“WE NORMALLY DON’T HAVE A spring crop,” says Paul D’Anna, a home gardener in Metairie, Louisiana. But this year—maybe it’s the weather or, though he’s loathe to talk himself up, maybe it’s his green thumb—he got lucky: His backyard vines have already produced around 70 fruits.
HAPPY 377 READ DOWN DAY, EVERYONE! In a rare piece of absolutely fabulous news, on Thursday, September 6, the Indian Supreme Court officially decriminalized homosexuality.
Technically, the Court “read down” Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code to exclude consensual sex. Implemented in 1860 under British official Thomas Macauley, Section 377 outlawed “carnal acts against the order of nature”—meaning any sexual activity that isn’t heterosexual, penetrative vaginal sex. For 158 years, the law has been used in India to harass, persecute, and imprison queer people, especially transgender and third gender people, and sex workers.
That is, until now! In a landmark decision, the Indian Supreme Court, in the form of a five-judge Constitution Bench, declared that it was unconstitutional for Section 377 to criminalize consensual sex between adults. The ruling does preserve the part of Section 377 criminalizing bestiality and sex with children. The Judges’ opinions touched upon the constitutional right to equality before the law, the fundamental right to autonomy and privacy, and the right of minorities to equal citizenship regardless of popular morality. Opening up the possibility of future rights guarantees for the LGBT community, Justice DY Chandrachud wrote in his opinion:
Members of the LGBT community are entitled, as all other citizens, to the full range of constitutional rights including the liberties protected by the Constitution. Members of the LGBT community are entitled to the benefit of an equal citizenship, without discrimination, and to the equal protection of law.
This decision comes as a result of over a decade of struggle by the queer community, feminists, and rights activists, reflecting the much longer legacy of feminist and queer struggle in India. It’s been a windy road. Section 377 was initially “read down,” or decriminalized, by the Delhi High Court in 2009. That decision prompted severe backlash from conservatives, notably from many members of the Hindu nationalist political establishment, including one politician who labeled homosexuality “illegal, immoral and against the ethos of Indian culture.”
In a major blow, a 2013 Supreme Court judgement reversed the 2009 Delhi High Court judgement, drawing on popular prejudice to once again render queer sex a crime. “While reading down Section 377, the division bench of the HC overlooked that a minuscule fraction of the country’s population constitute lesbians, gays, bi-sexuals or transgenders [sic],” the decision read. That “minuscule minority” responded with protests and a curative petition, or a petition seeking to return the case to the Supreme Court for review by a five-judge Constitution Bench.
The Supreme Court’s reading down of Section 377 is a beautiful, historic, vastly important moment for LGBT Indians. It also, hopefully, will set a precedent for future affirmations of the rights of minorities. One sentiment from the judgement in particular has come to the attention of rights activists: The judges cited a line from the ruling in the Supreme Court’s 2017 Right to Privacy case that reads, “The guarantee of constitutional rights does not depend upon their exercise being favourably regarded by majoritarian opinion.”
In the contemporary global political climate, it’s a desperately-needed reminder. Under the current Hindu nationalist government in India, mob lynching of minorities has increased, as members of the dominant population target mostly Muslim and Dalit (members of the most oppressed caste) people. Majoritarian morality or “tradition” have also been cited to limit women’s dignity and autonomy and persecute couples who marry across religion or caste, as in the 2017 Hadiya case, in which the right of an adult woman to choose her spouse was eventually affirmed by the Supreme Court.
Meanwhile, the “collective conscience,” or majoritarian morality, has long been cited by the Supreme Court itself to substantiate capital punishment, including in cases, like the 2013 hanging of Afzal Guru, that some rights activists still believe to be wrongly decided. As human rights lawyer Vrinda Grover wrote in response to the 2017 hanging of the men convicted of the 2012 Delhi Gang rape, which was condemned on principle by activists opposed to the death penalty, “If ‘collective conscience’ is invoked as a reasonable ground, how will communal attacks, fake encounters, public lynching of Dalits and now Muslims, all enjoying social endorsement, be held unlawful?”
For me—and many of the friends and activists I’m talking to—this point resonates most. Queer people, all queer people, are entitled to the right to life, dignity, and equality regardless of what the majoritarian morality thinks of us. That’s not because we’re special: that’s because all people—all people—are entitled to the right to life, dignity, and equality. Regardless of who we are, what we’ve done, where we come from. Regardless of how the majority feels. The point of rights—and the thing that makes both the Indian and the American Constitutions tools in the struggle for social and economic justice despite their many flaws—is that rights are not based on majority rule. They are inalienable. And they are for everyone.
Of course, there is always more to do. Hierarchies of class, caste, religion, and gender identity haunt the Indian LGBT community as they do communities worldwide. And the framework of privacy falls short when it comes to issues of economic justice and public space—what does the right to have sex in private do for the many queer Indians who live, and have sex, on the streets?
But right now, as joy and color fill the streets across India, it’s time to celebrate.
Read the original post on Feministing. Cover photo: Delhi Pride 2017, courtesy yours truly.
Last week, Pennsylvania Democratic state representative Kevin Haggerty proposed that people filing Protection from Abuse orders should be drug tested if they lack “substantive” evidence of abuse.
Yes, that does mean he thinks abuse victims should be drug tested in order to obtain protection from the state. Yes, that is as heinous as it sounds.
Two things we should know about this from the outset. One, Haggerty is a democrat, suggesting dems should not sit so comfortably with the idea that they are universally the party of women’s rights. Two, as PA public radio station WHYY informed us in the most damning concluding sentences in recent memory, there was a Protection of Abuse order against Haggerty himself for domestic violence.
As you can probably guess, Haggerty’s proposal prompted instant condemnation from anti-violence advocates, and for good reason. First, of course, whether or not someone does drugs has no bearing on whether they were abused. Second, whether or not someone does drugs has no bearing on whether they deserve protection and support when abused (everyone does!). Finally, just because an inquiry doesn’t find “substantive” evidence of abuse doesn’t mean that abuse didn’t occur or that victims are lying. There are a million reasons why the results of an inquiry may be inconclusive and, absent proof of an intentional and malignant false accusation (something that is exceedingly rare), we can’t say that a victim was lying.
As jaw-droppingly absurd as Haggerty’s suggestion is, it’s far from outlandish in a political landscape where drug tests have long been wielded as a weapon to prevent vulnerable people from accessing services. This is even more relevant now, with Trump’s government engaged in a full-scale attempt to unwind the social safety net.
Last year, Trump signed a bill reversing an Obama-era order that had limited the circumstances under which someone applying for unemployment benefits could be drug tested. The Administration is now threatening to impose drug testing for SNAP applicants. And now the Administration has just announced its plans to deny citizenship applications to any immigrant who has used a sweeping range of public programs, including Obamacare.
Drug testing serves as a tool to shame people who enroll in federal programs and more broadly, to stigmatize poverty. It’s classist and racist, criminalizing poor people and people of color for conduct that the wealthy regularly engage in without consequence. As the truism goes, if federal aid recipients are going to be drug tested, that should include homeowners receiving tax credits, corporates taking subsidies, and bankers benefitting from bailouts.
Such tests are also rooted in the false idea that people seeking federal assistance are more likely to use drugs than the general population. In states where such invasive requirements have been implemented, the oppositeis actually true. But even if people seeking federal assistance were disproportionately likely to use drugs, that shouldn’t have any bearing on their right to benefit from federal programs. Drug use isn’t a moral failing. The War-on-Drugs idea that addiction is evil — rather than a medical and social problem — has been thoroughly discredited by the federal government itself.
Most of all, let’s recall that public services are for the public. Government entitlements exist because the people are entitled to them. And the public dollar is for everyone, especially the poor and marginalized. People living in poverty are entitled to government assistance. People who are struggling with addiction are entitled to government assistance. People who smoke the occasional recreational spliff are entitled to government assistance. Everyone — every single person — is entitled to the social and material support required to lead a healthy and dignified life.
When rape makes the headlines in India, talk of hanging begins. Commentators blare from news screens; politicians pledge death. These stories of brutal crime and brutal punishment, all in the name of protecting women and girls, tell us something important about contemporary Indian responses to rape. They also tell us about a fundamental flaw in our thinking about sexual violence and punishment across contexts: a mistaken idea that the primary threat to women and children is from the “outside” or the “stranger” rather than our own homes.
The death penalty has emerged as a response to rape in India two major incidents in the past few years. After the horrific rape and murder of Jyoti Singh, known in the international news as Nirbhaya, “the fearless one,” on December 16, 2012, demands for the death penalty clamored. Five years later, the Indian Supreme Court, which recently has been restrained in its approval of the death penalty generally, approved the hanging of four of Jyoti Singh’s murderers (one had killed himself in prison; one, a juvenile, had already served his time).
The death penalty has emerged again following the disturbing rape and murder of Asifa. Asifa was a Muslim nomadic child, gang raped and killed in a Hindu temple by a group of Hindu men who wanted to send a gristly, unthinkable warning to the Muslim nomadic people to cede their traditional land use rights. In the outpouring of grief and anger afterward, the Indian cabinet approved the death penalty as punishment for the rape of a child under twelve.
This is precisely opposite the response to rape advocated by Indian feminists. Following the rape and murder of Jyoti Singh, a group of Indian feminists were appointed to the Justice Verma Committee constituted under the former Chief Justice of India to draft a proposal for improvements to India’s rape law. The report’s suggestionsincluded criminalizing marital rape, which remains legal; reviewing the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA), which gives the military impunity in contested regions of India, and which has been used to prevent prosecution for military sexual violence; and a Bill of Rights for Women, which would specifically ensure women’s sexual autonomy in relationships. The Justice Verma Committee Report was specifically opposed to the death penalty. Yet none of the previous three recommendations have been made law; the death penalty, meanwhile, nearly has been.
It’s almost cartoonishly clear where the state’s priorities are: tough, even fatal punishment rather than the promotion of women’s rights and autonomy and the checking of state impunity.
But who is this tough punishment for? Contained within the notion that people who rape children should be killed is a set of assumptions about who these people are—and who these people aren’t. This mistaken idea should be familiar to Americans living in a “tough on crime” landscape of sex offender registries and life-long jail sentences: that people who rape children are strangers, recognizably dangerous and sinister, and that the problem of sexual violence and the sexual abuse of children can be snuffed out like someone’s breath at the end of the rope.
This is false. While the media focuses on the figure of the evil stranger abuser, and while cases of stranger sexual violence like Jyoti Singh’s and Asifa’s are especially brutal and deserve all the outrage they got, these cases are not representative of sexual violence as a whole. In India, according to the the 2016 National Crime Records Bureau report, 94.6% of girls and women are raped by people known to them. In the United States, 93% of children who are sexually abused know the perpetrator, and of the thousands of cases a year investigated by Child Protective Services, 80% of perpetrators were a parent, according to RAINN. Most of these cases happen in private; most are covered up or go unreported.
In this context, the death penalty is not only archaic, evil, and a violation of human rights—it is utterly ineffective. As Indian human rights groups, feminists, the Delhi High Court, and child rights groups have already argued, the death penalty and similar lifelong punishments against rapists would be ineffective as a deterrent and unequally applied. Even more disturbing, in the Indian case, imposing the death penalty for rape possibly incentivizes a perpetrator to murder a victim, as the punishment for murder is life in prison rather than the death sentence.
The proposal that rape should be punishable by death—when murder in India, in contrast, is punishable by up to life in prison—suggests several ideological assumptions about rape and rape victims. It suggests that rape is worse than murder; that being raped is worse than being killed; and that if a child is raped, they are, to use the Hindi phrase bandied about by conservative politicians after Jyoti Singh’s murder, a “zinda lash”—a “living corpse.”
The death sentence also implicitly denies the actual conditions and likely perpetrators of child sexual abuse: family, caretakers, or acquaintances in private spaces. There is evidence that permanent punishments (like the sex offender registry in the American context) actually serve as a disincentive to report perpetrators, who may be the victim’s caretaker, material provider, or relative. In a context where targeting of rape victims by the family or even murder to cover up a rape is not uncommon, drastic punishments would incentivize family members to cover up the crime and shun the victim.
For most of us who are opposed to the death penalty anyway, it seems easy enough to reject the punishment for cases of child sexual abuse. It is more difficult to confront the underlying reality that our “safe” homes and communities may be deeply violent. Sexual violence is not a monster in whose heart to drive a stake; it is a social and political problem, and it can only be solved through social and political means. Actually supporting survivors means centering their need for safety and healing, encouraging family accountability, and intervening to prevent people at risk of perpetrating, like pedophiles, from perpetrating in the first place. It means being willing to confront the reality that what we fear out there is often, in fact, contained within the intimate.
When trans women of color led the way in the Stonewall Riots of 1969, Pride was born. It was a movement against police harassment and to claim space for a marginalized community. By fighting back, members of New York City’s queer community signaled they would not be pushed into the shadows anymore.
The Stonewall Riots are part of a decades-long campaign for LGBTQ visibility, inspired by the belief that accepting and celebrating ourselves and our community — even when society won’t accept or celebrate us — is a radical act. The courage to come out transformed LGBTQ people’s status in society, and in the face of continued discrimination, it remains a powerful weapon to guard one of our most powerful resources: our mental health.
As though ICE could get worse, this week at The Intercept Maryam Saleh reports on one immigration detention facility’s blatantly Islamophobic campaign to prevent Muslim detainees from observing Ramadan.
Saleh reports that ICE agents arbitrarily deny detainees’ request to be placed on the facility’s Ramadan list, deny fasting detainees adequate nutrition, discriminate against detainees who wear kufis, and deny or delay their requests for Qurans. (Unsurprisingly, detainees who ask for bibles are accommodated immediately.) Saleh writes:
Ramadan is, in many ways, a community affair: People tend to gather with friends and family for iftar, the meal eaten to break the fast, and spend their nights praying together at a mosque. Immigrant detainees, separated from their families, are not only denied that community experience, but at Glades, they’re also facing discriminatory treatment even if they’re included on the Ramadan list, the advocates charge. Several of the detainees have reported that their food is not halal and the portions are not sufficient after a long day of fasting. Those observing the fast are required to eat leftover meals, which means that, depending on when lunch is served, the meals have possibly been out in the open for more than eight hours by the time of iftar. Some detainees reported being served food that was hard to swallow, cold, or rotten.
By preventing Muslim detainees from observing the holy month as a faith community, the discriminatory treatment contributes to the intense social isolation imposed on detainees. This, in turn, can have a dehumanizing and demoralizing effect. As Yusuf Saei, a Fellow at Muslim Advocates, is quoted as saying in the article, such treatment is not only a violation in and of itself; it also discourages detainees and makes them less willing to fight their cases.
Read the original article at Feministing.
The more privileged residents of the Global North have a strange sense of time. Even as the storms get fiercer and the forest fires burn, climate change is often seen as the reality of a cataclysmic future.
At the same time, many Global North people—particularly the rich, the white, and those without much contact beyond more developed parts of the United States and Western Europe—view Global South cities as stuck in the past. Delhi and Dhaka, Kampala and Jakarta are living history—the “developing” cities of “traditional” countries, implying a relentless forward movement away from “primitivism” to “catch up” with their Western counterparts. The idea that the Global South is stuck in time is decidedly colonial, derived from imperialist nations’ justification of territorial and economic conquest as part of a relentless “forward” march. Of course, the notion of the “developing” city implies that there is something to develop toward. This something is, inevitably, the American and Western European vision of modernity.
Yet for many, climate change is a present-tense issue, and “developing” cities are the stage on which this futuristic drama unfolds. Like most social and environmental problems, women—particularly, poor women of color in the Global South and less-developed regions of the Global North—bear the brunt. In numerous cities, this takes the form of a banal, yet murderous environmental oppressor: heat.
“Jakarta sucks in futuristic ways,” wrote Jakarta-based journalist Krithika Varagur in a December 2017 Tweet. “Meaning a lot of problems here (traffic, vanishing green space, climate vulnerability) will be problems in all cities soon enough.”
Delhi, where I’ve lived for the past three years, sucks in futuristic ways, too. From November to February, from the pop and crack of Diwali fireworks until the bougainvillea blossoms return to spill through the trees, the city is a gas chamber. The rich sport air masks. The poor sport respiratory infections. Travel in the city in an open rickshaw and you may go through patches where, cough and sputter as you might, you literally cannot breathe. Delhi’s level of air pollution exceeds the available classificatory scheme. If you return to the city after some time away, you feel the familiar ache of homecoming as your nostrils begin to burn.
Air pollution is not the only environmental hazard which renders Delhi a city of the future. Water is scarce and the ever-falling water table taxes already-shoddy infrastructure and unequal distribution. The city eats up surrounding agricultural land with haphazard hunger, rendering an entire class of formerly-agricultural people urban and landless as dystopian high-rises sprout from now-barren farms. And the heat—oh, the heat. Blasting in after Holi, it melts the asphalt by May, hovering above the road in an evil mirage. You keep Oral Rehydration Salts in your purse; you wake thirsty.
As Varagur points out, these are not problems of some “undeveloped” past which will be solved by adopting North American-style infrastructure, if such a thing were even possible. (North American-style infrastructure means petroleum, and petroleum means, of course, climate change.) The problem of heat in Delhi is important in its own right. It is also a window onto the future.
Like the rest of the world, India’s temperatures have increased since the beginning of the twentieth century, by 1.2 degrees Celsius in this case. Every year is a record. This year in Delhi, it hit 46 degrees Celsius (115 degrees Farenheit) by late May. Rising temperatures are fatal: while public health measures have reduced heat-related deaths in the past couple years, India is currently 2.5 times more likely to suffer a deadly heat wave now than half a century ago. In this city of urban displacement where landless laborers migrate for wages and find only the street to live, heat is increasingly lethal. Without cool cement walls and ceiling fans (not to mention AC, which is a luxury of the rich) to retreat to during the hottest hours of the day, homeless people bear a particularly high risk.
For homeless women, dangerous weather comes with a double burden. Homeless women are already subject to the gendered indignities of poverty and social neglect, including high rates of sexual violence, harassment, and abuse from the police. The soaring mercury adds another danger, as tin-roofed women’s shelters become unbearably hot, reports Scroll, during the day. They retain heat, making it impossible to sleep even at night when the dark rolls in with a sigh. It’s cooler, women in the Scroll article report, to sleep on the sidewalk; but of course, the risks of sleeping in the open make the situation an impossible double bind.
Models indicate an anticipated spike in heat-related deaths in the United States and the United Kingdom as well. In these cold countries, the coming heat—like any other resource—will be unequally distributed, with the poor and people of color bearing the burning burden. In the United States, while the cooler North will perhaps even benefit from rising temperatures (some friends in New Jersey, editing out the trauma of Hurricane Sandy, speak of beach resorts), the South, more agriculturally-dependent, will be hard-hit.
There is already one group of Americans for whom heat death is a serious issue: non-citizen immigrants. With ICE agents purposely sabotaging vital water supplies and migrants vulnerable to abuse and neglect in transit, those who cross the United States’ southern border are already in peril from the sun. After arrival, the risk persists. In one study examining data from 2005-2014, non-citizen workers were 3.4 times more likely than US citizens to die from heat, with Latino non-citizens 3.6 times as likely. More likely to perform physical labor with less labor protections, and to live in neighborhoods without green space, non-citizens with heat stroke are literally worked to death.
The homeless women sweating in Delhi’s shelters are disproportionately migrants, often rural people who have been displaced and come to the capital seeking jobs and stability which rarely materialize. Increasingly, these people are climate refugees, fleeing debilitating drought and other crop-destroying scourges. In this aspect, the hot politics of Delhi and cities like it are not a historical crisis from which the American city has emerged, but a harbinger of the future. As Trump builds walls along the US-Mexican border, an increasing number of people come to the United States as climate refugees. In the land of the free, they may be murdered by the heat.
Feature image: Drought in India. Puskhar V., Down the Earth.
Every semester at Harvard University, students take their clothes off.
The event is called Primal Scream, and it happens on midnight before the first day of final exams. As the hour approaches, there is a palpable buzz in the central quad, the Harvard Yard. Students gather in various states of undress: towels and trenchcoats, gym shorts and jeans. A whiff of alcohol scents the air. At the stroke of midnight, the crowd of nude students runs a lap around the Yard.
Sometimes community members and tourists come to watch; the University and city police don’t intervene. The event is greeted with a certain nostalgic indulgence, a college tradition—and Harvard College at that. The future leaders of tomorrow, the reasoning goes, have to blow off some steam.
That’s not the indulgence a naked, and allegedly intoxicated, black Harvard undergraduate was recently greeted with. The young black man was tackled to the ground by four Cambridge Police Department policemen in the middle of a Harvard Square intersection. He was beaten once he was down, punched five times in the stomach. Blood was left on the ground. Students and national media alike agree it was an incident of racist police brutality, with dramatically excessive force unleashed on a student for the “crime” of nudity, which on other evenings, from other bodies, is greeted with not only indulgence but humor. Following the attack, students have organized protests and discussions about racist violence and policing. In the wake of continued brutal police violence against black people in America, most recently the murder of Stephon Clark, the incident shows us that even in elite spaces, black people are not safe.
The Cambridge Police department claimed the student had threatened them, which eyewitness accounts and video footage disprove. Racist internet commentators claim the student deserved to be beaten because of his nudity and intoxication. But in those Ivy-clad gates, nudity and intoxication are not particularly rare—they are, in fact, ritualized.
Which brings us to the point: The student was tackled because he was black. Because his body itself was a body out of place. Because his black body was not read with the endless tolerance granted to elite Harvard bodies, assumed to be white male bodies, which can shed clothes and sobriety without a thought in the world. The student was beaten because his body didn’t belong—echoing the experience of so many other black people at Harvard and similar elite educational institutions, city sidewalks, coffee establishments, and their very own homes.
The question of race, the body, and belonging at the elite university is a deep one. Early on in its history, Harvard included an “Indian college,” an institution with the explicitly racist mandate of culturally colonizing indigenous Americans. Fueled on slave money, Harvard became a finishing school for elite white men. From the 1940s to the 1960s, the rule of the white, male, upper class body was further formalized through a eugenics experiment which lasted several decades: All incoming undergraduates were to be photographed naked in the guise of checking that they had “proper posture.” The ideology underlying these photographs, however, was about much more than standing straight: It was based on the idea that the body could tell you about the underlying traits of the person—and that some bodies were better than others. This is the mid-19th century racist pseudoscience of eugenics, which created a hierarchy of “ideal” bodies—and thus, “ideal” minds—according to race, with white males at the top.
Even after the specific project of eugenics was discontinued at the university, its traces remained. There is a meeting room in one of the dorms at Harvard (at least, I’m assuming it’s still there since I left in 2015—it’s the kind of awful racial artifact which is called “heritage”) whose walls are plastered with a mural of tall white men with sculpted physiques jogging and rowing. They are visions of vigor, rosy-cheeked and white, with the vague homoerotics of Abercrombie models. The aesthetics of the mural are unsettlingly reminiscent of idealized Aryan bodies in Nazi art, like the Nazi Olympics photographs of Leni Riefenstahl. Of course, these painted white bodies are practically naked. They are not beaten by cops.
More than decor, in my time as an undergraduate at Harvard, this hierarchy of bodies was a part of the landscape, both social and physical. Just walk down the main drag on a Friday night and you’d see women (appearances labored over with the knowledge that in these spaces, our bodies were our currency) queued up in front of unmarked mansions, elite social clubs manned and managed by squadrons of elite men. In this version of Harvard Square—protected by a sheen of wealth, an aura of generalized whiteness, and a “boys will be boys” tolerance for sexual violence in the name of fun—there was no penalty for nudity and drugs. Police did not enter the mansions to beat the cocaine-snorters into a pool of their own blood. When a tall, muscular, blonde-haired white man drunkenly walking past us one Saturday night slapped my friend’s belly, laughing like all women belonged to him, the police did not tackle him. When I stood in Harvard Square naked and intoxicated, a white woman participating in the esteemed College’s Primal Scream ritual, I was not beaten when down.
Yet just as this regime of elite white nakedness has persisted, there have been moments of interruption, of assertion by the people whose bodies who do not belong.
For example: Primal Scream, my senior year. It was a few months after Michael Brown was murdered and a wave of protests was shrieking across America. Cambridge, too: A group of black students organized a Black Lives Matter protest at Primal Scream. That night, the small group of protesters stood, a line of mostly black and brown students in front of the restive, naked, and mostly white crowd. They requested, demanded, begged a few moments of silence from the students. The crowd either didn’t hear or didn’t care. As the protestors shouted “Black Lives Matter,” a chant came from within the opposing mass of naked bodies: “USA! USA!”
Not only did the students, mostly white, many drunk, and in the garb of an elite college’s esteemed tradition run naked against the wall of protestors: They claimed all of America in doing it.
As I watched the recent video of the young black man being tackled, then beaten when down, I remembered another image, stark and ironic: A memory of a naked, intoxicated white man, proudly walking across the very same street.
It was after the Primal Scream with the Black Lives Matter protest. As the chaotic crowd dispersed, I saw him crossing the road. Athletic and blond-hair, blue-eyes-nude, he had draped a (real) fox fur across his shoulders, the image of an Olympic victor in a Leni Riefenstahl photograph. He walked toward the private mansion of the moneyed, all-male social club to which I knew he belonged. He projected the easy arrogance of a man whose body commanded other bodies (I too had smarted under his sexist comments, the sense of casual ownership they expressed). Like a figure out of that athletic wall mural or an animated posture photograph, he was the kind of body for whom the elite university was built.
The naked white man, of course, was not beaten to the ground.
Read the original article at Feministing.
On Monday this week, a young Muslim woman faced the Indian Supreme Court, finally allowed to speak after being imprisoned for converting to Islam and marrying a man of her choice. After months of petitions, news coverage, and speeches from everyone but her, she said laid out her demand clearly: “I want freedom.”
In 2016, Hadiya, a 24-year old woman from a Hindu household who was pursuing training in homeopathic medicine, converted to Islam. Several months later, she married the man of her choice, Shafin Jahan, a Muslim from her home state of Kerala. Hearing news of his daughter’s conversation and subsequent marriage, Hadiya’s father filed a police case alleging his daughter had been the victim of “love jihad.” Six months ago, the Kerala High Court ruled in favor of Hadiya’s father, declared her consensual marriage null and void, and placed Hadiya — an adult woman — in the custody of her father.
Hadiya had been held against her will at her father’s house since May until this past Monday, when the Indian Supreme Court, after finally allowing her to speak, ruled that she could return to her medical college — under the condition that the college’s dean be appointed her “local guardian.”
Feminists across India have been protesting the court’s treatment of Hadiya, and the case has inspired serious debate about women’s autonomy, state persecution of Muslims, and the politics of conversion in contemporary India. I’ve been covering Hadiya’s story here at Feministing in the context of these debates, but it’s not just an Indian controversy. Hadiya’s story sheds light on issues — state regulation of women’s bodies, Islamophobia, and racism — important to us in the United States as we continue to protest American state violence against Muslims worldwide.
As the Hindu right has ascended in India, so have allegations of “love Jihad.” The panic over this non-existent, alleged conspiracy whereby Muslim men seduce and then “forcibly convert” Hindu women, has spread from right-wing propaganda to state investigations policing interfaith marriages between Hindu women and Muslim men. Hadiya’s case has been taken up by the National Investigation Agency (NIA) under an anti-terrorism framework.
The stereotype of Muslim men as sexually violent threats to the “purity” of Hindu women has a long history of India and is pronounced in the rhetoric of the Indian right. The Indian government has also used stereotypes about the aggression of Muslim men to deny the agency of Muslim women. For example, while the right-wing government cynically championed the recent Indian Supreme Court verdict against triple talaq (a form of instant divorce previously allowed to Muslim men under Indian law), it was actually Muslim women’s collective power which had brought about the decision.
As numerous feminists have pointed out, the painful irony of the Hindu right’s supposed championing of Muslim women is that these are the very politicians and organizations responsible for horrifying, and deeply misogynist, anti-Muslim threats and violence. The ruling party in India, the right-wing BJP, is known for using anti-Muslim hate speech, including one BJP party worker’s grotesque threats that Muslim women’s bodies should be disinterred and raped.
This is sadly not an empty threat, considering the widespread sexualized atrocities committed against Muslim women in the 2002 Gujarat riots, a series of brutal anti-Muslim attacks in which current Prime Minister Narendra Modi was likely complicit. A recent sting operation revealed right-wing Hindu leaders bragging on tape about spreading the myth of love Jihad and using false allegations of rape to terrorize Muslim communities and violate women’s autonomy.
From Family to Court
While all people over the age of 18 are legal adults under the Indian constitution, the legal system has often been a tool of maintaining patriarchal control.
Numerous Indian feminists have critiqued the social conception that a woman is the ward of her father, who passes her to a husband of the family’s choice. Local caste governing bodies, known as khap panchayats, are often criticized for upholding patriarchal control and limiting women’s constitutionally-entitled right to autonomous citizenship. But the legal system, too, is complicit, with recent decisions about rape reinforcing the idea that women cannot be raped by their husbands or deserve rape for pushing socially-defined boundaries. Furthermore, regulations of women’s autonomy and mobility are highly tied to religion and caste, with most honor killings actually being a murderous response to intercaste unions.
In Hadiya’s case, the Kerala High Court violated Hadiya’s rights by citing the”Indian tradition” of patriarchal family control, rather than abiding by the Indian tradition of robust constitutional protections for women and minorities.
The Supreme Court’s decision to allow Hadiya to return to her college is heartening. Still, it’s disturbing that the Court even allowed Hadiya to be imprisoned by her father in the first place; that it’s taking seriously allegations of “mental kidnapping” and “indoctrination” rather than accepting that an adult woman has the right to choose her religion; and that it took months for Hadiya’s voice to even be heard in court.
Most disturbing of all is the fact that, even after returning to her college, Hadiya may still not be permitted to meet her husband. The Supreme Court has placed her under the guardianship of the principal of her college, who has stated to the media that he has the power to decide who she meets — and he is unlikely to permit her to meet her husband. Meanwhile, the college’s housing, like many such dorms for women across India, has draconian rules, including mandatory 10:45pm lights out and only 1 hour daily access to cell phones.
As feminist group Pinjra Tod (“Break the Cages”) writes, this is one more example of how women’s educational institutions in India often reinforce patriarchal authority by severely restricting women’s mobility.
“I need the freedom to meet the person I love,” Hadiya said about the restrictive hostel rules. “I’m asking for my fundamental rights.”
“I want to remain true to my faith”
For many sitting reading about Hadiya’s case in the United States, it’s easy to dismiss the proceedings as the distant happenings of a “Third World” country where women’s rights aren’t as “developed” as in the United States. This, of course, is baloney. The regulation of women’s bodies is a fundamental form of political control across contexts, apparent too in American Islamophobia.
Appeals to white women’s supposed “purity” has long been a tactic of American racism. We see it in the historical use of alleged sexual sleights against white women as justifications for the lynching of black men. Most recently, we saw it in Dylann Roof’s use of white femininity to justify his horrific, racist 2015 murders.
We can see a similar sexualized racism against Muslim men today, as politicians appeal to sensationalized tales of sexual violence to fuel Islamophobic and anti-immigrant sentiment. And of course, anyone who witnessed the American Wars in Iraq and Afghanistan is familiar with the racist and infantilizing claim (sometimes perpetuated by feminists) that Muslim women need the American government to save them. Just as right-wing Hindu groups campaign as champions of Muslim women while also sponsoring violence against them, the American government has historically “championed” Muslim women’s rights—while enabling abuse of them at home and dropping bombs on them abroad.
In the war for cultural supremacy, women’s bodies are made into battlefields. That’s why it’s even more important to listen when women like Hadiya, whom an entire state machinery has attempted to silence, speak. Try as her father might to prevent Hadiya from speaking in open court on Tuesday, and despite the uncertainty of her future, Hadiya’s voice rang clear.
“I have endured mental harassment and been in unlawful custody for 11 months. I want to go back to my college and continue my education…I want to remain true to my faith, ” she told the court in Malayalam, translated by a lawyer. “I want freedom.”