Existing as a Dusty Third Worldling while being a Lady is a strange enough predicament on its own –whether it’s under Western or Oriental eyes — anyone who identifies as a Lady in this part of the world will tell you so. Before you can get your words out, she’ll tell you how unfair her life is simply because there is no Y-chromosome in her body, she will meet your stare and agree that it was too essentialist of her to fixate on that Y-chromosome but won’t let you make her feel guilty as she firmly asserts, “This is how things are here” and when you start to talk about enough trans*people in the world get discriminated over a few socially ‘unfit’ or ‘mismatched’ genes, she’ll observe wryly that it’s the System and Patriarchy that makes her so and this cold, scientific speech and facts aren’t her preferred mode of communication or discourse anyway; then she’ll go on to say how trans* bodies are policed in her community and you’ll squirm in your seat, wondering why did you ever challenge the notion that being a Dusty Third Worldling is a hard position to occupy as she points out systematically the many viscerally real forces that oppress her while now you feel guilty for pitying her even as she talks which she sees right away and starts enumerating other factors that lead you deeper in the existential quagmire this conversation has long become and you further alarm yourself by thinking if she wants some donation money out of you as you try to keep your face expressionless. Meanwhile, the ‘economically-challenged’ Dusty Lady she employs sweeps the floor beneath your feet as the two of you further dis-sect the post of the post-colonial.
Leaving creative flippancy aside, many discussions and discourses coming out and around the Third World tend to not engage with the Subaltern — who knew the Third World had its own systems to squash and oppress? — they simply talk about this bottom tier as it were. Words keep floating by, and till people from the Subaltern are addressed by someone stepping in from caste or class privilege, the Subaltern is kept mute — raise your hand if you think this is too imperial to be true — and when the Subaltern does speak, these words are too exotic, even for its Dusty counterparts. So then this detongued bottom shelf is appropriated and fixed in as many ways as possible, quite akin to a laboratory animal positioned to be experimented on. One example of this Subaltern-animal is the burgeoning female surrogacy industry in India, where we speak of the people who give out away their Wombs as helpless, agency-less creatures who don’t understand the ‘importance’ or ‘boon’ that motherhood is as she ‘pawns’ her uterus away. Not only is this image of the benevolent Third World Woman perpetuated in urban and privileged echelons of India, but quite predictably in the West as well, with an even more sinister motive. When the image of the Dusty Goddess-Mother is created for Western audiences, it creates quite ostensibly a loophole that allows people to see it as a part of our chemical make-up, where we exist to serve you and just as easily over-writes the slavery it really is, leaving the Westerner free of guilt and ready to consume bodies, like microwaveable dinners. It comes as no surprise that Indian wombs come cheap for rent, as medical tourism is quick to remind us; too quick even. While I am not at all against surrogate mothers or people who choose to have babies through IVF, I am skeptical to what extent this transaction is consensual or non-exploitative for Dusty Ladies.
Thanks to India’s lax laws when it comes to adoption and surrogacy, we’re the perfect location for OutSourcing Bodies, both in reality and in metaphor; both locally and globally. One thing that irks this LadyBrain to no extent is how many people completely dismiss surrogacy as potential exploitation by saying “It’s paid for, like a womb-service if you will. Besides it’s not like the mother is made to do 16 hours of backbreaking labour each day” as if exploitation or exploitative spaces exist only if menial labour is factored in. As a Lady who has never given birth, I cannot possibly know what are the emotions associated with birth or the attachment a mother develops for her child, I do know however arguing that “the skin tone of the child will be different from that of the mother, so she wouldn’t feel very attached to this child” is too simplistic and an effort to erase Dusty Ladies off of the scale of sentient, autonomous graph. Such myths also obscure other forms of reproductive labour, such as contracted breastfeeding — like Mahashveta Devi’s text ‘Breast Giver‘ beautifully shows — and bonded child-rearing. More often than not, the Lady offering her mammary glands or other parts of her body associated with reproduction is of a lower caste background — somehow here we aren’t too concerned with casteism in such instances — and a backward socio-economic background; giving people with means a ‘Mother’ to purchase and use. Like Devi says, contracted motherhood isn’t as simple as an exchange of money as capitalism would have us believe, she even goes as far as to say, ‘Is a Mother so cheaply made?/Not just by dropping a babe!” bringing to our notice how the label of ‘mother’ can mean a plethora of violent meanings. Even mothers of ‘normal’ households are aware that they’re womb-machines, like Gehna of Balika Vadhu contests in one of TeeVee’s most popular shows, she even walks out on her husband and child initially keeping up with the implied transaction but she’s (predictably) brought back due to insistence of a large horde of fans. As Dusty Ladies, we know how important our wombs are in society and in determining our value as ‘useful resources’, which is precisely why Indian surrogate mothers are said to be ‘more compassionate‘ as we know how skin-deep the stigma of being barren goes.
In instances as hued as these, a traditional Marxist analysis of exploitation of labour doesn’t do as Marx never really accounted for the transaction of wombs or other reproductive services, certainly never thought about Dusty Reproductive labour. For instance, many surrogate mothers give up to some extent, domestic space and work post the first trimester and the Dude of the house resumes the domestic responsibility for a while. So, who is being exploited in the case, the domestic worker who doesn’t get paid or the person renting out her reproductive service? It’s important to see Dusty politics from our perspective and more importantly from the point of view of the Subaltern — I am after all a privileged lady class and castewise — to see how far OutSourcing reconciles the notion of ‘profit’ or even ‘just compensation’ back to people who need it the most. The Breast Giver’s milk is Dusty, she squats in the muddy soil while stepping in (un)knowingly in the shoes of the Earth Goddess, and to validate such a specific position we use tools and methods of analysis that were designed to leave her out of the bargain? Explain to me once again, how this isn’t exploitation; I admit, I’d love to see you at least try.