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?
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.