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.

Borrowed Memories And Half-Sounded Syllables

Last week, I saw ‘A Passage To India‘ with my parents and grandma, it started out as a hilarious exercise in pointing out just how many racist elements could one mesh in a movie — turns out more than we can ever count! — and making cynical notes in my head like, “Not all Indians are always smiling all the time, okay?” and “Not all brown women keep their gaze centered on their feet, no not even always in colonial times!” to the part where my grandma started laughing at the “Silly white women trying to speak Hindi!” and then she started telling us about her school days — some 65 years ago when she was roughly about 12 years old¹ — where she and her friends would race to the Colonial Bungalow near their school in Pune, about running right home whenever they’d hear the horses hooves — for almost always it was the British in their town on horses — and trying to touch the fence of the Bungalow but being too scared to physically try it out, to the time when she and her older sister got caught and were lashed for ‘something’ which she doesn’t tell us. She was laughing at how uneven and rough their Hindi sounded, but didn’t know what the movie was about as her English isn’t as good — partly because of the time she was born in and in part because of her own decision to never ‘learn that tongue’ as an adolescent — and for a bit there, mum was transcribing what was happening on-screen and stripping the dialogue, settings from its inherent racism — pretty ironic for  a woman who once protested against the ‘White Imperial Capitalist Hegemony’ in the mid 80’s I thought — and by the time my grandma fully understood why were the White women speaking to the sari-clad-purdah-observing women, it wasn’t funny anymore to her. It took her a couple of days and a few sleeping pills to ‘become’ herself again.

Something like this isn’t a routine occurrence in my household — contrary to popular belief I don’t crumble and break down every time I pass a colonial structure or when I watch English movies or while reading English books — but a movie as specifically racist to Indians as ‘A Passage To India’ or going to the museum, looking at weapons that may have been used on some of my student’s great-grandparent’s are times when I want to re-write history or break away all ties with ‘my’ colonial past — whichever comes first. When faced with historical markers in specific situations, it becomes a tad difficult to view things objectively², to take the position dad took while viewing the film that, “This was an anti-racist book written in the colonial times! Pretty courageous on Forster’s part, no?”, to concede it under the label of This Is How Things Were Back Then. On some level I do understand that Forster like Joseph Conrad was ‘trying to do the right thing’, critiquing colonialism while it was going on — not a terribly popular opinion at that — but I find it very hard to applaud individuals who were more ‘humane’ than others — seeing how both perpetuated harmful and lingering stereotypes of the ‘native’ they were both writing of — to give Shiny Activist Medals™ to Dead White Dudes — a formidable camp on its own — that in no way produced any nuanced critiques of the Empire, not even ‘back then’. While Forster was writing ‘A Passage To India’, talking about Memsahibs and the ‘fascination’ all Brown men must inherently have with White women, we had writers like Premchand³ and Pandey Becan Sharma Ugra writing decidedly postcolonial literature — and many, many Dalit and tribal writers whose accounts  live primarily in their specific community’s oral traditions considering they ‘lacked’ Premchand or any other upper-caste Hindu writer of the time’s privilege to education and position in the caste-hierarchy.

This isn’t to say Forster’s work holds no value, rather that teaching Forster without critically engaging with all of the narrative’s faults would be wrong, especially to ‘us’ as subjects of the ‘ex’ Empire;  it’s’ interesting’ — where interesting stands for the fact Guari Vishwanathan was right all along —  that we as postcolonial subjects are still made to learn many such works and that generally any mentions to ‘postcoloniality’ are kept confined in the upper echelons of academia —  as if ‘theory’ and ‘lived reality’ are two different boxes  and clear demarcations exist between them at all times. The fact we still go on learning such texts without feeling the need to explain the gaps and silences ‘our bodies’ re-present with absences (in the text) or the fact that when we suggest popular genres such as steampunk should be interrogated via postcolonialism as Jha does in her wonderful post is enough to cause fury and all the whitesplainers to come out of cracks and caves — also in Dusty Land, you need not always be White to be a whitesplainer, it’s that special gift we still have from the neato colonisation thing — is because the easy and popular narrative of history is ‘an event that happened, a long time ago’ and cannot have any possible lingering effects, that ‘somehow filter’ down to our bodies. That we see and face neocolonial attitudes that are loosely disguised as ‘globalisation’ and ‘multicultural exchange’ — when each time it’s the dominant culture that dictates the ‘exchange’, if it takes place at all — and that even in ‘brownspace’ we are still grappling with colonial attitudes and mindsets.

One way to look at history is to see it as a way of narrativising time — maps in turn codify space — but what happens to memories? Or experiences that ‘trickle-down’, we set up hierarchies to which experience — or oppression — is ‘more’ legitimate or ‘deserving’ of ‘attention’, what about second-hand memories that live through generations? Seeing mum leave out racism in her narration of the movie to my grandma — initially — altered her memories of her childhood for her, mum’s intervention at the time was out of kindness I assume, but after a point even this intervention is impossible to make after a point. How do you codify such a situation where words are futile and syllables don’t even fully form — as they didn’t form either for mum or my grandma — what happens then? I’m not suggesting wipe out all traces of the Empire — if it were even possible — rather we have to learn to contextualise our bodies in this mix — if and when we can — intervene when we can and not invalidate one another with claims of Whose Oppression Isn’t Real Enough™ to support and view each other through differences and not as a quest to homogenise and smooth over.

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 1. India got ‘independence’ in 1947 technically, but it wasn’t until the mid-1950’s that the officers left. Many had settlements and stayed on here — their ranks may have been stripped off or resigned, there still existed an uneven power dichotomy when they lived as residents as per my grandma’s accounts as well as many other oral accounts.

2. Don’t particularly agree with Brecht there, the dichotomy between ‘critical thinking, feeling and objectivity’ doesn’t exist for me. Who said we can’t think, feel and reflect at the same time — if and when we can — does ‘thinking’ and ‘feeling’ always have to exist in two separate spheres?

3. This is a good paper on Premchand’s experimental depiction of the Subaltern (the wife)  in his short story the Shroud — though I disagree with the way the paper posits Ghisu as a ‘subaltern’ when his character fits more with Gramsci’s ‘Organic Intellectual‘.

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.

White Privilege: The Stockholm Syndrome Edition

We recently posted a video on our tumblr feed, which demonstrates the pervasive and nauseating totality of White Privilege. The subject was addressed on DailyKos this morning, with the author dealing with the defensiveness, denial and disbelief from whites about whether such a thing exists.

White Privilege not only exists – it is the law of the land.  From the onset, this country has been built on the sweat, blood & tears of non-whites.  The First Nations were systematically slaughtered and culturally obliterated.  Africans were brought here as slaves.  We have sent people to every continent to kill non-whites.  It was only after uber-white Germany attacked us directly, that we engaged in war with whites.  The French & Indian wars were two white empires fighting for control of the right to steal the land from the First Nations.

Since our Declaration of Independence, we have been fighting for white privilege.  The racism of the South / GOP / Bible Belt is proof that we have not shed this desire.

The most vile and disturbing aspect to me is the deliberate efforts of most of the white US to pretend that this racism is not there.  We gladly turn to our TV show, movies, iPods, flat-screen TV’s, double-latte’s, 401k’s, wallpaper for the living room, SUV purchases and any of the myriad distractions / ego-strokes that are provided for us by the very people and system that profit in dollars from the price paid in blood by non-whites across the planet.

But, we’re stroking the hand of our own executioner.  This system is not designed for some white utopia for us all to live in.  It is a very small, gated community – designed to drive 95% of the planet into labor and poverty, 4% to be jailers and 1% to bathe in the glorious light of a Maxfield Parrish dreamland exclusively populated by the owners of this planet: a few greedy, amoral men who will sell us to slaughter.

The grease of this entire system is every “oscillating Richard” white person who goes along thinking “I’m not racist” / “I’m not the problem” / “What me worry?” and any other excuse that will allow them to proceed with their “American Dream” pursuit to join the very smart, very special, very responsible “good people”.  We turn our eyes to our future home, our children’s schools, that new electronic device, the esteem of our peers and making smart choices with our careers.

We don’t see racism because we don’t want to see it and we can get away with not seeing it.

Our success, our joy, our prosperity, our delight, our social standing, the heat in our house, the food on our table, the health of our children – all paid for in the blood of non-whites.

To this day.

“If you’re not part of the solution – you’re part of the problem”

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This is a post by Arvan. As always, a reminder that the wonderful guest posting page is still open to all non-bigoted peeps.

 

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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