and constantly challenged – I’d rather talk to you of time travel instead — just pointing out how the onus is always on the marginalised body to carve out that ‘space’, ‘community’ or ‘origin’. Instead of ‘building communities’, what if we focus on shifting locales of power and loosening borders? Whether we like it or not, most of us are points of access to others — for instance, while teaching I am the point of access for children between theoretical knowledge and practical use when learning and re-forming syllables — I have little to no control over being ‘this’ via medium. What I can do, is ask access at whose cost and context? There are times when I absolutely loathe this position of access — being a cable wire for the ‘global’ to objectify the ‘local’ isn’t fun! Who knew! —  but what if we negotiate this ‘position’ of access?  Instead of challenging the militant Hindu activists — and not receiving any help at all — what these girls chose to do is seek aid elsewhere, while bringing forth more people in the chain.  Similarly, instead of fighting in harmful and unsafe spaces, if we leave our absences behind, we can re-orient ourselves to providing access to marginalised bodies, to local producer communities so that they can re-insert themselves as actors within the global arena and prevent re-appropriation of their identities.

To paraphrase my friend’s words, “As a Third World Woman, don’t expect me to build anything, ever. What I will do is express myself with break and silences as I disrupt the hegemony. Don’t expect me to smash and tear anything down, I have enough people doing that to me as it is”. Ultimately, what I hope to do is give and receive access that will enable Othered bodies and me the position of strength to negotiate within hierarchies and hegemonies. Meanwhile, my silences conspire and leave marks, re-present to us absences. Today, this minor disruption is more than enough.

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1. I couldn’t ask about her ‘problems’ as it would definitely be me squandering my caste-privilege about considering I didn’t know a thing about her then; she couldn’t ask me because of the invisible — but firm — class dichotomy me being a customer created.

2. Many virtual interactions are considered ‘unreal’ because ‘bodies don’t matter online’, or in an essence ‘get left behind’.

Re-Membering Ties; Re-Forming Bonds

Last week, I read Houria Bouteldja’s essay on Decolonial Feminism And The Privilege Of Solidarity and came away with agreeing with most of it, though there are some big problematic themes hazed over — like the ‘question’ of Islam and feminism co-existing (hint: this shouldn’t take consideration) or even the notion of ‘decolonisation’ mentioned many times in the essay, making it seem as if a ‘decolonial’ state of being is indeed possible (without using time-bubbles that too!) that there will be a time when colonisation will be washed clean from under our skin or given the radical left Maoist thrust of the website, the essay doesn’t mention ‘rescuing’ Marxism from Marx’s colonialism — but all of this disappeared as I read the speaker subverting the concept of ‘solidarity’ — physically and viscerally — by standing in solidarity with White women, which was her way of disrobing White feminists of extending ‘sistersong’. I read, “Solidarity with [insert nationality here]” and impulsively liked how ‘solidarity’ as a privilege was reverted, like Caliban cursing at his master¹, the act of reversing roles was more important than focusing on what she actually implied. Considering the speaker is an activist, her goal was to level the uneven power dichotomy of ‘solidarity’ when practiced by White (Imperial) feminists and possibly for her solidarity ‘ends’ there, and not in likening herself to any White feminists. All of this I knew and acknowledged as I read the essay for the first time; I’ll admit that the Calibanian instinct didn’t die away even after days. So for a while, I started believing that solidarity is a desirable concept when disrobed of imperial and neo-colonial intent and action, even prioritised theory over action so to speak, forgot that my dusty skin cannot be cataloged either way quite this easily.

Co-incidentally two days after reading the essay I ended up taking my students to the Prince Of Wales museum for a ‘field visit’ — calling the museum by a glorified Maratha hero’s name doesn’t change where it originates from or that it attests our colonial past — and somehow while constantly saying “no you can’t touch it” and “yes, that’s a naked body, that’s nothing to laugh about!” we were  standing in front of the Ratan Tata wing — yes those Tata’s – and all the artefacts that came directly from their family heirlooms. One minute I’m telling them to stop giggling at the nude paintings and next moment we come to the section where weapons ‘of the Empire’ are displayed. Rows of guns, whips, knives, pistols — some from the Maratha period, some from the Empire — which were used on ‘natives'; seeing the old Grandfather Clock which still works by London time and finally the cutlery and silverware exposed our (in)visible history. If I were to re-trace ‘that history’, I’d have to look at the gaps and spaces between these narratives and presentations of history, as ‘my’ past is infinitely linked with ‘theirs’. If I were to imagine ‘Indian history’ has a voice, then for the better part of last two centuries it is silenced² judging solely by the artifacts present in the museum, you’d think there were no Indians who lived in India for the time British people hung out here. Had I gone alone to the museum, this would have been the time for me to leave and give in to the crying fit, but my students were around and still wanted to know if those weapons were ever used on us. I must have nodded ‘yes’ as suddenly everyone was quiet for a while. Finally, standing around the creepy, stuffed animals of the Natural History section, one student tells me that his abbujan’s father — great-grandfather that is — used to be a footman to a British naval officer; we don’t look at each other as he wonders out loud if the weapons we saw upstairs were ever used on his abbujan’s father. At that moment — and even today — my first instinct is to cut away all my ties with such a history or a collective past.

‘Solidarity’ as a term and an implied action has too much responsibility for me to simply use it, even while subverting it like Bouteledja’s essay suggests. If I could, I’d certainly like to have no links or connections of colonisation but that is neither my space nor privilege to ‘re-claim’. As strongly I want to play around with the dynamics of ‘solidarity’ — considering how more often than not, it’s Western chains of knowledge and looking at the world that defines the Third World Woman — to say I ‘stand with European women’ — for instance — I’d have to forget and artificially re-member events around me in a manner that will foster ‘kinship’. Like my students too, I roll the word in my mouth as they do every time a new English word is introduced to them and it doesn’t ‘fit’, so to speak. I don’t feel an ‘innate’ bond with Western feminists, I don’t want to extend my arms ‘globally’ and ‘form bonds across borders’. If anything at all, because of my encounters online and otherwise, I’ve become extremely vary of Western feminists who constantly talk about ‘stretching edges’ and ‘re-defining’ the ‘global standard’ as most of these come down to exploitation of the dusty subaltern³. Even if this ‘solidarity’ were to be free of neo-colonial and imperial zeal, I’d probably still be wary, because this ‘kinship’ can quite easily ‘allow’ us to dislocate each other’s experience and well-intentioned rage and end up appropriating cultures — for instance, I care about Islamic and Dalit feminism but have to be very careful about not appropriating their experience in my ‘outrage’, as I’d be prioritising my feelings over theirs; which in interwebes lingo is aptly a ‘FAIL’.

Re-membering history, like they’re pieces of a puzzle is impossible; re-membering past memories where I was in a decidedly vulnerable position — TW for rape threat — is a luxury I don’t have; ‘solidarity’ feels like a poem I must rote learn to properly exercise my ‘feminist card’. I will never know what a Dalit or a Black feminist experiences, ‘sistersong’ allows me an escape-route to believing I do. Instead of chanting ‘sisterhood’, can’t we listen and support? I don’t particularly care if I’m ‘reaching’ a ‘sister’ in Peru, ‘understanding’ her struggle if I can acknowledge that our struggles are different, and I may not always be able to ‘help’ everyone I may want to. Why do we need bonds or ‘kinship’ to understand that All Are Different, All Are Equal?

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1. “You taught me language, and my profit on’t/Is, I know how to curse. The red plague rid you,/For learning me your language!”  is possibly my favourite Shakespeare quote.

2. Madhubani art co-existed with the Mughal Empire, for instance. But when we look at the British Empire and the display in the museum all we find is their art and traces of their ‘culture’.

3. This isn’t to intone I have an Agenda Against Western Feminists™ and will destroy them with my third worldly powers if I were to meet them, rather repeated negative experience has taught me to keep my guard up.

The (Othered) Woman In The Veranda

The past two weeks, the US-ian leaning feminist blogosphere has been on campaigns against the horrid and religious-state sanctioned policy on codifying when can one press charges for being ‘really’ raped; this way the State-Religious-Oligrachal system that embodies most US-ian policies, can re-define a person’s right to abortion, which in not so pleasant terms comes down to only when the State deigns the person to be ‘really’ raped¹. I don’t need caffeine in my system to conclude that this is one of the most heinous laws I’ve come across; I’d probably file it under the law that proposes to normalise a particular hijra body over another and above the one that anyone who is NotWhite needs to identify themselves and prove their ‘legitimacy’. Last week I was chatting with a self-proclaimed ‘White Feminist With More Privileges Than You Can Count’ when she said, “I’m just glad that abortion in India is legal and you don’t have to fight such basic human rights”; and these words haven’t left me. She’s not wrong, well not wholly anyway considering abortion laws out here are pretty diffident to encroaching on human rights — there are definite loopholes when it comes to trans*, hijra, ‘mentally unstable’ bodies — and that the Govt doesn’t seem to want to start an overt war over reproductive laws. Not yet anyway.

But, like most narratives seen only through the Western lens, this one is too simple too neat too easy to consume without challenging it. Under this narrative, our only challenge is access and the patriarchal control of female — queer identities get erased yet again, of course — bodies; but when we look at it theoretically, the law is in place to all protect the right of uterus-carriers at least. This assumption is all too familiar that all we have to fight against is Our Orthodox Culture, the age-old trope that if we have to be patronised ‘helped’ it is to ‘save the brown women from the brown men’ and that our ‘problems’ exist in this horribly restrictive frame only. Here, the Third World Woman’s body — quite literally — becomes a palimpsest to be written over, She is simply a medium through with competing discourses of Imperial Feminism and Irate Conservative-Nationalism represent their claims, yet again written over with words of other’s desires, other meanings.

If I am to go by traditional representations of women from both nationalist as well as imperial feminist perspectives, the feminine body is more or less coloured invisible, especially since both ask us to choose between the ‘woman question’ and anti-colonial discourses, dichotomising not only our (in)visibility but also lived-experience. More often than not, it’s at the intersection of race, gender, class, disabilities, caste that the Third World Woman is positioned in; and choosing one over another is almost always impossible — though it does not have to be the only alternative — and as we fail to choose, the gendered Subaltern is once again robbed of a voice.  Quite predictably, one of the most theorised topics in Indian feminism by the First World is female feticide, child marriage, honour killings and dowry deaths, all in the name of furthering philanthropy; while at the same time, this system as seen as quasi-acceptable as there are no ‘real’ barriers to abortion, theoretically speaking. Barriers of access — caste and class based — social stigma that is at once local and specific most ‘female’ bodies, that follows abortion and counter-conception discourse around gets ignored as once again we laud the legal framework. Such imperial hazing-over largely ignores the sanitising space the ‘Home’ is, where the vile idea that ‘females’ and feminine-identified bodies should only be Seen And Not Heard, where the ‘Home’ in essence must remain unaffected by the Evil Scheming And Cultureless West, Untouched By Material Realities and that ‘Woman’ is the embodiment and representation of this dance that sways to supposed equal parts tradition and ‘progress’. Meanwhile, the ‘Woman’ remains ‘bound’ in the Inner Veranda or the Inner Courtyard², steps one more step toward invisibility.

Reproductive rights are close to non-existent when we look at minority bodies of Dalit or tribal women, if you add disabled to this mix, these reproductive laws get chipped away even further; when we see here too there is a State-sanctioned and controlled framework when it comes to human rights — usually funded by the West. What is interesting is how the Third World Woman is at once the object of pity, of wonder, of disgust and of ‘well-intentioned’ condescension; she simultaneously is the pitiable statistic of female feticide as well as the one with ‘free’ legal access to abortions. Meanwhile, in the ‘real’ dusty realities we are too fighting to be heard and to be visible when speaking out against sexual assault considering many rapes against caste minorities are State sanctioned. Just like E. M. Forster’s ‘memashib’s in A Passage To India, many imperial feminist constructions of the Third World Woman locate the blame in native men, in their attempts to forge alliances with the ‘colonised’ woman who at times is the center of her sexual frustration, as well as a model of kinship as both seemingly live under fairly patriarchal standards. In the words of Mrs. Callender from the novel, “The best thing one can do to a native is to let him die”, the fight over possessing and territorialising the Third World Woman is between two inherently masculine modes of discourse, which slice her body in half, both want to ‘emancipate’ her on their terms.

We need to localise our histories, forge bonds with hybrid realities and identities in order to fully and faithfully engage with the ‘Woman Question’. Neo-colonising-Empire-licking practices will simply not do.

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1. This game can also be used to determine Who Is Really Oppressed as we all know that any form of oppression exists solely in a void and is quantifiable, no?

2. Most traditional houses have ‘women’s spaces’ in the Inner Courtyard, where there are barriers — physiological and psychological ones — between ‘women’s spaces’ and the world outside.

Speech Through Silences

I got an invite from the Embassy Library this week, inviting me to a dinner they’re holding to celebrate Virginia Woolf’s birthday, the invite carries the stamp of the Bloomsbury Press that the Woolf’s used and there is a quote, “Arrange whatever comes your way”. Had I received this invite two years ago, I’d be squealing with enthusiasm because of the impressive logo, happy that I am a member of a library that holds such dinners — completely unaware of my privilege — I would probably even participate in the auction for the first edition pocketbooks. After all, Woolf was one of my first literary loves, I read every book she wrote in a period of six months at 18; I even presented an extremely gushy paper on her ‘stream of consciousness’ method of writing and how ‘revolutionary’ it was, considering it came from a lady, in a time ladies weren’t attributed to having many ideas or thoughts, how she situated politics of power in the Body amid other fangirly ideas. Today, I want to half-occupy that naïve girl’s space, be that ecstatic and genuinely in awe with Woolf, to not have this pesky voice in my head saying, “You know, if Woolf saw you at this dinner, she’d probably ask you to be removed out of the hall”¹; I want to unknow — in parts anyway — how her narratives construct me, always on the fringe, refusing me entry to her world. Today, were I to even forcibly re-inject ‘me’ or what ‘my body’ represents  in any of Woolf’s narratives, it would be a complete waste as her construction of ‘me’ is a void, leaving gaps for Liberal Humanism to come ‘save me’. And to think a woman and a figure that set out Othering people who didn’t match her skin tone is a cult literary feminist icon drives the idea of constructing the DeTongued Third World Woman home; this Third World Woman represents a frame: one without a body or a voice.

If I were to ‘map’ this dis-voiced body, it appears everywhere from well-loved colonial texts to western feminist scholarship. If I got a paisa for the number of times any White feminist text or study references ‘the Indian dowry system’, ‘the Indonesian women working in sweat shops’ and ‘the eternally toiling Chinese farmer, who also takes the beatings of her husband with equal silence’ then I’d probably be out of ditches to feed and clothe. Most of these texts talk about oppression and inequality in predominantly First World terminology and insert the Third World woman between parentheses, marking the ‘difference’ between both in invisible neon ink; this Western Feminist theorist constructs herself as the ‘Local’ and ‘us’ as the Exotic-Global-Marginal-Animal that is brought out to make the statement stretch beyond America or Europe’s borders, theoretically speaking only, of course². Some take it a step further and go to great lengths to discuss the Devdasi traditions, bonded labour or caste-based prostitution with the feminist-as-tourist-in-an-exotic-land where the theorist exclaims, “I can’t possibly describe to you dear reader, how sad these women’s lives are! My heart gushes for them! I lived with them for about two weeks and now will go on to theorise their life though I probably took out my own interpretations, but these women won’t ever know, because people in ditches don’t read” in perhaps more culturally-appropriative language. It serves to keep the hued woman (or feminine-identifying body) under a cage of ‘difference’, this way the theorist can engage in healthy povertyporn as well as give in to their ivory-tower complex by playing the Theorist With Divine Knowledge Of Feminism That Will Save The Dusty Bodies without acknowledging the privilege it takes for anyone to see people from this anthropological distance  — say, like the one I’m doing now! Privilege bites all our bums, dusty and otherwise — or to offer solutions that are theory and pitch perfect but go hollow the moment any subjectivity weighs in. Quite similar to the Dance Bar Ban of 2005 in Mumbai, in theory this ban aims to ‘liberate women’ but ends up putting sex-work, Dalit sexuality — as a big portion of bar dancers are from the Dalit community — behind stigmatised lines;  making it ‘forbidden’ and impossibly ‘deviant’ in one swift blow, ignoring just how much harm it is doing to the very women it aims to ‘liberate’³. In spaces like these, the Silences of the DeTongued minority speak further and faster than any literary or theoretical mumbo-jumbo.

I’d love to live up to my reputation as a reverse-racist here and say, “These Western modes of feminism are horrid, we should burn all those books and just sit around in our ditches as Third World Women we are trained to do”, but eschewing western modes of feminisms and activism isn’t my privilege or concern. What interests this LadyBrain today is how we can take our colonially-given meanings and forms and twist it to our own cultural specifics, to make sure feminism reaches every marginalised body it has the access to or we will be re-writing yet another discourse that is designed to leave people out. Capitalism may be something Marx theorised first – only in the Eurocentric world that is – but till date, the site for production remains the bodies of dusty third world people, women in particular. More often than not, this Woman-figure becomes metonymic for the nation, her clothes become repositories of tradition, so curbing her freedom and her movement becomes synonymous with charting the body and the Nation, in any nationalist framework. Words glide glaze roam about and around her but very little voicing happens from her Body, meanwhile, the dusty realities of who ‘we’ as Third World Women live and experience step back into realms of fiction and mythology, fissuring our identities. This fissured identity fragments further under English – especially if this English term is learnt ‘by heart’ – so the colonial textual framing of this Third World Woman enters our bodies every time it is spoken aloud, every time we say words like ‘being the bottom tier of the site of production of meaning and form’4 and we absorb the narrative that is woven around us, especially in academia.

For many dusty bodies, feminism becomes another route to get tangled in Words That Are Spoken About Us and never To Us, no denying how colonial and imperial it can be – I’d rather talk about the different varied species of bullfrogs than suggest otherwise – but it doesn’t have to continue this way. Like Vandana Siva the eco-feminist says, “If we locate feminism in the Body capitalism and racism start their dislocation in, and work our way upwards, chances are we’d dismantle gender, class, caste, racial discrimination without even realizing it”. Imagine if we start with Dalit tribes, or any sexual and racial minority, how much privilege are we undoing? The Subaltern, the Third World Woman, The Marginal-Animal-Slave-Object doesn’t have to exist if we focus on the words that come out between cracks, if we see speech that comes from absences this very Third World Woman re-presents to us.

————

1. See Woolf’s Selected Letters or Diaries for her intolerance towards Indians.

2. See Gloria Steinem’s Outrageous Acts And Everyday Rebellions, Germaine Greer’s The Whole Woman, Naomi Wolf’s Misconceptions, all are texts written in the late 90’s to early 10’s, so the excuse, “But they were writing in colonial times” is moot here.

3. Important to note that the feminists who supported the ban were mainstream upper-caste Hindu feminists who completely failed to see how much this law places Dalit women on a disadvantage. For more on this, see the wonderful Meenakshi Moon and Urmila Pawar’s introduction to ‘We Also Made History’.

4. This line is taken from Kristeva’s essay on Indonesian factory workers

 

On Peddling Access

This week I heard at an international seminar, “Existing while woman is such a hard thing to do, but I do it because I have no other way out”¹. I thought of saying to this lady, “Existing while woman is indeed hard, horrible, twisted and sometimes oppression’s declassé sibling, Existing While Dusty would be more frustrating, given that we don’t even have Bodies — if I am to see any literature or not-literature that comes out of the West, Center or even Our Core — our bodies are given to us, constructed  with seeds of neo-colonisation, imperialism and capitalism; they’re in a way genetically-socially engineered to ensure we always fit in the shoes of the Other, that this dust you see right under our pores is sewed on carefully so that we remain just where we were fixed so many years ago, and that sometimes I want to sit and bit by bit remove each dust particle out, unravel this debris to see what lies inside, hoping it isn’t yet mutated into something that again just furthers the idea of this epidermal tissue over another”. While I’ve begun to believe in the sacred act of Interruption©, to Not Let People Get Away When They Say Something Inanely-Appropriative, I didn’t say a thing when I heard this, mainly because this isn’t what many Progressive And Liberal-Bending People had come to hear. So if I did foil this plan, it’d foil their money’s worth, as well as make me guilty of having Marxists and other Left-Leaning people think of currency, and that is something my LadyBrain refused to take responsibility for, as there is nothing quite as heinous than having Liberals think they’re being UnLiberal or NotForward even for a second, no? But I digress.

The country they had come to discuss in terms of ‘progress’ and ‘development’ folds itself imaginary border upon border as they talked of sections unmarked by caste and practices, because ‘liberals don’t see such binary distinctions’ and the Land they spoke of had ‘potential’ and a ‘future’, nothing like it reality is, caught in a web of ‘tradition’ and ‘modernity’. What amuses me — where amuses is the new disgust — that these Left-Leaning-Turning-Almost-Right-Liberals’ dedication to unseeing caste and ethnicity of minority tribes as one of the factors they’re kept ‘backward’ as they talk yet again of which policies that will ‘change’ the life of ‘all class minorities’, defining lives of so many people, on class oppression alone, still licking believing Marx’s theory of the feudal-zamindari system, which was untrue then and hasn’t magically righted itself in the past 150 years. The objective of this seminar was clear, “Save the Brown people from their Brown oppressors, and let Marx and Engels decide what is To Be Done Of These People” — they were very subtle in promoting this view, I confess — what shocked me is how many people do actually believe in such dynamics, both Indian and otherwise. Before I could interrupt, one theorist started talking about reproductive labour and simultaneously I saw my braincells leave in a neat row. Words like ‘accessing bodies’, ‘egalitarian goals’, ‘globalised wombs’ swirled around us, as the theorist dabbled on his fanstastical vision of tomorrow’s reproductive labour; as if having the Orient ‘open its wombs’ is a mere co-incidence. What is interesting here (leaving the horrid racism aside) is how a Dusty Feminine Body is assumed to be limitless in a way only third-world-women’s bodies are, infinitely open and possess-able². Many doctors and scholars insist that surplus reproductive labour isn’t exploitative, especially because compensation for ‘womb’ services are rather generous, which just page one of Google proves wrong.

Another question that I can’t wrap my thoughts around is, who decides ‘surplus’ on reproductive labour? How can anyone determine that the Body has ‘x’ amount of reproductive value and everything else is surplus is there any way of possibly determining what the body can or cannot do? — that after a ‘certain limit’ this labour or value becomes sellable. Of course, it’s pesky giants like neo-Empire that insists this ‘surplus’ value should be translated to money, and the caste-class-religion minorities do all they can, to survive for which I can never judge them. My problems step in — and are unanswered — when we begin to question the autonomy of these ‘womb-carriers’ or ‘breast-givers’ in such transactions, autonomy that legal documents do not support nor encourage. To further ‘complicate’ matters, many hijras also solicit their bodies³, as their other options are to beg for money, gatecrash weddings, make ‘profit’ from the mystique and Othering society places on them. As hijra bodies, their bodies and gender presentations don’t conform to ‘normal’ (read: chromatically heterosexual) manifestations, again questions of ‘surplus’ remain static. For instance, a hijra woman’s womb may be categorised as ‘surplus’ — because labelling people like laboratory animals is quite fun, no? — as zie doesn’t ‘need’ or has ‘no use’ of her womb, so to speak. But the ‘rates’ of hijra wombs are considerably lower because of their chromosomal anomaly, as people don’t want to ‘use outcast bodies’ if they can help it. In many cases, hijra women make less money than they would in their ‘traditional’ activities of begging and dancing. So is the ‘value’ of such a womb still ‘surplus’?

The insistence of the Left-Leaning-Right-Liberals that, ‘when people consent to certain trade activities, things like caste and religion don’t matter, only monetary gain or loss does’ disables the exploitation dusty wombs go through, precisely because the narrative of class-oppression is given importance, while consequences of being caste-religion-sexual minorities are consciously erased so that consumption of Third World Reproductive Labour can take place with a ‘placated’ conscience and ‘without any violations’. Access is peddled to us, through us, so that the guilt of erasing and privileging bodies goes invisible. How’s that for being Liberal?

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1. This was supposed to be ironic humour. But, all irony is lost on me when not-Dusty people start sprouting the woes of their lives, especially when they refuse to acknowledge what their Light Skin is screaming to me in neon signals, which is basically, “I’m shiny, you’re not. So I win”. Or maybe I have no sense of humour at all, which is understandable because ladies aren’t supposed to be funny anyway.

2. Ask Chandra Talapade Mohanty, she’ll explain everything.

3. “We must make use of all the body parts we can“, Jyoti a hijra said this, when asked why is she a prostitute as well a womb-subject of potential surrogacy in a CNN interview.

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