Monday, September 22, 2014

Law’s Lesser Citizens and Transformative Politics

-Anupama Roy

The relationship between law and citizenship may perhaps be described as symbiotic. It is often argued that an important function of law is to create juridical persons. The transformation of subjects into juridical persons, that is, into citizens, is especially important if one recalls one of the lessons learnt from the experience of totalitarianism, where the first essential step ‘on the road of total domination was to kill the juridical person’.1 is that the creation of the legal citizen, does not necessarily make for equal citizenship, nor does it create a political community of full and equal citizens. Indeed, the dictum ‘equality before the law and equal protection of the law’, more often than not, is based on a notion of masked/ unmarked citizenship, which is premised on notions of procedural equality. The latter disregards socio-economic contexts, which ultimately determine how people experience themselves as citizens. In other words, legal citizenship, while important for recognition in law and by law of a person’s status as a citizen, requires a privileged status of dissociation, which is, not available in equal measure to all. The ideal condition of equality with which citizenship is associated, may actually remain elusive and fettered, as societies are marked by hierarchies of class, caste, sex, race and religion, rather than equality of status and belonging. These hierarchies constitute the multiple and intersecting axes that determine and condition people’s experiences of citizenship.

Sunday, September 7, 2014

The Sand-Carrier

-Nighat Gandhi

 In a more  amazing and less absurd world, thin boys wouldn't carry sand for a living and fat girls wouldn't be ashamed of their legs.

when she finally shot the ball into the basket for the first time in days, she couldn't help crying out: 'Oay! Yes! Yes! Yesssss!' She clapped and twirled. The others who never acknowledged her existence, joined in half-heartedly, half-surprised, half-snickering.
 A  boy at the construction site nearby was lifting a basket of sand and turned to stare at her.
In that moment his gaze met hers. She had never noticed him before on any of her mornings at the court. It was a cool morning, the last one in October, and Diwali, the one time when Mummy would perhaps not  yell at her for eating too many sweets, was just around the corner.
He was dark and thin. Very dark. Very thin. His sleeveless vest had holes and his shorts hadn't been washed in a long time. His thinness repelled her, filled her with envy. His stick-like legs, dust-coated and dark, plunged themselves deep into her shame-filled heart.  He was skinny but he moved nimbly, like a dancer, like a butterfly.
She, whose friends called her Fatty and said they were only joking, longed to be like him.  Not as dark as him, but as thin, because then they would stop calling her Fatty.
'Beta, no boy will want to marry you if you don't control your weight,' Mummy repeated this warning on most days and throughout  the long, tedious days of summer vacations when she often found herself lurking near the refrigerator in boredom or frozen anger.
Mummy would always catch her at the wrong moment. 'Are you looking inside the fridge again? For more gulab jamuns! Don't you feel  ashamed?'
The boys in salsa class were always reluctant to partner with her. 'I know it's because I'm fat,' she broke down before the instructor after class, and finally he said from now on he'll decide who'd partner with whom. She concentrated on her steps, ignoring the boy the instructor foisted on her. Mummy's words rang louder and louder: 'Beta, no boy will want to marry you if you don't watch your weight.'
She walked over to the sand pile where the skinny one stood. Next to him an old man was shoveling sand into baskets. A radio atop the sand pile was playing bhajans. The  skinny one had just returned and was waiting for the old man to fill his basket for the next round.
'Why are you working so early in the morning?' she addressed them.
'We have to lift 100 jhawwas before 8. The thekedar's orders,' the old man replied without lifting his head. 'The sooner we finish, the sooner we eat. We start again at 9 and go until 5.'
'Don't waste time talking! We have so much work,' the skinny one with stick-like, chocolaty legs reprimanded him.
The older man snapped. 'Who's wasting time? I haven't stopped working, have I?'
At this moment the writer ducked behind the bushes to make herself even more inconspicuous. She didn't want them to think she was pulling their strings or shaping the course of their story.
The  skinny one grew impatient. 'Hasn't she been watching us for weeks? Why does she have to bother us?' he muttered. 'I know what this is all about. It's her story.  We're trapped in a story. The story needs to go on. It's her fault for making the girl interrupt us,' he remarked disdainfully, steadying the filled basket on his head.
'Whose fault?' the old man asked.
'The writer, don't you know, who else?'
'Oh, the writer. The one hiding behind the bushes?'
'I wouldn't worry about her.'

She tried to follow their conversation but she couldn't understand what the old man and the boy were talking about. All she wanted to  ask  was if she could try just once, try carrying just one of those  jhawwas, just like all the boys were doing, just to see if she could walk with a heavy load on her head, but she felt too afraid to try and too shy to ask.
Then as the skinny boy was returning with his empty basket, she grew bolder as his feet and his worn out slippers and his narrow chest and the large and small holes in his vest came in closer view. He wasn't much taller than her or much older. And though he was rude to her, his rudeness was of no consequence to her. His legs entranced her. She couldn't contain the longing for lean legs like his.  There was music in the way he and the basket moved, as if they were one, and she liked that very much. 
                As he started to walk towards the building with another load, she caught up with him. The firmness of his calves, his poverty, his neediness,  all of it emboldened her to speak. 'Listen, can we talk?'
'I have work to do. We have to carry 100 jhawwas, don't you know.'
'I know. This won't take long. Can we exchange legs? You take mine and I'll take yours.'
'Can't be done!'
'Why not? Anything's possible. All we need is the will.'
'Why should I? I don't know what it would be like to live with your legs.'
'I think you would like my legs. Look! Touch them! See how soft they are. You could turn them into muscle in no time because you walk so much every day. You need to give your old legs a rest. They look tired and worn out.'  The benefits  that would accrue to her through this exchange, she decided not to elaborate on.
The boy looked suspiciously at her. 'What if I don't like your legs?'
'Try them out for a week. If you don't like them, I'll take them back.'
'You're not trying to trick me, are you?'
'Do I look like the kind of person who would trick you? I'm only trying to help.'
'Will you bring me back my legs if I don't like yours?'
'I will. Promise.'
                He agreed! She couldn't believe how easy it was to convince the poor and get what you wanted.  Watch me glide in salsa class! Under the large and leafy peepal they exchanged legs. The sun had climbed higher by then and the sky was losing its orange glow and it was time to head for school. She snapped on his legs to her hips and gladly parted with her own. She pranced to school, her borrowed legs hidden under her shalwar. 
                Back home, she buried herself in her room with  her  smelly old blankie, so ecstatic was she and in such a state of dreamy disbelief that after several hours, she still had to clutch her new legs and stroke them to believe they were hers. Their brownness was several shades darker than her own creamy skin. She sat on the toilet seat and soaped the legs lovingly and shaved the tough, black hairs. She pulled on her light skin-coloured tights to conceal their brownness. Afterwards, in front of the mirror in her room, she practiced her steps, lifting her skirt above her knees to show off her  shapely, newly acquired wealth with one hand, and balancing a bowl of warm, swimming-in-syrup gulab jamuns in the other.  
                There was no question of returning the legs now though she vaguely remembered she had promised the boy she would if he didn't like hers.