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!


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Looking For My Body

It is nearly impossible to be a Dusty Lady and not have your body become a canvas of comments, critiques and opinions; specifically the one’s you didn’t ask for. You know the ones by orthodox ladies — and sometimes, not so orthodox people — who say things like, “I liked it better when your face was fuller, now you just look like a vegetable” or “You call that a chest? Pfft. How will you ever rear children with that?”¹ without lowering their voice or taking their eyes off of you, and then the next minute your head starts hurting and you think to yourself that you will never, ever again go to these silly events again, after which you get your cousin to spike your drink which makes the whole evening bearable, blissful even. Only when you next see these people again, you remember that promise you made to yourself; smack your head — figuratively, for your real hands must never do such a thing in public — and then start looking for a cousin to trick into slipping very suspicious liquids in your fruit juice, so that you can nod and let the words float by you till the time you get home and vow to never, ever go to such silly events till the next time. I don’t know what is more amusing — where amusing becomes the new migraine — that people don’t see the effect their words on the bodies they are commenting on or the fact that I’ve accepted it as a routine activity. Only when this week, some trolls made similar remarks focusing on the body alone, did I start to unravel and start re-acting to their statements and assumptions.

Bodies, dusty bodies particularly almost never speak. We are spoken for — of course colonialism still lives on! What do you mean the British left 60 years ago? — in true imperial fashion,  and this tilted-equation even translates to the way we see, read and frame bodies. Last week, in a study break I ended up watching TeeVee for a bit. And just my luck, I ended up watching two minutes of Dabangg and I couldn’t help chuckling and then sobbing how this less-than-3-minutes trailer encapsulated perfectly how we view bodies. Here’s a convenient list:

  1. Land is feminised — very subtly, I must give them that — so it’s ‘lawless’ and must be ‘disciplined’. Land becomes a deviant body and of course a dude has to ‘bring it back to its place’.
  2. Dudely bodies are mobile. Feminine bodies move in the periphery. And this mobility is not restricted to just physical activity, it shows up in how feminine bodies are dressed too; dudes are in pants and shirts, most women in saris, bringing another form of ‘bondage’ and ‘restriction’ to play, as the sari needs to be physically and compulsively wrapped around the body².
  3. A privileged dudely body need not respect any other bodies. Disabled or feminine, especially not if this body is a ‘criminal’. Bodily agency is for taking, obviously.
  4. When a dudely body transgresses socially, it’s allowed and forgiven. When the dusty lady transgresses — talks back in this case — she is threatened with ‘romantic’ violence³.
  5. If any dusty lady is portrayed as ‘mobile’ then she surely must expose her ladybits for a living — which as society routinely tells us, is a truly terrible, terrible thing to do. Because no ‘good’ dusty female body transgresses; if dusty ladies start doing vile, vulgar things like dance in public, who will cook and rear sturdy boy-children then?

As an upper-caste Hindu lady, I will never know how my identity as a ‘body’ is taken away communally, the brutal way in which Dalit bodies get erased or may never have to veil myself because of religious dictats. In that regard, my body does have privilege or a few liberties anyway; however this doesn’t change the fact that in most cases, because I’m a dusty lady, my body reads as one without agency, as the caste and social status come in later. What fascinates me today is how we’ve ‘accepted’ and mainly shuffled around the Olde DoucheColonial Standarde when it comes to keeping the feminine body free of annoying things like consent and autonomy, especially since we’re a country which claims to have ‘shed its tracts of being colonised’. But I digress.

I don’t really listen to any radio stations — dusty or otherwise — but whenever I do, in about a few minutes I have to compulsively turn it off as every other song is about ‘taking’ love (or bodies as sung by dudes or dude protagonists) and giving ‘herself’ up to the “man” or “husband” or ‘settling in her in-laws’ while every time my LadyBrain screams, “what about her?”. This isn’t to imply there are no songs where the female protagonist of the film gets to voice her point of view — such generalisations are the reason I’ve stopped reading the Times Of India — but that most narratives are built and written around the male perspective, sometimes  even when it’s written by a lady! If I were to set out, figuratively or literally to ‘look for my body’ in re-presentations of our culture, say in mainstream Bollywood movies or songs, I come away with a big gaping void. The Feminine Body™ as it were, doesn’t exist in most representations. We do see a caricature of what femininity or ‘womanhood’ is supposed to be, but characters that are multi-dimensional and dynamic, radical and practical are almost never dusty ladies. This probably explains why I’ve taken to words and poems of Kamla Das, Eunice De Souza and Gauri Despande, almost like an addict, as these are the few spaces where the Body is aired and allowed to be. It may not be my body, or the way I even view the Feminine Body, femininity or even being woman, but such re-presentations reassure me that this body too, has breath and a voice.

Whenever I’ve spoken of such gendered dis-memberment of the Body to my LadyFriend, she laughs and then sighs, as for a person who claims to see the body-policing as a ‘routine’, there are many things that make me uncomfortable and livid. So then yesterday, I asked her amid a rant, “What do I do then? Ignore that I can only be at peace when I hear a few selected Ladies, who are generally white and sadly, dead? Why do I need to go read Dickinson every time I crave for The Body to come alive, or go through reading Das again, even when she says ‘he takes my body away, and I didn’t even nod my head this time?’. Do you suggest that I should learn to not think of how much this epistemological violence the ‘absent’ body undergoes?”  and she told me, “You do what most women in your place did. They wrote”. And that’s what I did, in hopes that The Body isn’t voiceless, yet.

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1. There are many variants of such body-policing, and these are just examples. The real thing is much worse. You can thank me for sparing your lobes later.

2. No, people who wears saris aren’t ‘bound’. But the way the sari functions, and the way we wear it does bring to mind restricting bodies to certain kinds of mobility. And by ‘bondage’ I didn’t mean to imply kink. Because dusty bodies never do such ‘Western’ things. Not even when you tempt them with coco-cola.

3. ‘Romantic’ violence is violence done or implied by dudes (generally) to feminine bodies because they want to woo them. No, it’s not scary at all, because they always fall in love and get married, so then violence is clearly ‘for a good motive’.

 

Re-Presenting Absences

As a simple defense of the well-being of my lobes, I tend to not interact with people who believe Culture is one monolithic and omnipresent entity, that somehow it is the particular duty of the “youth” to uphold it and keep it intact, for reasons that sound eerily close to neo-colonisation and imperialism. However, there is only so much a DustyLady can do to avoid such people; especially if this person is the key-note speaker to one of her seminars, avoiding him becomes a tad difficult. This speaker spoke of ‘urban myths’ that the ‘young people of today’ perpetuate and one of them is Lesbianism, supposedly. Of course, he didn’t say it that bluntly; he slid it in as one wry statement and I almost missed it — by the time he got to this part, I was already sleeping — but my friend nudged me and whispered “This dude thinks Indian lesbians are a Western myth, like the moon landing or something” and I couldn’t help laughing and then sighing, because not only is this opinion too popular, it has some inkling of truth as well. Lesbianism is seen as a Disease Those White Hippy Buggers From The 80’s Left Behind In India though authors like Devdutt Patnaik have shown traces of queer identities and characters in Hindu, Jain and Buddhist folklore and mythology.  As I’ve discussed earlier, Indian lesbians are made invisible, consciously written off as non-existent to uphold patriarchy, despite a plethora of virtual and real spaces like Gaysi and other LGBTQI forums thrive with many people who identify as lesbian. We’re somehow relatively tolerant of gay men and ‘hijras exist on the fringes of gender and cities anyway’, so we don’t engage with them unless we absolutely have to. But the idea that the SariClad Ladies Of Our Traditional Country™ may have feelings for other people who identify as women, collective gasps and cries can be heard.

It’s interesting to see how such visible absences are re-presented in media and even in everyday conversations, however homophobic they may be, such re-presentations do exist. One of the most famous and early lesbian stories is Ismat Chughtai’s Lhiaf which remains shrouded in ambiguity and innuendos throughout, which still cost the author a court trial for obscenity. Today when we study the text, we try to see beyond the draconian control in the writing and see queer-relations within an airless patriarchal setting; we can almost tolerate it, as long as we contain the author and her work into walls of ‘fiction’ and ignore other contemporary queer artists. Amruta Patil‘s graphic novel ‘Kari’ that voices a lesbian protagonist is seen as an ‘experimental’ novel at best. The nuanced drawings and references in the book — she mentions reading Winterson’s Sexing The Cherry a few times, the Body is shown as a site of navigation of memories and events, exercising agency at all times — are obscured under readings like “look how angry her art is!” or “did you see the pretty colours?” and we deliberately unsee the presence of a queer protagonist. It gets to me when voices of people are rendered voiceless by religion or patriarchy, just because it doesn’t fit in the six by four-foot box that people are supposed to fit in, and those who don’t, we paint them invisible. This making invisible is done under the waving flag of religion, where we firmly state that “our scriptures do not depict such lifestyles ever!”, again ignoring a myth in the Mahabharata that talks of two lady priests who make a son out of the earth, mud and soil pouring life into him, modern re-readings show hints of a queer family model in function; however short the verses describing their life may have been.

Such visible absences become even more painful when we move away to more heteronormative narratives, or stories that fold under the ‘bigger’ causes — Uteruses aren’t big enough causes on their own, of course! — to other side-stories that we just never talk about. Every once in a while the word ‘Kashmir’, ‘Arundhati Roy’, ‘Separatist Movement’ peppers conversation as it is one of the most debated issues right now, passionately arguing for or against the ‘self-determination’ of India’s so-called pride, but when it comes to hearing voices from Kashmir, we turn to stone and pretend Kashmir is voiceless, open to be conquered and possessed. This is why it takes voices like the rapper MC Kash from Kashmir to make songs like ‘I Protest’ that reaches airwaves, ripe for ready consumption, the voice is a heavily hued with hip-hop traditions and sounds so far to what we can localise as ‘Kashmiri’ or even Indian¹, so that we can empathise and sympathise from a cultural distance, see the film before our eyes, nod and stop the song when we want to, without really engaging with the visceral nightmare Kashmir today is. Another recent re-presentation of absence is having Hrithik Roshan play a quadriplegic magician, despite being able-bodied in his real life; we applaud his role for ‘portraying disability’ while obscuring the disability, by prioritising a healthy able-bodied person over zie’s disabled or ‘broken’ counterpart.

And even the disease is made aesthetic as the trailer too shows, it’s a romanticised and a lofty notion — something viewers can only enjoy in theatre halls, not that different from Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s (the filmmaker of Guzzarish) earlier film ‘Black’ where he portrays blindness, autism and a few other disorders using the same formula of aestheticism and using able-bodies and able-bodied narratives to almost make ‘real’ disability a myth and a grotesque reality. Once again, we represent absences without ever completely engaging them — not that far away from Colonialism are we?

When these ‘absences’ are interrogated, what emerges out is a society or culture that painfully and willingly turns its head away from ‘pressing issues’; but we can’t use this Society as a scapegoat either — even though I may really want to — as even this ‘wilful’ apolitical bliss is political. It’s a choice we’ve somehow collectively taken in the past few years. We’d much rather ‘proceed forward’ to being one of the nations that are regarded as a part of the First World than interrupt and question these absences. Of course the ‘inconsequential’ muffles coming out of the Invisible — spaces and people alike — are further devoiced by keeping them firmly absent. But who cares about people Progress, Change and Development can’t see anyway?

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1. I don’t mean to intone MC Kash is any less ‘Indian’ because he doesn’t sound like one, in his song, or chooses to engage with a Western form of music, but rather that his accent is used to Other him. Also, he’d probably sound Dusty if there were any hip-hop songs that sounded like they haven’t come out of the same New York neighbourhood.

Shame Is A Weapon You Are Not Entitled To Wield

Trigger warning: This post discusses shame as a motivator for weight loss, and as such might be triggering for anyone with a history of disordered eating and/or feelings of strong body shame.

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Have you ever been ashamed? Not just a little embarrassed, actually ashamed. Did you do something you knew you shouldn’t have; something really, really stupid, and got caught by someone you like and respect? Did you tell someone about your huge crush on them, and have them respond by laughing at you? Did you have to walk the famous walk of shame, and unfortunately felt neither cool nor ironic, just … ashamed? Whatever it was, I bet you remember the feeling.

Let me guess: You blushed so hard you felt your cheeks burn. The phrase, “I wish a hole would open up and swallow me whole” was suddenly no longer just an abstract idea. Your stomach dropped so low, you thought you might have to check the basement for it on your way out. Perhaps you felt nauseous, or even light-headed. You had the thought, “I will never ever be in this situation again” running on repeat inside your head. However you felt, I bet you wanted to escape.  I think most of us would want that, I think most of us would do a LOT to avoid feeling truly ashamed again.

“Go on a diet, fatass! You’re disgusting!

I wonder how you felt about yourself the day those two guys shouted this at you, from their passing car. I think you felt a little insecure about your body, maybe you had been feeling that way for a while. I don’t think, however, that you were thinking about what a ‘disgusting fatass’ you were, right at that moment. I know the shame washes over you like a tidal wave; you look around and realize that at least a couple of people walking close by also heard them; the tears sting in your eyes.

Maybe that is the day you decide to go on a diet.

Maybe it goes well for a while. You’re losing weight, and people are paying you compliments. “You’re looking great, what are you doing differently?”

“You look good, have you lost some weight?”

“I see you’ve lost some weight, good for you!” It makes you feel good!

Maybe it’s not going so well anymore. Maybe, like at least 95% of the people who go on diets (even the diets that are ‘lifestyle changes’), you gain the weight back. Maybe, also like most dieters, you end up fatter than you were before you started dieting. (Not that you were actually that fat before, but you definitely are now).

You’re reading an article about actor/director Kevin Smith being kicked off a plane for being too fat. In the comments below the article, a large amount of people are sharing ‘horror stories’ about the time they had to sit through an entire flight with a smelly/ugly/sweaty/just plain fatty pressed up against them.

Maybe you start to wonder if you might be too fat for the plane. You weren’t too fat the last time you flew, but you’ve gained weight since then, and,  come to think of it, you did feel cramped the last time you were on a plane. Maybe you start thinking about how absolutely, terrifyingly awful it would be, to be on a plane full of people and to be kicked off it for being too fat. Maybe you begin to feel like flying might not even be worth it anymore.

Maybe you start a new diet the next day.

Maybe it goes well for a while. You’re losing weight again, and people are paying you compliments again. This time you don’t enjoy them as much though, because what if you’re too weak-willed to keep the weight off this time too?

Maybe it’s not going so well anymore. Maybe you gain the weight back. Maybe you end up fatter than you were before you started this new diet. (Not that you were actually that fat before, but you definitely are now).

You’re dating a person you have a huge crush on. Everything’s going well, until one day when they tell you the reason the two of you never go out, is that they’re ashamed to be seen with you, and, by the way, won’t you lose some weight?

You stop seeing them. But maybe, every time you fall for someone new now, your subconscious reminds you how it felt to have someone you care deeply for tell you, you aren’t good enough. Maybe your subconscious is very effective in its messaging, and maybe, without noticing it, you start shying away from relationships.

Maybe you start a new diet.

Maybe it goes well for a while. You’re losing weight, and once again people are paying you compliments. Maybe it’s not going so well anymore. Maybe you gain the weight back. Maybe you end up fatter than you were before you started your diet. (Not that you were actually that fat before, but you definitely are now).

*

To be honest, when I first thought about writing of shame as a motivator, I thought I would be telling you it’s a useless tool. As I’ve since realized, that is not true at all. Shame can motivate you to a great host of things. Indeed, shaming someone can have lasting effects on that person’s life. Which is why, while you have the right to free speech (I hope), shame is a weapon you are not entitled to wield. Because, as with all weapons, it has a vast capacity for destruction, pain, and upheaval, and a very limited capacity for anything else. So don’t even pick it up, just leave it be, and you won’t end up doing something you (should) regret. We, the shamed, will be truly grateful to you.

 

Jaded16’s note: Meet Veronica from excellent Musings From The Soapbox who in addition to being a kickarse LadyPerson and a hardcore Gilmore Girls fan, is also fat, Norwegian, bright, feminist, a student, a woman, a nerd, an idealist. When asked to write a whinyarsed bio by me, she describes herself as “In short, I am a human being, and I believe that all human beings deserve to be treated like just that;  human beings. Quite simple, I thought”. Are you as much in love with her as I am already? Or at least gushing as I am? Also People Of The Olde Interwebes, remember the Open Guest Posting Policy? It’s still on!

Another note: This is a fat-acceptance space. Any comments or e-mails that lead to fat-shaming, giving suggestions to eat healthily, are condescending to the writer’s body or shape will be promptly deleted without much consideration.

 

On ReDrawing Borders

Earlier this week, I got to hear President Obama during his stay in Mumbai as a part of the student’s interactive session where we were supposed to ask questions as he wanted to ‘know’ and ‘connect’ with the youth of India. Of course this demographic was rounded off from the most affluent and well known colleges of the city and if I’m not mistaken, clear caste selections were visible too; where under the excuse of having all the ‘brightest’ and the ‘most’ creative group of students, quite predictably students from lower castes were excluded because apparently ‘those’ students weren’t good enough to be even passed on as tokens! Can you imagine how deviant and depraved they must be, that institutions had to collectively silence them? But I digress. In other inconsistencies, the city is spruced up, the roads where he would pass by are redone, beggars are displaced, stray dogs are removed from their place and other forms of erasure I probably can’t even gauge have gone on. But none of this is surprising, this is the routine whenever Anyone Of The Important Variety visits the city, from the Prime Minister to Ambassadors of other nations. For a couple of days, my city changes its face, we stretch out corners to make them seem like crossroads and the day the President leaves, everything is back in its place, except perhaps the beggars and the dogs. But who cares about them anyway? They probably will vandalise this newly done street with their stench and bodies, so they’re better off in some obscure little ditch, the Empire muses to itself. It’s particularly ironic that though President Obama came with hopes of expanding job opportunities, of creating ‘openings’; so much closure and hazing was inspired by his very motive to ‘open’, almost as if the blurry lines between ‘open’ and ‘fixed’ have been mutated to fit the version a few ImperiallyInclined people saw fit.

The talk turns to borders and boundaries one minute and becoming a ‘global village’ the next. What struck me most in this lop-sided conversation is how perfectly parallel it is to our reality; where we staunchly oppose spaces between people but will not hesitate to create a gulf between states or communities — that’s the only way a ‘democracy’ works it seems, People Of The Olde Interwebes! — that we let our Collectively Colonised Persona to slip under yet another Empire, that of emptied meanings. Generally speaking, spaces between bodies, virtually and otherwise is frowned upon. My immediate family members never seem to understand why I don’t have a Facebook account — what part of encouraging people I don’t even like have access to most of the important details of my life sounds ‘fun’, explain to me once again — or the fact that I don’t like to be hugged is a big shock to people. They always want to know why is it so that I need this ‘space’, that I like to keep a few things out of public access. It takes a MudSquatter to fully comprehend just what I mean by ‘keeping boundaries’ and just how incredulous it is to most people I associate with. “No Facebook account! How are we supposed to know what goes on in your life then?” are the most common complaints followed by Super Shocked Gasps when they realise there is a reason why I don’t want them to know ‘what goes on in my life’.

Also, because of the fact that I am a LadyPerson and identify as one too, somehow the intimate cords of ‘sisterhood’ and ‘solidarity’ are supposed to be a reflex to me; that I should be most comfortable in ‘women’s spaces’ and such gendered niches. Again, at family events the Super Shocked Gasps step in when I confess I’m not at ease in such spaces, that I don’t like undressing in front of a bunch of other Ladies regardless of the fact that we have the ‘same parts’. When I ask to be treated differently or that people respect my ‘space’, almost immediately tongues start forming the words along the lines of, “See! This is what reading so many English books does to DustyLadies!” or “Is this OUR culture? To ask for space!?”. A week ago, my LadyFriend and I were discussing matters of coitus in a coffee joint and a Lady from the table across was making faces in our direction because we were talking without any undertones of guilt or shame or perhaps she really just detests free speech that comes out of Uteruses. Anyway, she felt compelled to come to our table and lecture us on how ‘shameless’ we are for talking about things like that (in public no less!) and we heard all that she had to say because that is what DustyLadies do, we ‘respect’ our elders and then she left with feeling UberEntitled at having done “her bit” to keep the Tights-Wearing-Foul-Mouthed-Coitus-Discussing girls in line. The point isn’t how ridiculous her action was, but that it’s quite ‘alright’ for her to butt in like that and lecture us. Had we started laughing at her face (I really did want to, I’ll confess), she would have been even more enraged at us breaking yet another moral code; the idea that the Private isn’t up for intersection with the Public is a concept she has no interest in. Sadly, she is a reflection of a lot of our cultural expectations and practices that encourage such ‘forced’ merging of spaces to prod, regulate, police and tutor all that the DudeCouncil can about its DustyLadies.

On the other hand, we’re obsessed with boundaries, more than willing to have chalk lines divide us into slots of Hindu, Muslim, Indian, Pakistani and for LocalFlavor we’ve got State Lines collectively deciding that our identification cannot seep out of these metaphorical and literal lines. This Sunday, one student asked the President about Afghanistan and his goal to retract troops by 2011 where the answer was (predictably) colonial, as if borders don’t exist at all, as if ‘help’ can be doled out universally without taking into account the nature of spaces it ‘invades’ and the many hued implications it carries. Interestingly, for the last two weeks, we’ve been engaged in a nationwide debate about ‘the Kashmir Situation’ — those of us who’re not busy silencing Arundhati Roy that is — where we ‘liberal-minded people’ sit in our comfortable, privileged living rooms and decide, debate and drone about the importance of keeping certain borders, namely the one that will keep those Bloody Pakistani Buggers Decidedly Out without as much as even wondering what do the people of Kashmir want. While the need for private spaces is unfathomable — especially when Ladies demand it because they can’t crouch under the shadow of being ‘attractively temperamental’, they become just plain ‘hysterical’ — public spaces are open and uncharted, waiting to be possessed and locked into another set of boundaries that constitute ‘national’. And (insert gasps here) when the same kind of borders are asked by people from Kashmir, they become ‘anti-national’ or ‘separatist’ and a threat to National Security. If you too guessed that they are ostracised and almost labeled as ‘contaminated’ because they don’t please the bigger, popular demand of ‘borders’, then the Empire will not like you very much, I’m afraid.

We’re constantly swaying between public and private spaces and the stark difference in each’s reception angers me often. The slips between the public and private are an only a part of the reason; the real reason is how easily we castigate spaces into ‘possess-able’ (therefore invading them is justified) or ‘unnecessary’ (where denying their existence becomes second nature). I’ve never been able to forget Virginia Woolf’s statement that ‘Perhaps being locked in is the worst outcome’ mainly because how equally right and wrong she is. Being locked in can be a luxury and a space away and yet it can uncurl to be a theft of freedom if the person being locked isn’t allowed to decide. I don’t need to remind you which ‘locking in’ takes place more times I should have the gall to admit now, do I?

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