Issue 24, Body Politics

Editorial

The past year should be called the Year of the Body. Many of the crises circulating the globe not only center on the body but also reveal past and present efforts to control and contain certain bodies.

 

With the Covid-19 pandemic that ravaged some bodies and spared others, we became acutely aware of our physical selves. Our body’s temperatures were monitored at building entrances; we offered our noses and our arms to swabs and jabs; or we defiantly refused to reveal knowledge about our bodies to probing medical instruments. We attempted to limit the virus’s aerosol spread with cloth masks, or refused to give up our freedoms, or entrusted our bodies (and others’ bodies) entirely to a higher being. Baffled at the seemingly randomness of the virus’ vicious attacks, we looked for patterns in tea leaves. All this while, we were very concerned about maintaining control of our own bodies.

 

During this same time, we have witnessed brutal assaults on Black bodies, one tragically after another. We have seen and heard testimonies about assaults on Asians, erroneously blamed for causing the virus, while immigrants (Europe) and Muslims (India) were also scapegoated as the cause of the virus’s spread. We’ve learned about extra-judicial killings and kidnapping by those whose job it is to protect citizen bodies rather than destroy and terrorize them. We’ve read about immigrants, refugees, and asylum seekers surrendering all control over their own bodies in exchange for a thin hope of survival. Immobilized by the pandemic, our eyes have been glued to streaming videos and news reports. We have become aware of a hierarchy of bodies and efforts to control bodies – our own and others.’

 

There is something primal and raw about the body. It is one of the first things we’re aware of when we meet someone in person. We experience the world through our bodies, and not all of us experience the world the same way. We are seen and interpreted as different, but not only as unique individual selves with unique personalities and traits. Differences are mapped onto our physical selves through our skin color, our sex, our gender, the way we carry ourselves, the texture and length of our hair, whether we are bearded or bare-faced, our clothing styles and the cost of our clothes, the size and shape of our bodies and limbs, our ableness or visible disabilities, the bulge in our pockets and the bulge of our bellies, our mannerism and manners, and our health and ailments. Onto our bodies are mapped numerous signs and symbols of our identities. They are signs and symbols of how we are to be categorized and treated in this world.

 

In other words, our bodies aren’t merely the vessels through which we act in the world; our bodies are also interpreted, categorized, and acted upon.  Our bodies are placed into hierarchies of difference – white/black, young/old, male/female, fat/thin, heterosexual/homosexual, and so on. These dichotomies are routinely monitored and policed by the government, medical institutions, religious institutions, and societal norms and expectations. Bodies that are non-conformists and marginalized are relegated as refuse or deviants or burdens or “problems.”

 

For all these reasons, the body is an important site for understanding power – for understanding who has power, who doesn’t, and how we navigate the world given the multiple ways in which our bodies are regulated by others. The body is therefore a site for analyzing privilege and marginality.

 

But it is also an opportunity to learn how marginalized bodies might not only confound dominant structures but may in fact also change them. It’s critical, therefore, to understand that bodies are not just constructed by society and institutions, nor do they ever tell the entire story of who we are. Bodies act, and we can use our body to act out in unexpected ways. The body can conform, and it can resist. This body can dance as much as it can cry.

 

This selection of articles addresses the body politics of caste, gender, race, weight, disability, tattoos, and trauma, and of being fat, LGBTQI+, or religious. It includes analytical articles as well as testimonials from those who have experienced and struggled against forces that seek to control or marginalize their bodies. As editors, we acknowledge that many of the testimonials reveal pain and determination, and many are statements that celebrate the very differences that have been a source of great suffering. We also fully recognize that not all bodies are represented in this collection. But we’re pleased to share insights from these perspectives, and we hope you consider them as invitations to step into different shoes and gain insight into other embodied experiences and different ways of seeing and being seen in this world.

 

Finally, we hope these articles give you a good measure of empathy and courage to face any future unknown, any presumably insurmountable challenge. Read with us. Walk in someone else’s shoes for a while.

The Continuum of Violence: Sexual Violence and Body Politics in Bangladesh

“The rapists are [like] beasts” is a phrase we often hear from authorities in response to incidences of sexual violence. It is a phrase which allows authorities to disassociate themselves from the structures that enable such violations in the first place. Above all, such disassociations also seek to invisibilise the ‘continuum of violence’ that is …

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The Second Skin: Caste in India

“Bioscopic frames of noncity-scapes. Asphyxiation induced anxiety tunnelling an end to our aspiration. Funnelling 12 sweaty bodies through a 180sqft hole, our mothers overlooking hope in MHADA’s redevelopment plan. Such are our dead eyes. Such are our brightest dreams. The pitiful sigh of a middle-class Jai Bhim! I’ve recently switched from Charcoal to Black Brush …

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The Role of Media and Fashion in Promoting Fatphobia

The concept of body politics has been traditionally and culturally practiced in our society through ages. The concept suggests how the outer appearance of an individual is policed by the ones in power based on the societal standards of what is considered acceptable. Many factors figure into the idea of the ideal body. The classification …

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Body politics in the Indian Subcontinent: “The worse a woman feels, the better should she look”

Manu says, “Do not marry a girl whose hair is pale, whose body is flawed, who is eternally ill, who has no body hair at all or has too much hair, who speaks too much, or whose eyes are brown. Discard her, who is named after the stars, the trees, the rivers, the barbarians, the …

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Ryktene, æren og frihet: Å være somalisk i Norge

Abstract in English For Somalian women living in Norway, it can be difficult to live as freely as Norwegians can. In this article, Amal Aden describes the challenges she and other Somalian women face if they stop wearing a hijab, or if they drink or have a boyfriend. They are threatened by rumors about their …

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“মাগী  মাইনষের কথা শোনাও যা, না শোনাও তা ”- ভাষার লিঙ্গীয় অসমতার একটি পাঠ

Abstract in English Do women have any language? Is the language a woman speaks is her own or imposed upon by the patriarchal society? This article explores the role language plays in demeaning women, how it is used in taking away their human dignity, constructing them as inferior, less than equal beings with little agency, …

“মাগী  মাইনষের কথা শোনাও যা, না শোনাও তা ”- ভাষার লিঙ্গীয় অসমতার একটি পাঠ Read More »

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