oncejadedtwicesnarked: Spivak is looking disgruntled and pissed. (Default)

[TRIGGER WARNING]


Thing # 1: 


Most progressive movements get their sense of "edge" and "radicality" by critiquing their predecessors. The feminists talk of the New Left, accusing them of sexism and silencing, the queer movements talk of feminists saying feminists have too much of a moral tone, they are too queasy when it comes to matters of sex and the body -- as if each movement can fully disengage with the legacy they have. Feminists have methodological tools from the New Left (especially the socialist feminisms of the 80's), queer movements owe their beginnings in feminist interrogation of the body within public and private spaces. I am not saying the problems within and between these movements don't exist, or even saying "infighting" is "distracting us". But the truth remains, we're too caught up in carving out the newest radical niche for our movements by critiquing (and never engaging) with the histor(ies) of other movements. It's a series of non-conversations that have consequences, that we are not quite ready to talk about. 


Thing # 2 :


Bombay High Court Justice H Bhatia goes on record to say, "[...] children, after becoming adults need their parents' permission to stay in their personal property", where the subtext of his statement means, in a patriarchal and kinship-network societal structure as ours, women shouldn't assume their parents house will support/put up with them after their marriage. Corroborate that with the new stats on increasing rates of domestic violence (just when the domestic violence bill is being debated on in the legislation), he believes women have no stake in the natal families -- material, emotional and otherwise. 


Thing # 3 :


Earlier this month, a woman in Kolkata was gang raped at gun point, the Chief Minister of the State (West Bengal) Mamta Banerjee has made various statements, ranging from calling the gang raped as "staged", (as is customary) made some comments on the "way the woman was dressed" and then even went on to say, the woman's husband (or ex, or deceased husband, it's quite unclear whom was she addressing) was a member of the CPI(M) [Communist party of India, {Marxist}] and thus such "promiscuous" behaviour is to be expected. The CPI(M), being the opposition party at this point, made some statements saying she is being insensitive to women, among other things. 


Thing # 4 :


Two days ago, a woman working in a pub in Gurgaon, Delhi was gang raped and the questions du jour range from, "Are there no "respectable" jobs left for women in this country that they have to do this job?", "Pub going girls deserve this" and "maybe she was a prostitute and the men refused to pay her the amount she was charging, that's why she's crying rape". One of the 'solutions' the Delhi Police Force is steering towards is pressuring pub owners to install CCTV's in pubs, to 'monitor' such "grey areas". 


Thing # 5


All of these instances happened in late February, early March -- I'm not even trailing back to see what other such simultaneous events have gone on. Here are three issues the New Left, feminists and queers have a stake in. The CPI(M) could ally with feminists in Kolkata as the first hearing of the gang-rape is going to be soon, work together against the control and moral policing of the State, as it manifests in Banerjee's statements. Feminists could engage with the queer movement for both the Bombay High Court statements as well as the Gurgaon rape case, as both deal in extremely overt ways of marking what is "private", what part of "private" can one be a part of, and which parts of the "private" can be unmonitored. 


I'm not calling for a naive "why can't we just be happy together", but why is there such little dialogue between the three progressive movements -- especially where there is so much naming and shaming, so clearly *some* networks of communication are in place. 


We could be talking about safer work spaces, safer roads, safe access to work and roads, instead of tackling the State just from the framework of our movement(s). 


Meanwhile, there is increased violence, moral, sexual policing and monitoring by the State -- I fail to see how these two are not connected. 

---- 

ETA: A friend pointed me towards Sanhati, spoke to a couple of people on the organisation. Seems like this lack of communication between the progressive movements concerns them too, 
oncejadedtwicesnarked: Spivak is looking disgruntled and pissed. (Default)
When Madhushree Dutta came over to the center last month, she brought her film along. After the screening, I was too emotional to respond to her, but yesterday I got to meet her again and thank her properly. Being so used to seeing Mumbai only as slum-galore, or as the "perfect city that is the answer to everything", Madhushree's work is refreshing; and at the same time, so intimately familiar. It's the Bombay I grew up in -- cracks, problems and violence all there. The documentary is almost an hour long, but, dear reader, most definitely worth it. 




oncejadedtwicesnarked: An exploding dog comic. The text reads "look it's ok you are dead inside, we don't expect too much from you". (Dead Inside)

I’ve written about my classroom, here and elsewhere often times. It’s a diverse space that comes with its own boundaries and problems — as does virtually everything — however, sometimes some things just tease out the power dynamics much better than other moments. When you imagine the following dialogue, please bear in mind, this is happening across English, Hindi, Marathi, Hindustani, French and Tulu. I don’t necessarily believe that the nation-state can or *should* be a point of reference for people’s characters — but I do know one thing, Mohanty was right when she said, “A place on the map is a place in history”. There are moments, when we carry our nations, some half-tongues within us, and in even rarer moments — they come out to visit. So I’ve used [nationality] and for Indian students, the [region] where we come from to mark the geopolitics we embody. All the Canadians in this particular class are white.

[Prof]: “What do we think of the Hindu Right gaining increasing momentum in Mumbai and Gujurat?”

[UPite]: “Oh even in UP! But I don’t think it’ll come to much. I am not so scared of the Hindu Right — they talk a big game but do almost nothing.”

[Mumbaiite]: “What?! Have you forgotten the Gujurat 2002 carnage? The Kargil war and the wave of intense hate-Pakistan-nationalism that followed soon after? How can you say the Hindu Right doesn’t *do* anything?!!? I LITERALLY DON’T UNDERSTAND THIS!”.

[Asamese]: Before S* can reply, can I just say I agree with her? I agree the Hindu Right is ideologically wrong, but from where I come from — it’s the State (and the Nation increasingly collapsed into each other) that poses a threat for us. Let’s keep that in mind, the Hindu Right may not be a lot of things, but it’s never imposed a military rule on us”.

[Me/Another Mumbaiite]: “UM. What. Right, so who instated the AFSPA? We’re forgetting that even the ‘Glorious Nehruvian Socialism FOR ALL ERA!!!111 was deeply gendered and casteist, it celebrated the forming of the military state. I mean, just look at how democracy was defined then (shit, it’s still the same today!), to attack Mumbai, or the Center is ‘anti-democratic’ and to attack Manipur, Kashmir, Arunachal is to make sure democracy is preserved”.

[UPiite]: “I think we’re sort of forgetting that UP has seen a range of Left governments, however, we still have had waves of Naxalbari. I’m starting to feel like we glorify Left governments and just assume that they are a viable solution for our increasingly-capitalist-totalitarian State”.

[Prof]: “A couple of things. Yes, about glorification about Left governments — how come we forget Bose’s fascist tendencies? His connection to Burma and Hitler? Yes, the Left could propose a real threat in this country, but going back to the Nehru point — I think it’ll be good if we just for this moment forget that Nehruvian Era was supposed to be socialist. Look at what happened to the Hindu Code Bill debates, the deeply casteist remarks it spurred, that only a Dalit could propose the “sacred” Hindu marriage is a contract and so on. Remember, talking about caste (outside of census and sociological debates) was to be casteist itself. We’re talking about generations bred up to think that to mention their caste, is as if, to admit that there’s something ‘wrong’ or ‘missing’.

[Canadian]: “This is so interesting. Because back home, the Christian Right have real as well as theoretical power. Here the Right seems to be a symbolic signifier more than anything”.

[Bangalorian]: “Repeating P* on the Gujurat carnage of 2002, the current (forced) indoctrination of religious minorities to Hinduism, the riots of the early 90’s. I think people let’s settle on one basic thing, far Right or far Left are both seriously problematic. What we should be talking about is, what happens to Mumbai and Gujurat, two seats of burgeoning cultural capital if Hindu Right forces are now overtly part and parcel of the market”.

[Salvadorian]: “To just step out of India for a moment, I don’t think I can ever think the Right can ever be ‘harmless’ as S* seems to be suggesting. Like, harmless, sure, but to whom? I’m pretty sure, this wouldn’t be a part of the discussion if S* wasn’t an upper-caste Hindu woman who grew up in an urban city like Delhi. This isn’t to play oppression olympics — but geopolitics and socialisation play a big part in what you see, and the privilege that allows you to unsee, so to speak”.

[Another Canadian]: “Till I came to India, I had no idea how bad the caste question really was. No amount of books can teach you such sort of lived discrimination”.

[Bengali]: “It’s true, we’ve grown up thinking that we upper caste liberals are so progressive that we don’t mention caste at all. Truth is, caste is unfolding always. Even when we say we don’t “talk about caste”, we do say, “I hope so and so doesn’t marry inter-caste”. I won’t even broach what inter-religious unions can do in a upper caste Bengali bourgeoisie”.

[Another Canadian]: “This is something that is only half-thought out, so… I take a couple of classes over at the politics department, we never talk of caste. It seems, that this class goes out of its way to make sure it’s a part of our conversation almost every day. I wonder, why don’t other departments don’t want to address it”.

[Me/Another Mumbaiite]: “Same reason, let’s say the feminist academia doesn’t talk about its Eur-Am bias, India doesn’t talk about its ‘big brother-y’ role in SAARC, some people in this class don’t see a particular type of politics as dangerous — their life chances don’t depend on it. I HAVE to talk of race, my geopolitical location every time I step into feminist academia, this is a promise I’ve made to myself. Because too much goes unsaid, it’s too traumatic to ever fully acknowledge that you were a part of a process that just re-affirmed the current world order and you didn’t say anything”.

[Delhiite]: “Right, but then do you talk about caste? Or that’s just the responsibility of those damned lower and backward castes huh?”

[Me/Mumbaiite]: “I don’t see what I can do talking about caste. Like sure, I could tell you about the slurs I grew up with, that are a part of my linguistic training in Gujarati (my supposed mother tongue) that speak of the Kolis, the Warkaris and the Adivasis in specific racialised, derogatory words. I’m sure they’re important to see how caste, race, sexuality, stereotypes unfold in our everyday. But, I firmly believe I can’t be the one to merely speak about caste, I have to do at the same time. I usually don’t think theory and practice have such clear distinctions — but things like, giving the Valmiki caste woman who my landlady employs to clean the house the same cup I use to drink coffee in. Or to understand that to a large section of the society, notions of space, health and access are very different — and such an analysis has to leave the pages. It has to happen before I can say, I’m okay with theorising about caste”.

[Prof]: “Okay, let me try something here. Tell me, how many of you have ever faced any sort of racial and caste discrimination? Number and name the instances. [After a long pause] See, I’m quite certain that most of you have firsthand experiences of both forms of prejudice, but you cannot label such experiences so clinically. I think caste has to be done too, but not necessarily done and then spoken about — I do get why you said do and speak, in this instance, but let me put this a bit further. How come talking about caste is relatively easy for say, the Canadians? And why is talking about race something we have to bring ourselves to say? At the same time, if you ask our friends from the rural area, who are sitting besides us because of certain reservations, affirmative action so to speak, why can they talk to caste to me in only Hindi, Marathi, Tamil, whatever. They speak and I translate — what does it mean that I have to be that bridge between their conversations and yours? Why do they think, me, an upper caste woman (who is strongly influenced by Ambedkar and Periyar) is safer, than other people who may be around them in the caste hierarchy?”

“I am not particularly interested to see what the class thinks of the Hindu Right, but to see how can we talk to each other, if our tongues, broken and full (but this can be contested heavily too), have to mediate our embodied regions, races, castes? Why and how does race become a global phenomenon, but caste something particular to India? Why do we need constant translation in class, even though we’ve almost never ever fully agreed with each other? There’s something to think about this — how our languages in this classroom mediate everything we’ve said and want to say, where we come from and what kind of history we carry with our bodies”.

—-


Still parsing what she said. But, can I just say, during such times, I really do love my class?



oncejadedtwicesnarked: Spivak is looking disgruntled and pissed. (Default)
The following is an edited and translated version of a paper I presented at a conference at the French Embassy in this city last week. This paper is around the interwebes in different forms, link back please if you’re quoting it.
 

*

I’ve been invited here to speak to you of representations today. I’m told this group is interested in culture and translation – in the realm of feminism and praxis – and I’ll be talking specifically about a few images that linger on, even when exercises that seem as benign as translation occur. I am not sure how many people in the audience are familiar with Mumbai of the Globalisation, Privatisation and Liberalisation era, and I am not entirely certain that any summary I could provide would come close to even scratching the surface of all that Bombay and later Mumbai experienced in the past two decades. So you will have to translate the circumstances I speak of.

Introductions have always been my weak spot — I never know how to quite answer the “where are you from” question. Not that I have a history of origins so complicated that I don’t know where I come from, it’s just that the moment I say I am from “Mumbai, India”, the conversation usually dies out. For people who’ve grown up in different parts of India dreaming of going to Mumbai (for some Bombay) and making their dreams come true — I don’t know how to talk of the Mumbai I know, of intense competition that you learn to lovingly call “survival”, of the brusque lifestyles, of the city where private spaces are now becoming extinct — to the effect that we’ve started creating the “private” everywhere we can — where you find spas and slum dwellings in the same street, where such clichés actually hold true, for the city they dream of has no room for such cracks. To people who don’t know India, much less Mumbai, all and everything Mumbai has come to symbolise is Slumdog Millionaire and any suggestion that Mumbai is more than someone’s Orientalist-wet-dream is met with condescension. This is usually the point in the conversation when I stop talking altogether or just walk away.

Since I moved to this city six months ago, introductions have become my least favourite exercise. Another conversation nightmare is, “What was your childhood like?” as people think I’m being creative with details when I say I grew up reading and re-reading works of Austen, the Brontes, Dickens, Enid Blyton and Wordsworth on one hand and am equally well versed with the worlds of Rabindranath Tagore, Ruskin Bond and Anant Pai. Another horrid question is, “What is your mother tongue”, for English doesn’t seem like a true enough answer, least of all to me. But it’s the only answer that fits the traditional definitions of a “mother tongue” – I have never really understood what mothers have to do with languages – it’s the language I think and dream in, can articulate myself but it still breathes foreign to me. Lately French has joined the rank too. Popular images that came through via texts and visuals are of the “Indian global citizen”, of the new middle class, upper-caste child that speaks impeccable English as well as knows the “traditional texts and scriptures” (translated in English will also do), a person who manages tradition – of a certain kind, accessible only to some people in the caste and class hierarchy – with modernity. Most of our middle class households imbibe the idea, consciously and otherwise, that our dream is the American dream. Of studying and working in the US, of internalising meritocracy – this is also why so many people study English and Spanish, with specific American pronunciations; you find the various “Learn Perfect American English” institutes littered all across India.

I am not suggesting that growing up anywhere in India in the 90’s was an uniform experience, rather that it meant something to be growing up in Mumbai, a city so many people think of as the cultural capital of India and being able to more-or-less set the norms for most other youngsters in other small towns and cities – I didn’t think it was true till many years ago a friend from Bengal pointed out the favourable change in people’s attitude towards me when I’d mention I am a Mumbaiite. There was a moment, somewhere in 2002 or 2003 where suddenly my friends and I discovered the power we wielded as residents of Mumbai, and we’d loudly make fun of participants of other cities whenever we went for Science fairs and competitions. We called them “vernacular trash”, forgetting that English too was a vernacular language to someone else in a different spot on the globe, or the way English had reached us, drunk on the status our city afforded us. We grew up soon after, learnt that it was politically incorrect to make such statements and started fraternising with the “under classes” in a wave of bourgeois guilt. Luckily for us, we met reality soon enough, figured out there was no “under class” and that the people we wanted to save so badly had more to give us than the other way around – in terms of practical advice and even as producers of theory and knowledge.

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oncejadedtwicesnarked: An angry looking brown person, the text above reads "POC MEANIE". (Poc Meanie)


Last week, my friend and I drunkenly tried to count the number of billboards, shops, advertisements used the term “
modern” and we stopped at 36 as something shinier came by. For a country that wants to proclaim ‘modernity’ on every turn that it possibly can -- read “enter the ranks of the first worldregardless of who pays the price -- ‘modern’ is our buzzword. There are ‘modern’ supermarkets, ‘modern’ shopping malls, ‘modern’ hairdressers, ‘modern’ tailors and this list goes on ad nauseam.  It’s really funny that we don’t mind seeming this “modern” nation out on its way to progress -- without pausing to ask whose notion of progress anyway -- but the moment gender becomes a part of the equation, suddenly the rules change.  Anyone who’s been a feminist or an advocate of women’s rights in India, has heard at least once, that they are “spoiling the cultural fabric of the nation” because of feminism.  Even the Left considers feminism an “imperial curse”¹ and the "western/modern demon"; often feminists have to explain why we're not being seditious by believing and advocating for gender justice.


Selectively labeling something as "western" is to make it taboo in one of the quickest ways possible here -- and anything can be labeled "western" if it leads to policing feminine sexual autonomy and agency.  Speaking English is western, wearing jeans is western, dressing in anything but "traditional" clothes denotes one's corruption by western forces and this contempt is reserved mostly for anyone who is read as 'female' -- outright sexism that most of us encounter daily.  Marxism isn't "western", using avant garde technology isn't "western", when gender enters any equation it immediately becomes "western".  My grandmum complained about similar layperson sexism and I frankly don't see much change in our reception and understanding of feminism -- we usually hear the dismissal of the movement as "western" once we've pointed out some yet another misogynist attitude, a rebuttal that comes when there is nothing else to say. I'm quite used to right-wing-leaning acquaintances denounce how I single-handedly will shame everyone I know (and their ancestors) by talking and writing about gender all the time.  Less frequent are the rants from the people who call themselves "comrade" and (unalarmingly) they come to the same conclusion.  Imagine my surprise when I read the following quote:


Like any woman of color, I can’t simply give in to feminism completely. It is a Western ideology that does not mesh well with mine [...]


I imagine Mehreen's position comes from facing racism within the feminist movement, being the token nonwhite feminist in and outside academic feminism. I cannot imagine what an added layer of islamophobia feels to such routine tokenism. At many feminist meetings here too, there are the same few Muslim voices, the same women who are pigeonholed into being the Non Threatening Muslim voices who talk (yet again) of the Hudood ordinances, veils and polygamy, who do not question too hard the discrepance between what feminists say and do. I can completely sympathise about wanting to disengage with such a movement and will probably be the last person to ever disagree with any such claim given my relationship with the movement

(and to her credit, she doesn't dismiss feminism but instead calls for white feminists to look at flaws in their methods of working and engaging with women of colour). However, seeing feminism attributed to solely western ideologies raises all kinds of red flags, if we are to take India’s history of women’s movements as an example.  Unlike the popular belief that India doesn't have feminism because there were no "waves" here² the Indian women's movement has a long-sustained conversation vis-a-vis feminism being "western”.


 

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oncejadedtwicesnarked: An exploding dog comic. The text reads "look it's ok you are dead inside, we don't expect too much from you". (Dead Inside)

This week I'm flitting between three cities, attending conferences in two, making my way back in the third one -- moving in my old room again, while half of my boxes and things are stuck in another house eight hours away from where I grew up. Thinking about memories, what each place, room holds and means to me has become quite the routine for this time of the year. Memories of my family intertwine with national history -- partly because of my grandmum's participation in the freedom struggle and in part my great-grandfather's connections with Nehruvians -- so much so that writing anything about the nation would be futile without mentioning my family and the place I occupy and negotiate in both spaces. My sister and I usually clean grandmum's cupboard, pack up her photographs, clean her saris while her ghazals play on the tape -- it's something we do without discussion or planning, it's an annual chore of sorts. This year, mum invited two of our aunts along, all of us began with the cleaning and boxing. Somehow, they started talking about her little quirks, her way of cooking this sabzi or the other, quickly praising her poise ("Right to her last days, she has never been inconvenient to anyone") that dissolved to silence as my sister asked my aunts what was she like when they were growing up, if she was as radical as the stories assure us. These are not memories you want to remember her by, auntie huffed, think how great a grandmother she was to the two of you, the Swadeshi¹ thing is very old, what's the point of thinking of all that now? I find this extremely disorienting -- to specifically remember her as a defanged version of her older self, as a wife and grandmother but not as a woman in her own right who wanted to be more than just a housewife.


----


A friend asked this question a few days ago and I am still grappling with what it implies, what it can unfold. She asked me to write one day about South Asian feminisms² and its legacy of violence, to the extent that to speak of South Asian feminisms is to speak of violence -- and what does it mean for us today, what responsibility do we have to various women's movements across South Asia. The conference I went to yesterday, before starting on her paper on Urdu poetry, the speaker stood up and apologised to all the Bangladeshi feminists present -- she said the Pakistani government would never state this, but as a feminist she feels responsible for her compliance and silence in the Bangladeshi war of 1971 -- a conference that addresses South Asian feminism was a good platform, she said, to make new memories out of national histories. While those were terse and moving moments -- sadly, they will not exist out of spaces made by academia and institutional discussions of feminism. Grandmum and her friend -- who I only know as Fatimabibi -- tried to keep in touch after her family migrated to Bangladesh after the Partition as many Muslim households in Bengal and Orissa did, but both were young mothers with families that didn't want to accommodate their ideologies, eventually they stopped writing to each other, my grandmum wouldn't ever speak of her -- I only found their letters while doing a project on family this semester. And even then, I felt like I was intruding on words and memories that I wasn't meant to be a part of -- grandmum mentioned burning a few letters on Fatimabibi's request in her journals; all she said was, "Those were important but not happy words". I don't know what was that in reference to -- I could speculate, but I won't. These are not my memories to play with. It's one thing to claim responsibility as a political move, as an extension of your beliefs, quite another to destroy history, to remain *that* firm on your belief of what comes under responsibility³.


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oncejadedtwicesnarked: Spivak is looking disgruntled and pissed. (Default)
Earlier today I was talking to [personal profile] jhameia and the following conversation just blew on it's own. Enjoy. 

Jha: Aw DAMMIT. The way my post is going, now I kinda want to talk about something else.
Me: What?
Jha: That's only tangentially related. About the construction of identity. How it's not a linear process, but a multidimensional process. That is very often unconscious.
Me: [nods]
Jha: The only time I've ever seen it critiqued obviously has been through Jameson's thing about simulacra, about how identity can be bought. We buy the clothing we wear that communicates something about us. And thus so much of our identity is mediated that way, through an economic process. In North American society anyway.

Me: Speaking of Jameson, let's not forget how he makes and fixes political allegories of Third World Writers.
Jha: Which kind of confused me when I first encountered it because in Malaysia, cultural identity is also mediated through community rituals.
Me: Yes, here also.
Jha: I have only read that one essay of his which I am still grappling with.
Me: He's good.
Jha: But SWM.
Me: But don't put race or culture. Things fall apart before Achebe can say
 WHUT. 
Jha: Maybe that's why he can think of identity in terms of economic processes.
Me: Ha. Definitely.
Jha: Because he's so SWM, we know those SWM, it's all about claaaaaaaaaaaaaassssssss.
Me: Absolutely, that's just it. JESUS ><''
Jha: That's the thing about steampunk though, it's an interesting thing to me because I
 STILL see those identities produced through economic processes. BUT. And especially with people who are looking to communicate a more culturally specific identity, there's ALSO an attempt to assert identity in ways that don't rely on economic modes. 
Me: Yes. 
Jha: Like, if I want to do Chinese steampunk, I already know the forms and function. It's a matter of putting it out there. But sometimes it also means I have to pay to communicate Chinese specificity. 
Me: 
But sometimes it also means I have to pay to communicate Chinese specificity.  I've been thinking about this for a while now. What gets lost/ what new meanings are made when we attempt to translate our cultures and contexts, the toll it takes on us, the space it puts on us. And our cultural memory -- or whatever remains of it anyway. 
Jha: That's where it ties in to the post I am writing right now. It's exactly about how to communicate our culture and how to recover it. How to reclaim the legacy. 
Me: Who can reclaim it, when? In which subject position?
Jha: I got a quote from Derrida's Specters of Marx
Me: Oh?
Jha: You've read that one? It's the one where he talks about ghosts, ghosts from the pasts, which are present, which need to be addressed, the ghosts are a result of a violence that has happened in the past. 
Me: Yes, I remember. 
Jha: Ignoring them only produces more ghosts, because ignoring them is a kind of violence? That one? 
Me: Making the present bear witness to the ghosts of the past?
 Implicating and complicating them? That one?
Jha: And there's this passage about inheritance. Yes, apprehending ghosts. That one. 
Me: Got it, go on. 
Jha: What POC
 do in steampunk is, APPREHEND the ghosts of our past, our cultural memories to address them. Not necessarily to exorcise them, mind, but to acknowledge their presence. 
Me: Yes. Sometimes talking about presence is to apprehend it. Apprehension comes before understanding, Butler says that, in Frames of War. 
Jha: Because ghosts are a part of us, part of our culture and it's our duty to translate them. And we translate them differently, according to whose ghosts, and according to our relationship to the ghost. 
Me: Duty? I don't know. But it's a voluntary conflict we take on. Because that's the only way we can apprehend our lived realities, make them translatebale so to speak -- to the larger political realities we navigate. 
Jha: I
 think, for some of us. it has to be a duty, because to ignore the spectre is to do violence, not only to the specter but to the present, so if we want to not do violence, then we do have to take up the task.
Me: Maybe. 
Jha: But that's part of why colonialism tramples on, right, because Whiteness refuses to apprehend and translate. 
Me: Yes, but I can't see it as a duty. 
Jha: If white people want to do right by POC and the violent shared history, then yes, I'd say it's their duty to take it up. Hmmmm maybe duty is the wrong word for it? 
Me: Because of where and how I live -- I am not in the (direct) presence of Whiteness as you are, for instance, I do have a legacy of (on going) colonialism, definitely. So when you say "duty", the times when I don't want to reckon with colonialism, it implies that *I* am falling short in some way -- which I have to do sometimes, just to deal with the "colonial legacy". 
Jha: Yeah and there's nothing wrong with that. We will always fall short and that's the other thing about ghosts.
 If things could be neatly settled with them, it wouldn't be that important to apprehend them. 
Me: Which is why I said "voluntary conflict" -- it's hard to navigate, but it's a journey we have to undertake knowing full well what the ghosts could bring in their wake. 
Jha: Some of us have no choice, though, but to undergo that conflict and the things the ghosts bring with them. 
Me: Oh definitely, but we have to decide to apprehend it, and the attempts to parse what goes on, once ghosts come back alive. Voluntary, because even when we say "no choice", there is agency, I'd think. It's not a choice, sometimes mediated by coercive contexts. But the apprehension *has* to be voluntary -- for history to bear witness to the present. 
Jha: Hmmm. But taking up duty is often a choice, no?
Me:
 Ha, not where I come from. National duty, familial duty, filial duty.
Jha: Right. I'm thinking in the sense of, if you don't take up this duty horrible things happen. 
Me: Expected choices -- that's a sad pun for you.
Jha: Yes. 
Me: Duty as a word and meaning means something specific to many POC, which is why I wouldn't use it though I see where you're getting at. 
Jha: Mmmm. Yes, I can see now. 
Me: I know, what you're getting at is the "POC who has chosen to apprehend chooses to put it out there for other POC", because many have similar questions/issues and they may build a system of solidarity/resistance, etc. 
Jha: Yes, but I am ALSO
 thinking through the duty of white people to apprehend because of their privilege. 
Me: Again, different white people have different duties, no?
 Duty becomes in many instances, a favour or an act of benevolence. I am extremely skeptical of duty and all that it implies, as you can see. 
Jha: That's the other thing to square with...how do white people enact a duty towards victims of their inheritance without turning it into an act of benevolence? (You know, besides shutting up and sitting down)
Me: By understanding there is no benevolence to be doled out. We are not subjects of their duty
Jha: Yes. They are. 
Me: We are active participants of their choice. We decide if their choice is something we want to apprehend -- which is different every time it takes place across various contexts and people. 
Jha: *nods
Me: We are agents of choice, of articulation and at some point we can be active together to talk of our duty to each other. But today we need to have full control whether we want to apprehend their choice to talk of a shared violent legacy. I can see how easily this can become a supremacist dialogue (from any end) -- which is why
 I said it depends on context, every single time it changes. 
Jha: Yes. 
Me: Love this dialogue, thank you for making me think in this direction 
 
Jha: Well, now I am farther away from where I originally wanted to be and don't know how to go back to write what I meant to say!   
Me: Ha. 
Jha: THE THEORIST'S LIFE IS SO HARD.
Me: But, I LOVE such deviations! 
Jha: Me too! But it makes writing harder. 
Me: HOW ELSE WILL OUR LIVES HAVE ANNNGGGST!!
Jha: Especially since I am trying to do this publick intellekchual thing and make sure it's easy enough for someone off the street to understand it.  
Me: Ha, yes   


oncejadedtwicesnarked: Spivak is looking disgruntled and pissed. (Default)

--- This post is dedicated to a dear friend in angrezland. You know who you are --


This December, along with re-gain some modicum amount of control over my hands, I’ve embarked on another impossible task -- reading Indian fiction that makes the “best selling” list, it’s less condescending than it sounds. Classmates and friends have (rightly) complained about my preference of Subaltern literature, or any literary fiction that isn’t mainstream -- in distribution and in its ideology, such a hopeless hipster, as always -- which leave me with shelves of essays by Nivedita Menon and Richa Nagar, with most works of Spivak, Susie Tharu, Mahashveta Devi and Shauna Singh Baldwin but have never read any Chitra Banerjee or worse (gasp!) Shobha Dé -- the Queens of Feminist Writing in Fiction, I’m told. Shobha Dé and I will never see eye-to-eye, not since she came to my college in Mumbai proclaiming the fight for women’s rights has long been over for young women in Mumbai colleges and it’s only those rural women who have to yet be empowered. That said, whatever little I know of her work, she has sassy urban protagonists, who have sexual agency and at times even exhibit physical and bodily autonomy -- on some days that counts as feminism, no? In any case, I decided to read Chitra Banerjee’s A Palace of Illusions last week, most classmates and friends recommended this book because of the book’s reputation to “render the (otherwise) mute Draupadi in the patriarchal Mahabharat with a powerful voice”. I want to talk about this “giving a voice” business before we can get to the text itself. A decade ago, feminist academia was awash with “voicing” fringe groups -- for Indian feminist academia it was Dalit and tribal women -- for Eur-Am academia it was Third World Women. This is where the voice of a group becomes an intellectual and economic project for some, “global feminist networks” crop up for research and “solidarity building”. Interestingly, these networks are directly responsible for many Eur-Am feminists’ award winning theses; today, most of those networks have perished*. Interest in ‘fringe’ groups now has to be translated to issues around ‘identities’. Voicing, articulating a voice, becoming a voice that needs articulation -- none are innocent projects.


If the murky spaces of consent, negotiation of agency are not your preoccupation, Palace of Illusions sets open an ambitious project, it works within the framework of the Mahabharat, Draupadi still does and says all that she is supposed to, but this time she has a “back story” as the reviews promise. She’s a rebellious, moody, quirky and a dark heroine, ruled by her impulses -- decisions that eventually launches the Great War of Hastinapur. Her infamous derobing scene (where she is dragged in the court to be undressed in front of all the members of the Royal Court, including her five husbands who gambled her along with all their other belongings) is transformed to a tragedy, where her faith in Krishna saves her on the outside, but we get to see her strong willed thoughts even if Krishna had never enchanted her robe to never end. All of this is all and well, if “voicing” is all that you want to read and engage with. Banerjee’s work occupies an extremely strange position in society -- literary and otherwise -- for (most) Hindu nationalists love her (as they get to say, “See how great Indian women were in Ancient India? It’s only after the Muslim colonisation that we have become such degenerates”), for many feminists her book opens up a space for Draupadi to speak her mind, to ask a few feminist-y questions and for international publishers like Harper-Collins, Banerjee works as Orientalist (but not really because it’s written by an Indian herself!) project, where the book constantly interrupts itself to explain Hindu customs and traditions and for others, it’s a “fresh” perspective to an old tale -- the text is extremely aware of this balance and manages to hold attention too. But, if we were to question *who* can re-claim Draupadi’s voice (if at all), silences draw blanks.


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oncejadedtwicesnarked: An exploding dog comic. The text reads "look it's ok you are dead inside, we don't expect too much from you". (Dead Inside)


Note: This is a dialogue that has taken months to articulate, Numa and I have been talking about allyhood, groups and new modes of organising -- important to remember this dialogue has no end -- we are just certain about one thing, if any speculation around solidarity is not a dialogue, a mutual engagement then it holds no value.

---

Numa: When you suggested that we start discussing Islam, I wasn’t entirely sure where you wanted to go with this discussion/talk. Talking about Islam certainly hasn’t figured much in our conversations, so I was like, huh?, where did that suggestion come from? But thinking about it now, I recall what you said when you first introduced this idea of this series to me. The assumption made by many is that because we are South Asian women, we will be natural allies.
 

Well, to be fair, I think because of our melanin count we DO have some shared experiences/ similar experiences that made it possible as individuals to identify with each other. Of course, that’s just on an individual level and it wouldn’t necessarily be the same for myself and another person who looks like me (my mother for example).
 

Yes, there are differences, like religion. I was going to say, it is interesting that this is clearly a big signifier of difference in your geo-political location, where everyone is more or less the same race, but for me, it wasn’t the first difference that occurred to me. Growing up in a majority white space, and having been raised in a family that while Muslim, is not outwardly read as Muslim by most white people (I don’t wear a headscarf, my father doesn’t have a massive beard etc.), our main signifier is our clearly South Asian looks.
 

The other day, my father approached a traffic warden to ask about parking in the neighbourhood we were in and the traffic warden put his hands together in greeting (Namaskar), and asked my father whether he knew Shah Rukh Khan. Anyway, my point is that I think this kind of lumping all South Asians into one homogeneous mass, kind of rubbed off on me.
 

When I meet South Asian people here, we are kind of immediately connected by this bond of shared racism that we face, and intra-group tensions due to religious/regional differences, at least to me, are not something that I think about actively. It’s not like when I meet somebody white, and I immediately think, how will the fact that I am different to them influence the way they behave towards me.
 

In fact, I kind of feel like, whenever I meet anyone who is foreign/POC, there is this immediate connection that is forged because when you live somewhere where everyone else is nothing like you, anyone who is a little bit like you becomes a friend/ally.
 

Me: Yes don’t you know? We brown women are all alike! We have the same needs and if you squint really hard, we’ll look the same from a distance too! As you suggested one time, maybe we all come from the secret clone factories. But I digress. It’s fascinating you said “people of the same race” -- while it is true -- what is strange is, we don’t see ourselves as “races” rather as castes and communities, most of which are almost always on opposite ends. When I think back about my childhood ideas around caste and communities, they are so strongly influenced with the dominant Hindu nationalism, even though I don’t remember ever really believing in God or a religion. Hindu nationalism learnt firsthand from my immediate family who’d wish Pakistan would lose every time there was an India vs Pakistan match, watching the whole neighbourhood taking immense amount of pride when we’d hear the Pakistani soldiers shot during the Kargil war, seeing most people I know fly into a rage whenever Kashmir’s “integrity” into the Indian nation-state was mentioned, having people I looked up to in my family believe that the Godhra riots were “provoked”, having teachers constantly talk about “dignity in all labour” but saying that certain jobs like scavenging and garbage collecting are not for “people like us” in the same breath, being punished for playing with children from slums, being punished for publicly declaring my family as casteist -- these are memories that I carry with my body. So while you may feel some sort of connection based on “shared oppression” -- however you and the other person define that -- or you may start organising, forming alliances based on some similar marginalisations, here, more often than not, even the people we’d categorise under “WOC” or “third world women” have such diverse ideologies, needs, histories and geographies of exclusion (which go both ways), that sometimes I see people allying themselves with [x] community in some far off country, rather than the person sitting next to them in the bus*.
 

Going to the example you gave, whenever I meet anyone who I think I can potentially work or associate with, usually I have to make sure our ideas of feminism(s), communalism and casteism are somewhat similar -- otherwise I’d get stuck in the rut of Hindu nationalist feminism(s), where the imagined community and emancipation is only for the select few. As is customary, I have no answers, I’m just wondering how can we translate our friendship beyond just an individual level, when and if we want to organise around lines of race, nationality and/or ethnicity?
 

*Whether this alliance is problematic or not, isn’t my place to judge.

 

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So Over It

Dec. 6th, 2011 05:49 am
oncejadedtwicesnarked: Spivak is looking disgruntled and pissed. (Default)

The following post is by Numa and I as a response to Eve Ensler’s post Over It. There are some things you don't get to be over, Eve Ensler. But if we're going to play this game, here are some of ours.\
 

--

We are over cis white feminists claiming to speak for the rest of us and then shutting us up when we try to fit a word in edgewise. We are over being told that we are splintering a (separatist) movement whenever we bring up things that go just beyond their immediate focus.
 

We are over feeling left out whenever the talk goes to rape culture, because our rape culture is never addressed, maybe because it would hold you accountable too.
 

We are over rape being framed as an act done only by men on women, or that it requires a penis to forcibly penetrate a vagina or an anus and all other acts of coercion on other body parts by other bodies don’t matter as much.
 

We are over cis white feminists using experiences of POC to prove their own humanity. We are over experiences of scores of people in Congo, in Somalia, or any place with poverty tourism becoming a footnote to white feminists’ tales of enlightenment.
 

We are over cis white feminists using stories from “war torn” areas to woo audiences without addressing or holding their own Governments responsible for the said war.  We are over people making money by writing about the “horrifying” experiences they saw in the [third world nation], narrating stories that are not theirs to tell.
 

We are over countless (one-sided) dialogues with cis white feminists when they do want to talk about the difference in our rape cultures who simply retort to, “your men are irresponsible and patriarchal! We are just here to help! We can talk about murky consent issues between us some other time”.
 

We are over white cis women feminists essentialising the experiences of all women everywhere when it suits them but then having no trouble with using an “us” vs. “them” dichotomy against those who don’t agree with them.
 

We are over being told that we’re too angry and divisive when we direct criticism at the mainstream feminist movement but it’s okay for violent imagery and words to be used to threaten non-white cis women.
 

And what the fuck is “occupyrape” meant to mean anyway?! We are over people using the terminology of violence and colonisation to sound relevant and cool. How can you occupy an act of violence? How can you reclaim it? We don’t understand.
 

We are over the assumption that there is a “global paradigm of rape” but there is no recognition that this global paradigm, if there is something so all encompassing, is probably the result of political and socio-economic violation of the racial Other.
 

To be honest, we're just over of this type of rallying cry for unity where it’s believed that self-reflexiveness will do harm more than it will do good. Apparently we can’t be critical of issues without also destroying our effectiveness.
 

We are over people simply drawing back saying “this is not my culture and therefore I will stay silent and complicit” without engaging with us at all.
 

We are over thousand Eve Enslers who spew shit like this over and over again and then a few others who’ll pretend this is the first time they’ve heard us speak up.
 

We are over seeing movements perpetuate the same acts of violence we’re meant to be addressing.


 


 
oncejadedtwicesnarked: An exploding dog comic. The text reads "look it's ok you are dead inside, we don't expect too much from you". (Dead Inside)

A little background -- this week Renee, Numa and I ranted a bit on tumblr, a P.S. to #mencallmethings if you can call it as #otherpeoplecallusthingstoo and by the time we finished, we realised we had so much more to say. The following post is a collaborative post by Renee and I. Post contains mentions of rape, rape threats, trans*misogyny and many other --isms. Tread carefully.
 

---

Renee: I was talking to a friend tonight about #otherpeoplecallmethingstoo. Now this friend…well, I’m unsure how much or how little to say about other peoples’ intersections, but I think it’s safe to say he has a real depth of experience with race, gender identity, sexuality, and so on. He’s also a bit my senior, which means he was old enough to actively identify as a feminist when second wave feminism was a happening thing, and still has many friends and acquaintances for whom THAT feminism is still THE feminism. And he’s a creative person who has sometimes channeled his energy into critiquing the sins of the feminist past…and felt the sting for doing so. Point being, he’s savvy to this sort of stuff, and it’s something we commiserate around often.
 

And he was with me while I bemoaned my frustration with the mainstream feminist community. He gets my anger about how abortion and reproductive health are framed as “women’s issues”. He recognizes my pain when the Amanda Marcotte’s of the world reduce misogyny and sexism to the existence of “gonads hang[ing] on the outside” of certain people. But, of course, it’s easy to empathize with my position on that stuff…it’s not shocking, because it happened and we know who these people are and it wasn’t personal, even if I take it personally.
 

But when I told him about some of the other stuff - the personal attacks ,especially the ones Jaded wrote about, which I quoted some of verbatim - he drew back a bit. I’m not really sure why, because he’s certainly seen a lot of vitriol and hate, much of it from within the feminist community. But for whatever reason, he offered an explanation.
 

“Well keep in mind, it’s the internet. Those are the worst of the worst,” he said.
 

When Sady Doyle creates #mencallmethings, feminists (which I often consider myself) don’t question it. It means something! It’s representative of what women have to deal with. It reveals the depths to which misogyny is ingrained in our culture. But when we do #otherpeoplecallmethings, at best we’ve revealed an anomaly…a few outlying pieces of data. “Oh, they’re not real feminists” or “that’s just the radical fringe” or “ignore the trolls” or whatever. You know, handwaving.
 

And I’m not bashing my friend - not at all - because I’ve done the same thing. For me, it was the radfems…”angry out-of-touch asshats who no one pays any attention to anymore,” I’d say. Except then there’s Cathy Brennan and Elizabeth Hungerford, bending the ears of the United Nations. And the Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival attendees who thought it was a good idea to post pictures of and out trans women on the internet (and received the tacit support of Wordpress in doing so). And those are just two from this year alone.
 

Look at the posts we’ve done about this already. These are people who self-identify as feminists, with enough pride in their convictions to attach their names to their comments (which they wrote knowing full well they could be made public). These are people who know enough to drop the Hudood Ordinance into conversation (even if they somehow don’t know the difference between India and Pakistan). Perhaps not these individuals in particular (although maybe!), but these are the people enrolled in Women’s Studies courses in big universities, organizing Slutwalks, and traveling abroad for “humanitarian efforts”. Who is going to be the next academician presenting their findings to the UN? Or the founder of the next big women’s solidarity event? Meeghan? Janice? Jenny? Point being, #otherpeoplecallmethings is not an anomaly or an outlier at all. And from the merely flawed to the truly foul, from the personal to the impersonal, the only real question is when do #otherpeople start giving a shit?
 

 

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oncejadedtwicesnarked: An exploding dog comic. The text reads "look it's ok you are dead inside, we don't expect too much from you". (Dead Inside)

A friend and I started talking about communities, alliances and feminism(s) a few months ago -- this conversation is a brief culmination of our identities and ideologies.

---

Me: Writing about bodies isn't too difficult for me, that was until I realised "writing about bodies" meant writing of bodies other than mine, or even if I were to write about myself, the language automatically becomes clinical, my gaze objective and the talk goes to whatever is ailing me -- it's never about how I feel about my body, my relationship with my scars or what I see when I look in the mirror. As I am now living in a new city and adjusting to the weather patterns here, I have to take more care of my skin here than in I did in Mumbai, I have to leave myself notes to apply [x] cream before my heels crack and bleed -- it's such a jarring experience to see that my body has carried on without me (in a sense), has already started cracking, started healing in some parts while I have gone on and done something else. It all came to a head when I was thinking of Suheir Hammad's words -- when she says "What am I saying when I say I sit in this body, dream in this body, expel in this body, inherit in this body" -- where she posits the body as a start to all experiences, and here I was forgetting to take care of my body altogether, even in the most routine and seemingly trivial ways. I've often complained to friends that I feel 'bound' in this city -- as public transport systems are irregular and auto rickshaws are a luxury I cannot always afford -- so most of my 'movement' is between my apartment, the massive Uni campus and its libraries. Now that I re-think what I mean when I say 'bound', I mean more than just physical limits to where I can go or am kept from, I find limits in my syllables and expressions -- precisely because my body feels those limits more intimately and primarily, as if my body translates these borders in the silences that creep up everywhere, from my thoughts to my academic writing. It's only when I completely stopped producing words and syllables a week ago, went for a three-hour long walk, felt my words come back to me as I described to my guardian just why were my heels bleeding this time I realised how closely my body felt limited here*

 

*This isn't to say there weren't other barriers in Mumbai, just that navigating these particular changes is an entirely new experience for me.
 

Renee: It’s equally jarring to see your body stopped in time, unable to keep up with you, and trying to formulate contingencies for when it starts to slide backwards in time. This has been my experience since losing my job just more than a year ago.
 

My teeth hurt all the time now; one has eroded almost to the gum line, and I touch them constantly with my tongue and my fingers to make sure none are loose. I waited out a UTI two months ago, but an ear infection still lingers (and makes my teeth ache even more). There is no money for a doctor or dentist to attend to current ills, never mind the dreams I once had for my body. Most upsetting, when my current stash of hormone pills runs out, in perhaps a month or so, I may not be able to afford more, and at that point the person I know as me officially begins to disintegrate. I never really knew myself before starting hormones, and the threat of losing that is terrifying beyond what I can describe. Already I find myself glancing in the mirror more often, touching my face, to make sure I still exist.
 

But it’s not just the physical degradation I feel. For now, I’m staying in a friend’s spare room, sleeping upon a mattress on the floor, with all my worldly possessions piled in boxes around me. My days are lived largely in the space between my bed and the downstairs basement, where the household television is. I have few reasons to go anywhere else, and fewer resources to do so. I wear the same clothes most days, because to do anything else means doing more laundry, which inevitably costs someone money, even if that someone isn’t me. I don’t shower every day, or moisturize, or shave, or wear makeup, because all of those things are an expense too...and so again my body suffers.
 

It’s apropos that my body gets neglected first and most, as it’s the rejection of my body by others that led me here. Slowly it decays, out of sight and forgotten.
 

 

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oncejadedtwicesnarked: Spivak is looking disgruntled and pissed. (Default)

I haven't written here for more than a month, because honestly I didn't trust myself to write without exploding into particles of dust, or if I did manage to write somehow it would only be selective expletives repeated over and over -- I've been more than just a little angry. Warning to readers, I'm not writing this to cater to your sensibilities, nor is this the moment to profess how you belong to [x] group but don't do any [abc] I talk about. I am exhausted with keeping my anger inside, and it's coming out in all insidious ways today.

---

When I repeat out of frustration to western feminists -- yes western feminists get clubbed in the same indistinguishable a bubble as "South Asian feminist" feels to me -- that abortion wars here are different, we face different demons, we use different strategies, all they seem to hear is "India doesn't consider abortion is illegal! They don't have anything to complain about!". Yes, factually, the Indian nation-state hasn't outlawed abortion, that can hardly be cited as evidence to prove that there aren't any problems. Or on the flip-side, almost every feminist (or not) publication from the Global North talks about the problem of female feticide India -- additionally India and China are used interchangeably for some reason, as if any place that is Not the Global North must be a homogeneous mass of cultures  -- to the extent that "feminism in India" means "sex-selective abortion". There is a problem with using and perpetuating such a model, where you start equating a region's "gender problems" to its feminism is probably the preliminary layer of fail; I've talked about  it long enough. What you leave out when you stick to the primitive equation of "Indian feminism = sex-selective abortion" are the many methods that the State designs to keep contraception from people who want to access it, to forcibly sterilise groups which the State thinks need to be curbed and even erased. It infuriates me that whenever one speaks of "sex-selective abortions" and its evils -- yes fetuses are being aborted because they're perceived to be 'useless' as they're female, and it is evil, it needs to end, no disputing this fact. But there's more to just a "culture thinking females are unworthy" that people don't want to engage with -- what western feminists don't even consider is the way discourse around contraception figures here; mainly because they're too busy presuming that it's the same as it is in their native countries, but I digress.

Contraception, as introduced by the State was started in the light of the UN deciding "India's problem" was "over-population", and it's not surprising that a neo-liberal capitalist socialist state that India supposedly was then didn't contest this accusation, or didn't argue that the real problem was unequal resource-allocation. Contraception, for a long time didn't mean sexual autonomy of bodies, instead it was (and is), "we must control the numbers", as if these "numbers" cannot ever be wanted bodies. Forced sterilsations of men and (mostly) women during Emergency years are no secret, nor are the sterilisations of some "backward" castes and tribes that are carried out regularly. More recently, the State has changed its face when it comes to contraception, now it's under the Right To Information, the citizen -- or at least people who are read as citizens -- that we get "a choice" in what form of contraception we can avail of; there are enough ads everywhere that address this nice married Hindi and English speaking Hindu lady who has two (or three) children and is thinking of contraception. Even within this incredibly narrow range of people nice Hindu ladies addressed, they don't get access to contraception -- there are abortion practitioners who will look at your financial and social status and decide that you can raise a baby and refuse to give you an abortion, or not give you information about UID's even if you can afford it, the concern to protect your Right To Conceive one day is apparently more important than your informed choice -- and people who are not women, who are not Hindu, not English (or Hindi) speaking, according to the State don't need to avail of contraception, going by the demographic they address in their ads and propaganda.

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oncejadedtwicesnarked: A cookie. The words read "meets minimum standards of basic. human" (Ally cookie)

I've been pretty busy moving and settling in a new city these past three weeks, I couldn't keep up with people, let alone the internet -- thus thankfully missing debates around whether Mumbai should have slutwalks or not. One of the organisers asked me whether I'd be willing to help organise as we've worked on a few things together before. She was quite taken aback when I declined her offer (given that Slutwalk Mumbai ends up taking place) as we usually agree on most things when it comes to activism and organising. She asked, "But don't you love your freedom? How can you pass up an opportunity such as this to see and know how far we can push boundaries?" and then I didn't have any answers for her as I was, and am still caught up in thinking how for her, and a lot of people Slutwalk™ has come to symbolise the sum of all feminist rioting considering  Delhi, Calcutta, Hyderabad and Mumbai (from time to time) have had walks and pickets by feminists and people involved in gender justice, for causes ranging from more college seats for women to raising awareness about sex-selective abortions -- each issue that emerges from our specific caste, gender, class conflicts in each specific city long before Slutwalk™ became an enterprise. Since this exchange, the rhetoric behind supporting slutwalks has become intertwined with "respecting and loving oneself" -- where love¹ (of the self, of the 'community') is continuously intertwined to the extent that any opposition to slutwalk today is to "hate" freedom -- and peculiarly, this 'freedom'  that SW represents has to move away from anything "recognisably" Indian -- whatever that means to people individually and collectively.

---------

In other parts of the country -- especially Delhi -- newspapers and news channels are all fixed on Anna Hazare's impending fast tomorrow, that has been a part of national rhetoric and vocabulary since late April. On the whole, Hazare demands for a new anti-corruption bill, asks people to fully and directly engage with the government and hold them accountable. When it comes to the news coverage of his speeches and his entire fast, the comparisons drawn to Gandhi are more than co-incidental -- tomorrow being Independence Day for India, the analogy becomes even thicker, Hazare is viewed as the "one man army" who is going to drive away corruption, going by Gandhi's views of freedom. While I don't necessarily agree that this protest is "peaceful" at all, that by specifically re-membering India's history of independence as one without critically admitting to ourselves and others that it meant freedom for only 'some' people, I do find such a 'nation-wide' movement fascinating -- as from time to time we see women also supporting Hazare's fast², it's been a while since women have been featured under the "national gaze" as more than just agency-less subjects. However, coming to the actual protest due on 15th August at Delhi, it seems women may not have a harassment-free space to march and protest. Can't say I'm particularly shocked if tomorrow there are mostly men broadcasted over the news -- as Hazare (like Gandhi) still see women's roles under traditional patriarchy of wifedom and motherdom. For instance, the Alcohol Prohibition Act reads like one that empowers women, to talk about their abusive alcoholic spouses -- it supposes that only men can be alcoholics, that one has to be an alcoholic to abuse people; there are many loopholes to this and quite a few of his other arguments too, one of the most troubling being -- does an anti-corruption movement erase/will attempt to smooth over India's history and geography of communal violence and casteism?

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oncejadedtwicesnarked: An angry looking brown person, the text above reads "POC MEANIE". (Poc Meanie)

Numa identifies as Bangladeshi-Austrian for the sake of convenience, and works in the field of International Development for which she sometimes gets paid a living wage. She has the ambition of engaging and encouraging wider dialogue on development from a dusty perspective and hopes that she can contribute to making the world less fail in one way or another. She is trying to blog regularly on awkwardatbest.wordpress.com but mostly has a very short attention span.

---

I grew up in a multicultural bubble where the idea of discrimination because of race, gender, class, ability, and sexuality was never discussed openly. It wasn't until 2006-7, at university, where I started reading about privilege and oppression, that I discovered the tools to process my own experiences as a WOC. I realized that it wasn't so much that my environment growing up had been free of racism or sexism, but that I had just  never been primed to recognize any -isms as such.

My immigrant parents were not equipped to help me deal with my experiences as an ethnic minority. They had grown up in a country where they were not the Other, and so subtle racism, or institutional racism didn't really register with them. The only type of racism that they had learned to recognize, was the blatant "Get the fuck out of my country, you dirty brown foreigner" type of racism.

So I what I internalized was that discrimination was always blatant and happened out of ignorance, out of a lack of education. "Ignorance" was also code for "poor", and for the longest time I genuinely believed this incredibly classist explanation. I really thought the only people who could be racist were uneducated, and thus, poor.

I realize now that this was a badly thought out, almost instinctive, coping mechanism where my class privilege was used as a form of protection against the forms of oppression I faced, namely racism. It was a bit like "Ha, I may be brown, but at least I'm not poor!" sort of thing, where oppressions are pitted against each other.

This kind of attitude also helped insulate me against the racism of my peers and immediate environment. As long as racism was only perpetuated by a group I never had to deal with, then the things that felt like racism invoked by my peers, were a different kind of creature. I was able to maintain the illusion of safety and lead a relatively untroubled existence.

Unfortunately for me, this meant that I once realized the actual pervasiveness of racism and other kinds of -isms, I found myself surrounded by people who had never had to think about any of these issues either. If it hadn't been for the internet, I would have never have found the resources to help me make sense of my experiences with oppression and privilege.

By the time I started my postgraduate studies at the end of 2008, I was already well-versed in issues of discrimination. However, I had not yet thought about how oppression and privilege manifests itself within international development. When I started my degree, I was still naïvely under the impression that since the very concept of international development was about ensuring global economic and social justice, development theory and practice would be critical of all kinds of oppression. Like some kind of -ism free utopia..

But I was quite mistaken. At first, I thought that this omission was because this degree was very praxis focused so there was very little space for an exploration of privilege and oppression. However, even for a praxis focused course, it lacked any form of self-reflexiveness whatsoever. In none of my courses, did we ever explicitly question our own privileges as development practitioners and how that influences the work we do.

The assumptions we made about ourselves and the people we worked with were left unchecked. There are many examples that I can think of, but the one that struck me the most is the following:

When we were in Uganda on our field trip, some of my fellow students treated the children they met there like exotic accessories, taking pictures of them, cooing over how cute they were, and frankly being really creepy.   And their behaviour wasn't called out by our tutors as problematic.

Not only was their behaviour disturbing because of the blatant exotification of brown bodies, but also because of the treatment of these children as objects for my classmates' consumption. I'm pretty sure that none of my fellow students would have dared to behave as freely with unknown children in Western countries. Imagine being a tourist wandering around in Paris and picking up random toddlers on the street to take pictures of them! You'd definitely get into trouble, especially if the roles were reversed and a POC took pictures of white children.

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oncejadedtwicesnarked: Spivak is looking disgruntled and pissed. (Default)

[Trigger Warning for mention of sexual abuse]. 

As a person who works with survivors/victims sexual and domestic abuse, I’m quite used to getting calls from people all over the city, most times it’s when I’m at the center -- I talk to them and we assess the situation, whether the caller is in immediate danger or not – generally they want someone to listen to them. Very rarely do I get requests to meet up with people -- which can be dangerous for both of us -- but every time I’ve met someone, it’s only to have them rushing back in a maximum of twenty minutes, for the time-window their abusers leave them, where they have some amount of unaccounted time-slot is often very less. Last week I got a call from a woman living in South Bombay, in one of the most reputed neighbourhoods and she wanted to meet me to discuss long-term solutions (which the group I work with occasionally handles as well). She called me after midnight and I was set to meet her the next day, and she wanted to change the location for she wanted to remove all possible run-ins with anyone who may report back to her family -- and every place I came up with her was unacceptable for her. "Barista?" "It's too public", "[x] book store?” “that’s hardly the place for polite conversation”, "[x] place?" "We aren’t supposed to talk about these things there" and both of us eventually burst out laughing at how absurd this conversation was -- both knew what we were going to discuss and there wasn't even a single space we could discuss those things -- and then we both fell silent. We need silence now. Right? To keep peace? To keep the surface calm?

I want to talk about this silence, this polite hospitable silence -- often used as a conscious or otherwise decision to mask, hide, distract or forget altogether about the rough friction, of intersecting differences, that de-stabilise us, that move together to move any 'safe' or 'home' space. This silence shows up everywhere we construct spaces to be "homelike" -- in  classrooms, in actual homes, in well-loved literature texts -- and we learn to nurture them. Last month a student came out to me as queer and she waited till our last “official” class was over and then did she decide to tell me -- and when I asked her why did she have to wait till it got over considering we’ve talked about just about everything, she explained that she didn’t want to “upset” the rhythm of the class. Alternatively, I should have asked her why was “keeping” the rhythm so important to her, but that time I was quiet, parsing what she’d just told me. In home spaces¹, it seems the general reaction is to secure and perpetuate a sense of a border or a territory, a line we must learn to never cross. Many times, between friends, in classes, whenever the talk goes to any "taboo" topic, immediately and inadvertently my voice softens itself and then I have to remember to revert back to my general tone and loudness -- and these are spaces I generally feel comfortable in, a performed home of sorts, and yet this silence is always around.

 

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oncejadedtwicesnarked: The text reads, "the sun never sets on the empire of fail". (Need bigger capslock)

Recently I came across Sara Ahmed’s fantastic essay ‘Feminist Killjoys (And other Willful Subjects)’ and have been re-reading several sections of the essay since. I identify with more parts of the essay than I can count, but one line that never leaves me is “[As a feminist killjoy] you become the problem you create” –- a single sentence that probably embodies the essence of my grandmum’s journals. Part of why I wanted to learn to read and think in my native tongue is because I want to read my grandmum’s journals, written in a pidgin many Gujurati’s. Apart from accounts of food items, daily expenditure and some chants dedicated to Krishna, there are extensive notes on translation and literary criticism of Oriya, Telugu and Bengali women’s literatures --- in a different tongue altogether¹ --- and her research of many texts banned in the British Empire. Most of the texts that are listed in her journals were banned because of “obscenity” under Section 292 of the Penal Code --- not that big a surprise that most of these banned and censored texts were written by women and especially by women of the “lower sections of the society”. I couldn’t find most texts she talks of, but luckily I found Radhika Santwanam written by the Telugu poet Muddupalani in a great aunt’s attic --- sadly, the text is in English but there were translator’s notes along with it, explaining their choice of words and consonants. Loosely translated, the text can be called “Enticing or Appeasing Radhika”, an epic erotic poem that talks of Radha and Krishna’s love affair --- a text that inverses the male literary tradition of supposing the “male” as a locale of power when speaking of sexual agency.

I spent most of the last month reading this poem, in its many parts and verses, simultaneously shocked and in awe of Muddupalani’s audacity to speak so explicitly about female sexuality, of Radha’s encouragement of Krishna and her niece’s love affair, of the various ways Krishna has to woo and appease to Radha, a text quite “queer” by today’s “re-readings”. While the text is beyond beautiful, with its many deviances and silences, sadly this text has always faced heavy censorship at the hands of the Raj --- interestingly when Muddupalani wrote it originally two centuries ago, her autobiographical prologue mentions no objections to the content or her context as a distinguished courtesan of the Thanjavur court². The Empire banned it for “obscenity” and “shamelessly filling poems with crude descriptions of sex” --- cannot thank K. Lalita and Susie Tharu enough for keeping a neat account of all the charges levied against Muddupalani, ranging from ridiculous to incinerating and everything else in between --- and for about 150 years after the ban Indian scholars maintained the same views about Muddupalani. In many instances, grandmum calls Muddupalani “adulteress” as this is the name she was known by. The more time I spend with grandmum’s journals, her accounts of the Raj’s censorship, read this exquisite poem, the more angry and fascinated --- where fascination is the new disgust --- I get.

 

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oncejadedtwicesnarked: Spivak is looking disgruntled and pissed. (Default)

Lately I've been very busy translating things -- French things to English, diluting some literary Gujarati with the help of my grandma and strangely, also my thoughts from English to my native tongue(s) as this summer break she helps me read in a few tongues that have been rusting inside me since the past few years.  For a long time, English has been my go-to language and my native tongues occupy a secondary position, of horrid pidgins that mix many tongues and dialects -- which are hilarious at best and painful at worst -- and a language I must use with family, with people who aren't fluent enough in English, a language that is substituted for English and even then I barrel this tongue with English words -- I don't see this as a necessarily bad thing, just illustrating how no matter how hard I try, my native tongues come to me as an after-thought. Sometimes, my grandma will ask me to read પાની and instead I read "water" in my head, and to save face say the Gujarati word out loud -- but she knows anyway that it doesn't come to me 'naturally'. Generally we smile at each other when this happens, she asks me to try again and I instruct myself to think in my mother tongue, and it works for a while. Then in about two minutes, she asks me to read a whole sentence and I am again judging it by English syntax and grammar forms. I don't need to learn to speak read write in these tongues, those I did as a child either in school -- where the State you belonged to dictated the tongues you'd learn  -- or at home where we speak our mother tongue. It's thinking in different tongues that I am working on and so far, miserably failing.

For years, my English and the 'talent' to say things well have been indistinguishable from my identity as an upper-caste Hindu lady, "who will one day go to the U.S. also and write big-thick books for people to read" to borrow my cook's words as she describes who I am and what I will do -- according to her -- to her neighbours. She says fondly, "Look at her English, I want my daughter also to speak like her! How fast-fast she goes, sometimes talking liddat on the phone and marking something in study books also" as her neighbours smile politely at us. I've gone to this neighbourhood since at least the past decade or so, I used to play with many children who now don't speak with me at all, and if they do only in English -- They say, "How you do" and I used to say, "ठीक हूँ" -- and they'd get embarrassed and I'd get angry that no matter what I did 'those people' don't want to speak in their native languages -- it's taken me a lot of time to see how them addressing me in English was their way of leveling ground between us and me stomping all over it and patronising them and replying in Hindi was nothing but my privilege raising its head. English still remains for us a class and a cultural marker, a certain kind of English that you speak marks you from which part of the city you come from -- if you code-switch and say, "I don't know, ask ajoba no" for instance, pegs you from North Mumbai -- and the more 'unadulterated'¹ your English is, the better education and class background you are assumed to have. It didn't help that I am 'convent educated' -- a phrase we treat as a synonym for 'Good English And Decorum' -- and was taught by British and Indian nuns who'd both tell us that "Your native languages can stay at home. Here we speak English -- like people". So we'd speak at lunch in our native tongues, but even that stopped as we grew older and English was just more convenient; plus by then, speaking in English meant Serious Business².

 

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oncejadedtwicesnarked: Spivak is looking disgruntled and pissed. (Default)

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.
 


 

 

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