regular-article-logo Sunday, 01 October 2023

The best thing going

A woman’s body has never been her own. It is the site where the State plays out its self-serving politics

Upala Sen Published 16.10.22, 03:03 AM
A woman burns a hijab in protest against the death of Mahsa Amini.

A woman burns a hijab in protest against the death of Mahsa Amini. File Picture

It is the kind of thing that makes you want to laugh out loud, except that the circumstances are far removed from anything like laughter. The President of the United States has expressed solidarity with the women of Iran and their anti-hijab protests. Take this statement of Joe Biden’s press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre: “Women should be able to wear what they want, free from violence or harassment.” And yet, it is a little over 100 days since the United States Supreme Court nixed the constitutional right to abortion. Biden has fretted and fumed and called the Supreme Court “out of control” but there it is, and there it remains. As the US midterm elections approach, pro-life Republicans are putting a lid on their views on abortion. As for the Democrats, Celinda Lake, a veteran Democratic pollster and strategist, reportedly called the political debate over abortion rights “the best thing going for the Democrats”.

Female body as resource


None of this is to put the gloss on Iran’s supreme leader. It appears Ayatollah Ali Khamenei cannot see Iranian women’s agency in any part in these protests. For him too, it is about politics, “a design by the US and the occupying, fake Zionist regime [Israel] and those who are paid by them, and some traitorous Iranians abroad”. And before you say the M word, look to Hungary, where fertility rate is low and population is on the decline. The Viktor Orban government, however, wants pure bloods only --- is not so welcoming to refugees --- and has offered a slew of incentives to women. No taxes for mothers with four children, reduced mortgage and car payments, new loans etc. etc. “Their bodies are being used as a resource for national development,” said Andrea Peto, a gender studies professor at a college in Budapest, who was quoted in The New York Times.

Who's a riot?

Some say the East India Company incentivised native women to procreate with their own to multiply and prosper. Job done, they were edited out of their chronicles. The violent narratives of Partition and 1971 were inscribed on the bodies of women like some cautionary notice. Any child of the Birangana is called Juddho Shishu or Child of War. As if to emphasise that they were sired by war --- real intention notwithstanding; making the matter of the womb apparently secondary. In 2012, the Pussy Rioters raised their voice against Putin’s policies against women. When they sang, “Don't upset His Saintship, ladies,/Stick to making love and babies” at Moscow's Cathedral of Christ the Saviour in 2012, they were thrown into prison, for hooliganism, by the State. And it goes on and on and on and on. In Kermanshah and Karnataka and more places than you can think of.

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