DeTonguing The Subaltern

This week all that seems to happen in India is the World Cup and How Incredibly Important It Is, for it is a game that involves super-important dudes with super-important dudes of other countries, and almost every newspaper is discussing the economics,  sport tactics, strategics and politics — I don’t even know what this means when it comes to ‘politics’ of cricket. I counted about eight to nine unevenly shaped blurbs about crimes against women today as the Sports section has taken over the front page news in Times Of India¹; I still can’t believe this is a ‘national’ newspaper. Meanwhile, the Supreme Court initiated an inane bill about ‘rehabilitating’ sex-workers, there are 52 reported deaths of female-identified Maoists in Arunachal Pradesh and there is another case of possible gendered-violence in Kashmir where two girls were shot in the streets of Sopore, in Kashmir for being ‘promiscuous‘ as cited by the military resources. All of this gendered violence in the last two weeks alone and ‘national’ newspapers such as Times Of India and DNA have hardly mentioned any news that do not include the World Cup. I’d like to believe this erasure isn’t conscious; that the stories got mixed up or maybe there was too much corporate pressure to ‘sell’ the World Cup as much as they can. For a while this trick works and I visualise extremely busy and frazzled editors who just had to edit these stories out, out of pressure and not out of choice². And then, TEHELKA covers the mediated-forced sterilisation of Wayanad tribal women and the bubble pops as silences roar.

Women of this tribe are sterilised to ‘control’ the population, most times they don’t know the surgery they are consenting to. As the article mentions, other women — possibly sterilised too — to recruit women for a price, so that more women can get these procedures done; all in the name of the Religious-Capitalist-Oligarchal State Controlled Reproduction loosely translated as, “Your men have no control, so we will curb your reproductive ability! It’s a win-win for both!”; except when it’s not as most patients don’t get sufficient post-op care — one can’t think of ‘recovery’ and ‘healing’ when there are mouths to feed — further deteriorating the health of these women. One would think this makes for Important News, especially since this is State-sanctioned violence, but then this LadyBrain will remind you that no news that really happens to uteruses is newsworthy; not when we can report the state of cricket, global sports and predict performances of teams. Meanwhile the thousands displaced to make space for the stadiums, the cuts in the budget to ‘accommodate’ expenses for the World Cup are ignored. Theoretically speaking of the Third World Woman (or Feminine-Identified Body) is relatively easier, I can go on creative bents but when it comes to actual and physical erasure, words fail me yet again. When encountered by this gendered detongued subaltern, all that remains is forked tongues and silences, yet again as mainstream Hindu feminism remains quite as narrow as it was 20 years ago. Today perhaps multi-lingualism has entered Hindu feminist theory and practice, but when it comes to going beyond the frame of the privileged, upper-caste Hindu body, we draw blanks.

Erasure of bodies that cannot be classified under ‘upper caste’, ‘Hindu’, ‘able-bodied’ and ‘Woman’ are predictably excluded, it’s really not a co-incidence no matter what I keep telling myself. Ironically, these Othered women’s — and feminine identifying people — bodies become the starting point for capitalism to build empires — where else can you find the dreadful combination of Poor, Woman, Caste-Social-Religious minority? Their homes and fields are ideal campsites for testing drugs and fairness creams, they’re also hotbeds of toxic dumps and this isn’t a co-incidence again that the most amount of gendered and sexual violence (at the hands of Upper Caste Men) happens in these neighbourhoods. Everything adds up to one equation — DeTongue The Subaltern, Disrobe Her Voice. And the ‘solution’ isn’t adequate healthcare like many Western-Leaning-Hindu feminists suggest, as again the healthcare that comes in is thoroughly western and still riddled with colonial whips — these patients can’t sign their names, so male relatives have to sign for them and subsequently ‘choose’ the healthcare, sometimes treatment papers are disguised as drug-trial consent forms — and repeatedly all we do is further violate this fissured Subaltern Woman’s body. Even interventions of privatised philanthropy fail sometimes as the zeal to define the colonial and corporate power through the Western gaze takes over, or on other occasions it is the reliance on capitalist-prescribed values of private medicine — which again work to exclude more bodies than it does to include them — that results in yet another system of oppression. Culturally, these communities are rich in what First World Feminists (read tourists in exotic places) like to call “indigenous knowledges”, this knowledge is communally shared among the tribal and peasant women for domestic, local and public use are then subject to Western ideologies of intellectual property rights which are only functional and understood in a controlled, possessive and privatised form. Thus this idea of an intellectual commons among tribal and peasant women actually excludes them from ownership and facilitates corporate biopiracy. Not only do they lose medical care and support, but even their knowledge is fetishised and tokenised by us, by western feminist theory and privatised philanthropy.

This is the space that mainstream Marxist axioms get engulfed in, as these women and feminine-identified bodies are violated in every imaginable way, under a religious-capitalist-oligarchal state controlled patriarchal system. This is a community of women made invisible and written out of national and international economic calculations mainly because it’s convinent and besides, no one notices such discrepancies. We have sports people to please and fret over. This is an open letter to mainstream Hindu feminists to pay more attention to the everyday localised experiences of tribal women and the micropolitics of their — ultimately — anticapitalist struggles. We need to start seeing the embedded of their local and particular lives with the ‘global’ and ‘universal’ norms that we’re so fond of; justice and equality has to be re-membered in transborder, trans-communal terms.

— From an Ex-Hindu.

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1. Continuously referring to rape survivors as ‘rape victims’ and stating ‘allegedly’ before any woman-related crime are a few of the many reasons TOI does wrong, on an alarmingly regular basis.

2. I can be quite the willfully ignorant unicorn when I want.

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David Cameron, What A Racist

David Cameron, our benevolent and democratically-leader, here in the U.K, recently made a speech about the widespread problem of terrorism which the world currently faces, and the causes there of. You might be surprised to discover that this speech is almost entirely devoid of racism! Cameron instead focuses on actual and true facts, that just happen to be about the Muslim community. He kindly agreed, in his benevolent and democratic manner, to answer a few of my foolishly naïve questions about this incredibly unracist topic¹.

That Fucking Hippy: Thank you Mr Cameron, for joining us here today to talk about the problem of terrorism. Can you tell us something of where the problem stems from?

David Cameron, Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, Conservative Party: Thank you. Well, the new and various threats that we face which are certainly not linked exclusively to any one religion or ethnic group.

TFH: Rrright.

DC, PM: Though, we should acknowledge that this threat comes in Europe overwhelmingly from young men who follow a completely perverse, warped interpretation of Islam, and who are prepared to blow themselves up and kill their fellow citizens.

TFH: How, Prime Minister, do you get from not blaming any one particular ethnic group or religion, to, well, focusing specifically upon one gender in a certain sector of a very specific religion?

DC, PM: W need to be absolutely clear on where the origins of where these terrorist attacks lie. That is the existence of an ideology, Islamist extremism.

TFH: That isn’t…that just isn’t what I asked, Sir. I…how do you come to these conclusions? That it is Islam which encourages terrorism?

DC, PM: No, you misunderstand me! Islam is a religion observed peacefully and devoutly by over a billion people. We need to be clear: Islamist extremism and Islam are not the same thing.

TFH: But you are still blaming terrorism solely on Islam, no?

DC, PM: ….

TFH: Surely an extreme version of this peaceful and devout religion would be a super peaceful person?

DC, PM: ….

TFH: I suppose that if you wished to make an analogy, you could use Christianity? You know, that peaceful carpenter dude who encouraged people to love their neighbours as they loved themselves, and then the USA, claiming to be a Christian nation, went and laid waste to some countries, killing its citizens and ravaging the infrastructure? And that would be Christian extremism? Taking the peaceful doctrine to a conclusion which has very little to do with its progenitor? Is that what you think has happened in Islam, Prime Minister?

DC, PM: ….

TFH: In that case, how do you propose to prevent further terrorist action?

DC, PM: Europe needs to wake up to what is happening in our own countries. Of course, that means strengthening the security aspects of our response, on tracing plots, on stopping them, on counter-surveillance and intelligence gathering.

TFH: Sounds a bit like you want to follow around young, male Muslims and check their bags.

DC, PM: But not in a racist way.

TFH: Of course not, Prime Minister. What, then, do you think the reasons are for these young, male Muslims becoming terrorists?

DC, PM: Well, some people point to grievances about Western foreign policy and say, ‘Stop riding roughshod over Muslim countries and the terrorism will end.’ But there are many people, Muslim and non-Muslim alike, who are angry about Western foreign policy, but who don’t resort to acts of terrorism.

TFH: Pardon me, Prime Minister, are you suggesting that if there were more terrorists you would take the claims of colonialism in Muslim countries more seriously? How many terrorists is enough for you? I myself do not identify as a terrorist, and am angry…if not critical! of Western foreign policy, which I believe to be ridiculously harmful to the rest of the world, but if I was, would you take more vote more seriously? I’m not, I’m just not sure what you’re suggesting here.

DC, PM: Now, I’m not saying that these issues of grievance about foreign policy are not important.

TFH: But you are suggesting that they’re not relevant…

DC, PM: Yes, we must resolve the sources of tension, not least in Palestine , and yes, we should be on the side of openness and political reform in the Middle East .

TFH: Is that what we’re calling the illegal invasion of Iraq?

DC, PM ….They also point to the profusion of unelected leaders across the Middle East and say, ‘Stop propping these people up and you will stop creating the conditions for extremism to flourish.’ But this raises the question: if it’s the lack of democracy that is the problem, why are there so many extremists in free and open societies?

TFH: Smooooooth. If these extremists are, as you say, young Muslims, living in the U.K which is, ostensibly, a democracy, and perhaps you could remind me later exactly how it was that you came to power, Sir, but you question why these young Muslims might want to cause trouble within the ‘free and open’ societies in which they live now…the same free and open societies in which the leaders are calling for the policing of their social lives, their religious practices, their families…while these same Muslims may feel a great, shall we say, kinship? for the oppressed Muslims of these other countries in which unelected leaders are being kept propped up by, um, equally unelected leaders of these free and open democracies and may even be related! To people in, well, you mentioned Palestine? Do you know what is actually happening in Palestine, Sir? And if you do, if that was your brother over there, being suppressed by Israel, and you knew that the U.S.A, of which you were a citizen and in which the white majority were being taught to fear you and the Government of which supported Israel and the media of which misrepresented the plight of the Palestinian peoples, do you think that maybe you would want to call attention to all of those problems?

DC, PM: Even if we sorted out all the problems that I have mentioned, there would still be this terrorism. I believe the root lies in the existence of this extremist ideology. I would argue an important reason so many young Muslims are drawn to it comes down to a question of identity.

TFH: I believe that you might have nailed this whole question on the head, Sir! I don’t suppose that you, yourself, have ever suffered from any kind of oppression? Being the able-bodied, upper class, well-educated white man who you are? I hesitate to make any assumptions about your mental health.

DC, PM: In the UK , some young men find it hard to identify with the traditional Islam practiced at home by their parents, whose customs can seem staid when transplanted to modern Western countries. But these young men also find it hard to identify with Britain too, because we have allowed the weakening of our collective identity.

TFH: Our collective identity? What…is that? I…barely share a collective identity with my family, at the moment, so I’m not really sure how the entire country, coming as we do from a multitude of backgrounds, might share a collective identity…Could you explain further, Sir, for the equally confused readers at home?

DC, PM: Under the doctrine of state multiculturalism, we have encouraged different cultures to live separate lives, apart from each other and apart from the mainstream. We’ve failed to provide a vision of society to which they feel they want to belong. We’ve even tolerated these segregated communities behaving in ways that run completely counter to our values.

TFH: What is this ‘our values’? I…am a white genderqueer FAAB non-binary individual, well-educated, middle class, well off…privileged, some might say. Just like you…but I doubt, very much, that we share similar values. Firstly, I try not to be racist! You’ve made an entire speech around policing Muslim lives. If our collective identity is fucking racist, then I choose not to be a part of that. My values are also, attempted anti-racism. There is an analogy that I would like to share with you here. Society is like a moving walkway, heading towards racism. Some people are walking along it, quite fast. These people are actively racist. These people, are you. Some people are just standing on it. They have multi-racial friends, they don’t use racist slurs, but they still benefit, if they are white, from white privilege. In order to NOT BE RACIST you must be walking fast in the opposite direction to the walkway. You must actively take part in anti-racist actions. I am trying to walk in that direction. These are my values. I don’t think they line up with your values, Mr Cameron. And yet, I am white! I have lived in the U.K my entire life! My parents vote Tory! I am not a Muslim! Neither am I a terrorist! And yet, we do not share the same values! HOW CAN THIS BE?!?!?! Also, I believe this ‘mainstream’ to be one of those strange, illusory beasts which you believe in and many others have never seen. What is it that you believe the ‘mainstream’ to which Muslims ought belong actually is? If Muslims live in Muslim communities, then Islam is the mainstream, in that area. Or is culture only valid if it’s suitably white?

DC, PM: When a white person holds objectionable views, racist views for instance, we rightly condemn them.

TFH: I might have to take a minute, Sir, to get stark raving drunk in order to be able to finish this conversation of magical folding logic. Can you hang on a minute? [A few minutes pass] OKAY! Let’s get this racism back on the road! What, exactly, do you think is the problem here? How is such a peaceable religion becoming a HOTBED OF TERRORISM? Sorry, sorry, I get loud when I’m drunk and people aren’t making any logic.

DC, PM: The problem comes when Muslims meet together and talk to each other. Internet chatrooms are virtual meeting places where attitudes are shared, strengthened and validated. In some mosques, preachers of hate can sow misinformation about the plight of Muslims elsewhere. In our communities, groups and organisations led by young, dynamic leaders promote separatism by encouraging Muslims to define themselves solely in terms of their religion. All these interactions can engender a sense of community, a substitute for what the wider society has failed to supply. Now, you might say, as long as they’re not hurting anyone, what is the problem with all this?

TFH: YES! That is exactly what I was going to say next. Although, I also planned to inform you that the Muslim community is not a ‘substitute’ for anything, it is a community. Or would you also say that the people I play badminton with are a substitute for what the wider society has failed to supply me. Should we be going on picnics with our entire neighbourhoods? Do you want to come down to Bristol for a cup of tea, Prime Minister? You haven’t met my Grandma and I feel as though her only seeing her family, her carer and her cleaner is a mere substitute for what the wider society has failed to supply.

DC, PM: Well, I’ll tell you why.

TFH: I was hoping you’d say that.

DC, PM: As evidence emerges about the backgrounds of those convicted of terrorist offences, it is clear that many of them were initially influenced by what some have called ‘non-violent extremists’, and they then took those radical beliefs to the next level by embracing violence.

Whether they are violent in their means or not, we must make it impossible for the extremists to succeed. Now, for governments, there are some obvious ways we can do this. We must ban preachers of hate from coming to our countries. We must also proscribe organisations that incite terrorism against people at home and abroad. Governments must also be shrewder in dealing with those that, while not violent, are in some cases part of the problem. We need to think much harder about who it’s in the public interest to work with. Some organisations that seek to present themselves as a gateway to the Muslim community are showered with public money despite doing little to combat extremism.

TFH: WAIT. Are you suggesting that we, sorry, ‘we’, ought to police Muslim communities? Decide who they can and cannot have preaching in their places of worship? Not give money to certain organisations because they’re Muslim? Islam is…a gateway drug? To terrorism? Is that…Are you…

DC, PM: So we should properly judge these organisations: do they believe in universal human rights – including for women and people of other faiths? Do they believe in equality of all before the law? Do they believe in democracy and the right of people to elect their own government? Do they encourage integration or separation?

TFH: Mr. Cameron, Honourable Sir…DO YOU?!

DC, PM: The extremism we face is a distortion of Islam, so these arguments, in part, must be made by those within Islam. So let us give voice to those followers of Islam in our own countries – the vast, often unheard majority – who despise the extremists and their worldview. Let us engage groups that share our aspirations.

TFH: That sounds almost reasonable, actually, Sir. Are you sure you’ve thought this through? Letting Muslims speak for themselves? About an issue which concerns them? Oh wait, sorry, what was that last part again?

DC, PM: Let us engage groups that share our aspirations.

TFH: Thank fuck! I thought I’d stepped into an alternate reality where you were becoming thoughtful, and not-quite-as-racist! You’re only going to let the Muslims who agree with you have a voice. Everyone who doesn’t, I imagine, will be accused of supporting those extremists you’ve been banging on about. What else?!

DC, PM: Frankly, we need a lot less of the passive tolerance of recent years and a much more active, muscular liberalism. A passively tolerant society says to its citizens, as long as you obey the law we will just leave you alone. It stands neutral between different values. But I believe a genuinely liberal country does much more; it believes in certain values and actively promotes them. Freedom of speech, freedom of worship, democracy, the rule of law, equal rights regardless of race, sex or sexuality.

TFH: I’m…flabbergasted…again…You…freedom? You’re promoting…freedom? But Muslims don’t get to choose which preachers come to their places of worship? They don’t get to hang out in internet chatrooms because you’re afraid they might talk about how pissed off they are with the West? They’re not allowed money from the Government for their organisations and societies? And this is…freedom of speech, freedom of worship, equal rights? Please, continue! I am intrigued!

DC, PM: I also believe we should encourage meaningful and active participation in society, by shifting the balance of power away from the state and towards the people. That way, common purpose can be formed as people come together and work together in their neighbourhoods.

TFH: Um. Is…so…Muslims are only meaningfully participating with society if they are chilling out with the white man? Muslims hanging out in Muslim-only communities, where, y’know, they might feel, uh, safer, because there are less racist white people who think they’re all terrorists, isn’t participating in society? My Grandma barely leaves the house except for medical appointments and talks only to family, but I guess because she’s white and racist, that’s totes cool? Let’s get old people on the streets! They need to meaningfully and actively participate in society! C’mon Mabel, what do you mean you’ve had two hip replacements and keep having mini-strokes? ACTIVELY PARTICIPATE WITH SOCIETY IN A MEANINGFUL WAY, DAMMIT, for the Prime Minister has decreed it thus.

DC, PM: So, let me end with this.

TFH: You mean, you’re going to be quiet after this? Thank…thank…oh no, shit. You still run the country.

DC, PM: This terrorism is completely indiscriminate and has been thrust upon us.

TFH: Whut? I…that 9/11 thing, which targeted the Twin Towers and the Pentagon…the USAian centers of commerce and war…that was indiscriminate? I always thought whoever did it was kind of saying, um, QUIT FUCKING UP OUR COUNTRIES WITH YOUR ECONOMIC POLICIES AND WARS. But, hey! I guess I could be wrong. Thank you for joining us, Mr. Cameron. It’s been emotional.

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1. This a mock-interview. Just want to make this clear before I get swarmed with e-mails saying “But the PM gave no such interview!”

This is a guest post by That Fucking Hippie. That Fucking Hippy points at things That Fucking Hippy does not like and says “I don’t like that”. TFH is a FAAB genderqueer non-binary individual who is made of sheer awesomeness as you can see nice people of the olde interwebes. I’d like to show you this magical page and tell you how it still works!


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.

The SuperBowl Is Over And The Non-Rapist Is Going To Disneyland

So, the SuperBowl came and went.  They guy who did not rape two women was chosen as the MVP.  I got a text message from a friend at about 5pm yesterday asking me “Packers or Steelers?” and I replied with “a bullet to my head…my team’s arch rivals or a two-time rapist.  ugh.”

Given that situation, I did what any rabid fan would do – I took my family to an Italian restaurant and ate carpaccio, gnocchi & gelato until the wheel barrel was summoned.  While I sipped my beverage and gorged myself on EVOO and fresh-baked bread, my spouse asked me about the game and for whom I might be cheering.  She was needling me deliberately, since she knows full well and good that the wounds from my team’s exit from the playoffs were still fresh and painful.  She was shocked when I told her about how I could never support a rapist, much less a two-time rapist and therefore wished that my team’s rival be the victor.  She, a card-carrying member of the the-only-real-sport-is-futbol club, had no idea of the assaults by Ben Rapelisberger.  I explained it to her in great detail while her eyes glazed over and she sipped her wine, pretending not to hear a word I said nor even care.

Sometime after I finished my oratory, I overheard someone at the next table say the word “rapist” and I immediately wondered if I could eat my dinner with her.  In this cozy little trattoria, the bartender had posted a television in front of the bottom-shelf creme-de-menthe for those of us that needed some advertising, hokum and jingoism with our antipasto.  As I excused myself from the table under the pretense of verifying the correct time in Pago Pago via collect call, I made my way to the hoi polloi amassed around the television set.  The game was the spectacle I expected and dreaded, but my sole request for satisfaction was indeed there – the rapist was losing.

Looking to my right, I noticed the person whom I had made a point of eavesdropping earlier.  Being an Aries male, I knew that my opinion and agreement would be foremost on her mind, so I spoke up.  As it turns out, she did agreed with me that it is a crying shame that the media machine of hype, advertising, delusion and sleight-of-hand that is the SuperBowl had slapped a coat of paint on a 6’6″ 260lb two-time rapist so that they could sell cars, wireless phone service, carbonated soda, beer and insurance – all with a veneer of red, white and blue-in-the-face horseshit.

I love the NFL and many other sports.  Human existence, identity and experience are measured and defined in the physical and conscious realms.  The beauty and splendor of what it means to be human, alive and aware – can be expressed in action, word, thought, sound and any measurement of the senses.  Sports are a beautiful example of the meeting of body and mind.  This existence and this universe are filled with beauty and horror, sadness and joy, fear and calm – sports are no different and they are not exempt.

I can accept that a a pro player may turn out to be a rapist or a murderer or a thief or a torturer of animals.  I can even accept that the pro players benefit from the same abuses of privilege which allow the children of elected leaders to avoid dying in the wars that their fathers vigorously pursue and profit from.

But, I don’t have to like it.  I’m glad that two-time rapist lost and I can’t wait for karma to catch up to the sonofabitch.  I hope his dick falls off.  I hope that the rest of his born days are spent sliding from privilege while he thinks about the lives he scarred with his excess, vanity and brutality.

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This is a post by Arvan. I’d like to remind all you nice people of the Open Guest Posting Policy Page and how it still works.

Cataloging Gray Areas

As a person who is born and identifies as a (dusty) lady, noticing how my ‘body’ or the space it occupies is as natural as breathing; though this space is hued coloured over and eventually pushed to the fringe. As I’m considerably tall, it would be hard to not see me, one would assume. In fact, there are so many places where I slip in and out of corners and rooms without anyone noticing, sometimes this sort of partially-cloaked-conscious invisibility surprises me too. At first, this un-seeing of my body — whether consciously done or otherwise — seemed liberating. I could spend hours in my room reading or writing before my mum or aunt would come to check in and see what I was up to, generally hours would pass before they’d notice, or at libraries I would take in the smell of old musty books without the clerks giving me cold stares. Lately, this is changing as I’m “growing up” and my “womanly assets” are becoming more evident¹, but this hasn’t affected my (in)visibility. All that has changed is a few parts of my anatomy now stand for my whole person, and I remain as faceless as ever in most public and private spaces. I was self-absorbed enough for a while to think I Was The Only One and yesterday when I heard a lady behind me yelling at a rude dude who brushed past her, “Can’t you see I’m standing here?” when it hit me that being or identifying as a feminine body is more than enough to render anyone (in)visible. Interestingly, even when I’m in NotIndia, my body is more-or-less (in)visible, but what glows is my epidermal tissue. The Feminine Body — assigned or chosen — is more or less voiceless, especially if we’re hued bodies — how else will infinite access and possession be assumed univerally?  — and this is the voicelessness of a privileged, able-body. Which is exactly why hearing about the women in most psychiatric wards left me numb and horrified last week. I thought I was (in)visible partially, when these women are seen as bodies devoid of complete agency.

Like most things we do say think assert about most aspects of behaviour is mediated, specifically from Olde DoucheColonial Standards to the New Standards Of The New Empire, especially when it comes to matters of psychology, psychiatry, medicine, sexuality and everything else, so do our definitions and boundaries of ‘crazy’, ‘insane’, ‘normal’ are still incredibly Western in chalking these lines, and as young as 40ish years in establishing the Indian Association Of Clinical Psychologists. The intelligence tests we take are Weschler’s revised tests, not all of them necessairily suit the Subcontinental Mode of learning and studying, most of these tests fall apart once we question the colonial mode of education that we still follow. I remember learning poems like ‘Daffodils’ and ‘Death The Leveler’ ‘by heart’ as a child; I’d be asked to recite these poems and the grown ups in the room would look at me patronisingly while saying, “She’s such an intelligent child! And the pronunciation! Perfect pitch!”, today I push those memories away as a violent master-slave dichotomy forms whenever I see yet another kid made to perform such poetry-acts. The doting adult steps in the shoes of the Omnipresent Coloniser, rewards the child for obeying the Empire’s mode of speech; all this while the text seeps in the skin and is absorbed by the ‘body’ as it were. Which is precisely why having the access and ‘command’ over English is seen as a matter of pride, not privilege. Psychology tests that are suited to Indian sensibilities were made first in 1999 and revised in the last few years, however most don’t take this colonial intake of knowledge into account²; similarly tests that detect ‘mental’ illnesses and disorders are still crafted for a part of the globe that isn’t as hued or as caught in colonial chains as we are. If the (in)visible feminine body is cataloged as ‘crazy’ (read deviant), and even ashrams as fluffy looking as this one — I don’t know what a white lady is doing in the header — become sites of dislocating and disrobing  agency and consent as ‘those crazy women don’t know what they want anyway’. And this is one of the few spots that doesn’t peddle ‘crazy’ women as prostitutes as many government hospitals do, mainly because the ashram caters to women with class and to an extent, caste privilege. Meanwhile the detongued-subaltern-woman-animal that women and other feminine identified bodies roar silences as their caste, class and religion puts them in a position open to exploitation and manipulation.

In addition, true to the thickest stereotypes about us, there are a few communities who believe in the existence of witches and tantrics — not witches as one sees and identifies in the Western world, but rather as perpetrators of evil. Leaving aside the reviews of Nice Imperial People like the REALL organisation that published articles which say “Will These People Ever Learn?“, most incisive commentary like that by Mahashveta Devi shows the extent to which mental illnesses in women are largely another form of body policing  and cataloging most deviant female bodies — we don’t care if the assigned gender roles match or no, especially not after the body is assigned as the ‘crazy’ one — to confine and restrict this perceived deviancy. In spaces where worrying about ‘pesky’ things like ‘postpartum depression’ isn’t a privilege, women tend to ignore symptoms, or no one pays attention to them till it escalates to a state of ‘lunacy’ — I can hardly blame them, when one is fighting for survival, mental health isn’t an important priority or most women don’t have the access to such knowledge — and the village or the community gets ‘rid’ of them. Women with multiple ‘miscarriages’ (read abortions to get the Precious Male Child) are often misdiagnosed as ‘crazy’ or ‘barren’ and left to fend for themselves, the Municipal Psychiatric Ward in Mumbai attests this horrid excuse. Even in popular media depictions, it’s the ‘husband’ (generally from a wealthy family) who is married away to a women from a lower class/caste background than him, she is more or less tricked into this marriage or her family pawns her off — remember Koshish, Ek Asha? — and her ‘love’ and ‘dedication’ (read servitude) ‘cures’ him of his ‘mental illness’. However, when women go ‘crazy’ they’re called ‘witches’ and are disposed³.

In these intersections of ‘madness’ and ‘being woman’ are gray truths I almost didn’t want to hear last week, I wanted to run away listening to anecdotes of these women — generally from lower ‘caste’ and class backgrounds — who have been identified as ‘crazy’ for being ‘queer’ or openly identifying as ‘not-women’, a few ‘insane’ women who checked themselves in after years of abuse and other ‘certified crazies’ who were diagnosed with ‘schizophrenia’ since their childhood. There is no doubt that people with mental health issues exist, but the less class or caste privileged you are, less amount of agency you have over this decision, less choice with what happens to your (in)visible body. Women and feminine-identified are stripped of their voice, identity and consent — some are given new names too — the moment the catalog on their body reads ‘crazy’. I can’t decide what bothers me more, this manufactured (in)visibility or the fact that most times it is their male-counterparts (fathers, husbands and/or brothers) who decide ‘what is to be done about these women’. I confess, I don’t even want to know.

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1. My great-aunts come up with the most delightfully-cringe-inducing phrases, always.

2. See Gauri Vishwanathan’s ‘Masks Of Conquests’ for more details about the ‘colonial intake of knowledge’.

3. Mahashveta Devi’s play ‘Bayen’ is an excellent example.

 

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