Things People Need To Stop Believing

As a dusty third worldling, one of the things I learnt first was to see if there were other dusty people in the room whenever I go to any transnational feminist conferences. Something else I also learnt is to not expect ‘solidarity’ from anyone unless expressly proven otherwise — and these views are a result of the way people view me and my body in notIndia, what people assume of me in most internet spaces and fandoms. My friend and I compiled this list comprising of a few of the most repetitive and inane stereotypes that we’ve encountered of Third World Women. By no means is this list exhaustive, feel free to add your experiences in the comments — and tread carefully, the list is full of racial slurs and epithets.

1. We’re not disposable objects or your fetish or ‘flavour’ of the month. Not all Third World Women are ‘women’, but we don’t have the choice to identify the way we want, because exotification gets in the way of our special plans.

2. Not all Third World Women live in lands that are in a state of constant war. We exist in cities, between towns and villages — many in the West. There is no fixity of geo-political location, we don’t need to be in the Third World to be marginalised.

3. Not all of us live in tin shacks or mud houses, like every other group we too are scattered across classes and communities across the planet.

4. In popular culture and media, if Third World Women characters don’t wear shiny and bright colours, reality will not crack I assure you.

5. Hospitals exist in the third world too. So not all Third World Women need to squat in bushes to give birth.

6. Third World Women aren’t all ‘irresponsible mothers’ or ‘birthing cows’ because they have children at [x] age instead of the more socially ‘forward’ and ‘acceptable’ [y] age. I can vouch that the world will not come to an end if you don’t see Third World Women as ‘bad people’ for ‘not knowing better’ and ‘not having careers’.

7. We’re not your ‘Eternal She’, Earth Mother, Infinite Vessel, [Insert Inappropriate Phrase That focuses And Equates Sex Organ With Gender Here].

8. We are capable of doing more than care-taking children, cleaning houses and sewing immaculate quilts. We exist in all fields of work, equating every Third World Woman as a sweatshop worker is not necessary.

9. There is no situation where phrases like ‘exotic princess’ can be considered a compliment, even more so if this ‘compliment’ is based solely on skin hue.

10. We’re not always natural cooks or nurturing ‘goddesses’. We can do said jobs if need be, doesn’t mean we’re ‘more’ adept at menial jobs than anyone else.

11. We’re not ‘eager’ to dispense dusty wisdom and folktales on demand — especially about breastfeeding or childbirth. Take a close look at the Not All Third World Women Are ‘Women’ bit here.

12. No, we cannot be ‘purchased’ outright — definitely not if the sole ‘value’ that decides the ‘purchase’ are our hues.

13. When we say ‘no’ we mean ‘NO’ too. So saying ‘we can’t decipher your tongues’ is not an excuse.

14. Third World Women aren’t always looking to ‘entice’ White Men. Shocking, I know!

15. We’re more than just ‘enticing eyes’, or ‘gorgeous hair’ — we’re people and not body parts.

16. Most of us don’t have names like ‘Kali’, ‘Sarasvati’, [Insert Name Of Exotic Goddess], generally because we know the magnitude behind adopting such names and the cultural significance they carry.

17. If Third World Women have voice parts in popular media, the world will not turn upside down. Especially not if the said voice parts don’t involve being in the hotel industry.

18. Representation of Third World Women that doesn’t posit the hijab synonymous to oppression will not mess with Global Time.

19. We don’t like to be compared to food — ‘exotic’ or not.

20. When we’re involved with White people — sexually and otherwise — saying, “You’re a beautiful hue of Brown” isn’t helping anyone get laid.

21. Not all Third World Women roam shoe-less. (Sidenote: how come we can be shoe-less, but can afford to buy dresses? Curious minds want to know).

22. We’re not ‘sexually unrestrained’ — our cultures do not ‘encourage’ “godless unions and perpetual orgies”.

23. Not all of us have British accents, we don’t speak in archaic prose when addressed. And we do speak even when no one addresses us — apparently this is very shocking for people.

24. In the rare instance we do have voice-parts in popular media, and we’re speaking out against the dominant culture, our hair is ‘natural’ and ‘loose’ and ‘wild’.

25. In other rare instances where we do get screen time and space in popular media, we’re freedom fighters, UN refugees, sometimes nurses to Big Important White doctors, almost never as fully developed characters.

26. We’re not ‘natural hard-workers’. Back-breaking straining physical labour isn’t ‘easy’ for us either.

27. As Third World Women, we’re not ‘in tune’ with our ‘natural femininity’. Subservience isn’t coded into our genes.

28. Third World Women are queer too! And still people! Who knew?

29. Contrary to popular opinion, I have on good authority that not all Third World Women despise sex. And we need consensual sex as much as everyone else — even the supposed ‘desperate hookers’ from Pan Asia — and yes, they’re all in one monolithic identity like the rest of us.

30. Some of us speak multiple languages, some don’t. Some have the privilege of speaking in our native tongues and not get shamed for it, some don’t. Don’t expect ALL Third World Women to start ‘shrieking hysterically’ in ‘devilish tongues’ over canned soup.

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P.S. Thank you Roshan for your help and company while writing this.

Writing Over Bodies

My book obsession is quite well known, in most circles I move and am allowed in; there is a long-standing joke that I don’t need food but just a fresh page to live. So when my student asked me rhetorically whether I ‘ever tire of theory’, he was rather surprised to know I did — can’t entirely blame him for holding this view, after all I did spend the last seven months talking solely in theories and of texts — in fact, I agree with Spivak¹ when she accuses prose of ‘cheating’. We are taught theory in a manner that we will be able to ‘frame our realities intelligibly’ — pretty problematic on its own already — but when it comes to translating words to practice, somewhere we break and falter. I teach English to children of lower caste and socio-economic backgrounds — technically speaking — this is the space I should be unleashing my postcolonialism in, making sure the harmful ideas that say, “Only a person speaking Good English will ever get a job anywhere”, but I can’t. The truth is, they do need a functional level of English to be employed anywhere  and if I start saying, “Forget the Empire’s tongue! Let’s subvert it and smash the system”, I will confuse them and even humiliate them — for subversion happens once you’ve mastered the tongue — and as first-generation learners of English, learning this tongue is hard enough as it is. On most days, the best I can do is not scold them — as the institution ‘requires’ me to — and not shame them when they code switch² to their native tongues.

(Un)Ironically, what I do end up doing is teaching postcolonialism, Said, Spivak and others to my IB students who are at times even more caste and class privileged than I am. We talk of the Subaltern, while when talking to the Subaltern — my code-switching students in this case — we still re-enforce the most heinous ideas concerning them, their languages and perhaps most importantly, routinely erase their Englishes. When this broken pattern of relating to people above and below us in the hierarchy of being is brought to light, the best we do is, “acknowledge privilege” and then hit a dead-end. The only difference is that now we have Shiny Good Activist Medal™. This isn’t to imply that my students — or even the Subaltern itself — don’t know about the neato colonisation thing, or the reason why certain texts are canonised and others weren’t, we’ve talked of those things — but that’s what it really is: rhetoric, words and talk. These words swirl out of my tongue, out in class, they nod and ask questions and we study on. When they see exam questions using standard forms of English — one they haven’t mastered particularly well — and their ‘intelligence’ is rated on how they fare in these exams, that are designed in an Othering tongue, so to speak. Then we hear stereotypes like,” Those damn Dalit buggers! We educate them, but what use? They still fail exams and waste our time and money. They are basically a waste of space and seats, I tell you!”, when we’re making sure they remain in the same position — one step under us.

Three weeks ago, I went to an international conference on Queer And Transgendered Bodies* and somehow I was one of the few ‘visibly dusty’ people there — whatever that is supposed to mean. The person I went with was Indian too, but she has light-skinned privilege; so when we were talking about some Western Feminist Fail, I got relatively more hostile reactions than my light-skinned friend, who in this ‘temporary’ white space merged in with many speakers and was ‘read’ as white, more than once. When we brought this up in the consequent discussion, it was waved away with, “But we understand why this happens. As a white person, I sympathise with your position and you are right! There are uneven dichotomies present in the world…”, which led the whole discussion to an end as the Shiny Good Activist Medal™ was passed around when people acknowledged that they were, in fact, a privileged group. This isn’t to intone that accepting and acknowledging privilege is easy, or as Jamie explains it, “The more privilege one has, the harder it is to conceive the gap between livable life and mere existence and thus the harder it is to perceive the need to act positively to bridge that gap”, rather that when it comes to not being able to bring my postcolonialism in a class of underprivileged students or about spending days in an air-conditioned classrooms debating the politics of poverty or being accountable to voicing marginalised people, it all boils down to privilege — and just listing or acknowledging it simply cannot do as a ‘solution’. By placing importance on the idea of ‘debunking privilege’ or ‘taking theories down’, what we’re doing is swathing words with more rhetoric — and this is framed as the only way to ‘deal’ with privilege — and thus effectively avoiding doing anything with our said privileges.

What we routinely do in theory — for instance — is separate the ‘object of race’ and ‘subject of racism’, forgetting that any marginalisation happens on bodies, living-breathing-tired-raging bodies. Within feminist circles, ‘intersectionality’ is a term that gets thrown around a lot without realising its magnitude. We frame oppression in neat, tidy terms and columns while this codified oppression leaves physical, psychological and systemic wounds on our bodies³. Acknowledging one’s position in kyriarchy is a start and not the end to ‘owning up to privilege’. We need to contextualise our bodies — if and when we can — see marginalisation outside of words we theorise in, see our unique intersecting identities, how complicit each and everyone is in each other’s oppression and work for a way forward; these bodies of flesh, colour and hues, with history and agency, bodies that are naturalised and silenced. It’s not enough to cite Donna Haraway — for instance — when speaking of a cyborgian reality and using her example of the ‘radical cyborg’ who “makes chips in Santa Rita or India by day” and transforms into a cyborg by night, merging technological and biological boundaries to write (her)self into history, those bodies from Santa Rita and India need to inject themselves into reality and history, by their own will. As marginalised people, accepting and owning our bodies is one of the most radical acts we can do, by locating it in a hierarchy, in theory, in action we can claim support, love, respect and care.

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1. She says, “Plain prose cheats” when asked why she chooses to write terms like “subject-position”, “chromatic-heteronormativity” as opposed to ‘understandable’ terms.

2. Magda has a wonderful post — a phonetic delight to be honest — on code-switching and postcolonial English. The code-switching that happens in my classrooms is a tad different though, here the lack of privilege that ties itself with ‘knowing’ English performs the code switch.

3. Descartes may be dead, but we do love his legacy of dichotomies, no?

*Of course, saying ‘Transgendered’ but meaning ‘perhaps not straight’ and coming nowhere close to any trans* representation at all.

 

Re-Membering Ties; Re-Forming Bonds

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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Speech Through Silences

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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