first published at Luna Luna, Incantation, Paakhi Bhatnagar
In medieval societies, women with mental disorders or women exceptionally talented in fields traditionally dominated by men (which at that time were pretty much all work areas) were called witches and donned with robes and crooked noses in the imaginations of the orthodox Christian.
This was particularly common when women and midwives performed abortions on pregnant women against the will of the clergy or the state. These midwives were called witches and burnt at the stake by the state for honoring the choice and bodily autonomy of the pregnant woman.
In this modern age, we are reclaiming the name witches in order to lament the anguish suffered by our sisters for wanting to be treated nothing less than human. We write spells, embodied through poetry, that not only remember our sisters but also remember and put forward their works and beliefs for the younger generation. We are bringing back an infamous culture and shaping it through the eyes of the victim.
This spell that I had written for the beautiful Luna Luna is a memorial of the works of past witches and a call for solidarity and open mindedness in order to face the challenges that await our sisters today.
The 8th constitutional amendment of the Irish constitution restricts the fundamental rights of the pregnancy person, saying that the “unborn child” (fetus) has the right to life that is equal to the life of the mother. Besides the fact that this amendment fails to recognize non-binary pregnant people and trans men, it also breaches the pregnant person’s right to full bodily autonomy.
Repeal the 8th is a movement initiated to repeal this amendment through the referendum held by the current government of Ireland. This moment seeks to give back the rights to pregnant people that were snatched away by a largely conservative, male, and Catholic legislating body.
To all those who want to #repealthe8th, and to all those who trust woman and doctors and face the realities – you need to play your part. Oireachtas can pass legislation for a referendum but it’s up to us to talk to family and friends and explain why we need to repeal. Even though if you are not Irish, spreading comprehensive awareness about the need for safe and accessible abortion facilities is a key aspect through which you can play your part.
Abortions will continue to exist in the society. Whether they are legal or not, women will continue to seek abortions during situations of unwanted pregnancy. It is up to us to ensure that these women are not dying in back alley abortions due to conservative and antiquated laws that regulate the female reproductive system.
The vision of a polity without the perforations of religious ideals has been advocated by many thinkers, but none as ardently as the late Stephen Hawking. He articulated the negative affects of consuming political processes on the basis of a particular religion through numerous talks about atheism. He provided a starting space for many people, including myself, to dwell in the greater meaning of existence without being restrained by the antiquated conditions of religion.
Having a strong political entity and a prospering State without any appropriation of fundamental rights is only possible when a clear line is drawn between religion and the government. Ideas of development need to flourish without being superseded with religious notions.
Even first world countries that claim to be secular are shadowed with the prevalent beliefs of Christianity where politicians actively defy liberal bills on the sole standing that they are antithetical with their religious beliefs.
This undue interference of an individual, organisation, or institution in the functioning of the government body is called religious supremacy. Religious Supremacy is the idea that religious beliefs have the authority to overpower the coherent functioning of the state in order to re-impose antiquated norms that they are accustomed to.
It is in memory of Stephan Hawking and his incredible scientific endeavors that I ask for a redefining of political institutions, including world organizations like UN, to have a clear distinction between politics, religion, and idealism.
An unfortunate thing about oppression, besides the fact that it facilitates the mistreatment of large groups of people, is that it is quite often not very tangible to those who are not directly affected by it. And when people, who are and have been for the most part of history in a privileged position, remain untouched by oppression, they start denying its existence all together.
I was having a conversation with a close relative of mine quite recently and somewhere in between talking about nothing, we started talking about political movements, especially feminism. This relative was of the opinion that feminism has become irrelevant in today’s society because women are treated equally everywhere and that the few restrictions that are created are merely due to the biological differences between men and women. And this opinion is not altogether alien to my ears, in fact many people who have been born and brought up in relatively egalitarian conditions believe that movements like Black Lives Matter and Feminism are antiquated and just a “waste of time.”
But what these people fail to realize is that just because you don’t face a certain kind of oppression does not mean that it doesn’t exist. Women are still very much maltreated and deprived of basic human rights in many parts of the world. Female infanticide and marital rape are prevalent in India and in many other countries as well. Safe and affordable healthcare to women is still a distant dream in almost all countries, including USA. In senates all across the world, majority of legislations dealing with issues relating to abortion and birth control are decided by overwhelmingly male legislatures.
There are still many issues that need to be addressed before we can firmly say that feminism is not required in the world anymore. Just because you have been fortunate enough to be sheltered from a certain kind of oppression, doesn’t mean that it isn’t being inflicted on those around you. We must use our position of privilege to speak for those being oppressed instead of blindly denying their oppression.
The debate over the basic human right to bodily autonomy has been going on since much before the Roe vs. Wade case, which was only a small culmination of a heated political and social notion that has divided the world into two parts: pro-life and pro-choice.
But just like most questions on rights, shouldn’t this debate have been settled and resolved by now? For years there were people who argued against giving rights to black people, there have been protests against women running for primary seats in the senate, there have been movements against giving religious minorities right to practice their preferred religion, but in the US, all of these have had a concrete settlement when it comes to politics.
While there are racists and racists in America, it is largely believed that discrimination against the basis of gender or race is a gross violation of fundamental rights.
Then why do we not have a similar notion for the right to seek and access safe abortion facilities? This issue is blatantly black and white: the pregnant sentient person has the right to bodily autonomy which allows them to make decisions that affect their own bodies without having the opinions or beliefs of others forced upon them. Right to bodily autonomy of the pregnant person should always be respected. There is no law any where that says that it’s okay to use someone else’s body without their consent.And most importantly, consent to sex is not consent to pregnancy just as much as consent to driving is not consent to getting into a road accident. However, if you do happen to fall into anyone of those situations, you should always be in a position to seek appropriate medical care.
I feel that this debate has been unduly stretched over the past decades and it is time for us to come to a concrete consensus that every singly person should respect what someone else decides to do with their body.
India enshrines freedom of speech as one of its principal values in its constitution and prescribes it as a fundamental right for all its citizens, and this is in practice quite true, but only to a certain extent. While Indian media does enjoy a great freedom in expression of opinion, there is still heavy censorship when it comes to antinationalist dissemination of information.
The pertinent question here Is whether it is right for a country that stands of sturdy pillars of transparency and democracy to curb freedom of speech of its citizens in any way to maintain internal peace?
Many people are of the opinion that it is in fact justified on the country’s part to restrict access to anti-nationalist media, especially in a country that is riddled with secessionist movements and communal disputes. There is a lot of controversy over films and books like Padmavati or The Red Sari because of their inaccurate appropriation of Indian history and society.
In countries like India where internal demand for autonomy places a threat to the unity of the country, censorship to a certain limit becomes essential in ensuring internal peace. Developing countries rightly prioritize economic and societal development and this will become nearly impossible to achieve if the country is torn with civil turmoil.
This is why censorship to a certain degree is justified, just as long as it allows space for the citizens to express their opinions and mobilize the public in a peaceful manner.
I have been born an Indian, but I have experienced my adolescence through the sultry environment of the Middle East. In neither of these places are people especially vocal about controversial liberal topics, sexual rights being one of them.
There are no schools in the Middle East that impart even the slightest comprehensive sexual education and from what I know, the scenario in India is not that different. What most of the southern Asian culture believes is that exclusion of the topic of sex will lead to abstinence, which according to most of the adults I know, is the only motto for an unmarried person.
Receiving comprehensive sex education is extremely important for adolescents. Because we never have these sex-ed classes in school, we are never explicitly taught about consent. Sexual assault and teenage pregnancies, although they are very real in our society, are never discussed openly. Even topics as common as menstruation are hardly ever touched upon because there is a vile consensus amongst most of the people that anything to with the sexual aspect of a human being is tabooed.
I think it’s time for us to alter our (the Indian) education system in order to incorporate a more liberal curriculum that can help us excel in not only academics but also as active members of the society. For me, personally, it’s especially vital that students are taught the importance of sexual rights. Most of my peers don’t know what pro choice or pro life is. They aren’t aware of the most dynamic controversies that is plaguing our society. It is so hard to create informed citizens if the education that they are receiving is so highly censored.
I have been raised in an environment where self-respect equates to chastity and modesty in your dressing style. I have been told by quite a few adults, my teachers included, that my body is something that should be hidden behind what society deems as appropriate clothing.
The female body has been indicted to so much scrutiny that everything from our reproductive rights to what we chose to wear is being consciously regulated by what others think is right. Something as natural as breastfeeding is confined to dirty bathrooms because people are so actively repulsed by the sight of women’s breasts doing anything other than pleasing the male-gaze.
I remember quite clearly that once my teacher told us, a class of around seventeen young girls, that when women wear “provocative” clothing or anything revealing it only encourages men to turn into rapists. I have never heard anything more blatantly blaming the sexual assault victim than that statement. Rape culture thrives on people who think that sexual assault happens because of how the victim is dressed. It gives legitimacy to the rapist – and in my eyes there is no bigger crime than giving legitimacy to a person or a law that violates the body of another human being.
It is a mindset like this, which is very unfortunately embedded in majority of the Asian society, that makes the environment hostile for women and trans men. When you start thinking that respect is earned by how people choose to dress themselves, that is when you start viewing human beings as tools of an institution rather than individuals who have rights of their own.
The aggressive advocacy for covering up the female body through the society accompanied with the hyper-sexualization of the female body through the media only incites young girls to view their body as merely something that arouses men and nothing else.
It surprises me every time I come across a person or an institution that polices someone to dress “modestly” to earn self-respect. The idea of self-respect is that you respect yourself as a human being and I can do that just as well when I am naked like I can when I am fully clothed.
What adorns my body is my skin and not the society veiled under a cloth.
What you’ll be reading is something one of my close friends told me and I am sharing this because the world needs her voice to be heard.
It starts with thinking about food. All the time. You would think that having an eating disorder would mean that you thought of anything else except food, but it’s quite the opposite. You think about food all the time and you think about how you are eating too much, even though you are probably eating a lot less than what you should be. You start thinking about food as numbers, about how many calories are on your plate and about how many hours you’ll have to spend in the gym to burn them all off.
But that’s not it.
Eating disorders are much more complex than that.
Sometimes you are binging, eating more than you should be. Other days are drastically the opposite and you are starving yourself and trying vainly to keep yourself occupied so you don’t have to think about food. But it is always in your head.
What makes eating disorders so easy to relapse back into is because they are so hard to talk about, especially if you are talking to someone who has never had an eating disorder. It’s much more than simply wanting to be skinny; it’s about needing to aggressively control yourself. It’s an outlet of bullied self-infliction, it’s an aftermath of stress or depression, it’s a pathway to insomnia, and it’s something that affects every person who has had it differently.
One thing that makes it so hard to talk about is that after you tell someone that you have an eating disorder, they start seeing you as just someone who has an eating disorder. You are flattened in their minds to just one, impressionable aspect of yourself – your mental health condition.
Eating disorders have become so common because the aesthetics of the human body are embedded into young minds as notions of success. Images on social media distort the view of your body until instead of seeing yourself in the mirror you see the amount of food you have consumed.
Eating disorders are that part of mental health that are not only romanticized in some cases, but also promoted by so many online platforms and even by our peers. You will not know the effect of a single comment until you have stared at your body, reducing its value to that comment playing in your head over and over again.
Over and over again.
Until you relapse.
Political correctness is the notion that we should use politically correct language, or language that isn’t consciously offending any particular section of the society, in our daily speech. This means eliminating the usage of racial slurs or sexist slangs that may have been formerly prevalent. It also incorporates using the preferred gender pronouns of an individual while addressing them.
But the eminent question is whether incorporating political correctness in your speech limits your right to free speech within a democracy?
Free speech is one of the most important facets of a democracy as it not only allows the individual to express his concerns about the society without any limit, but it also acts as a check to the functioning of the government and the accountability of the leaders to the general public. But should there be a certain limit to this free speech?
The concept of free speech has been incorporated into most of the democratic constitutions so as to expand on the rights of the individual and to create a society that is more receptive of the needs of its citizens. But creating a platform where everyone has the right to speak their mind can have some negative consequences, and I believe that political correctness curbs these negative impacts.
When a relatively privileged person uses their position in the society to restrict the rights of individuals from lesser privileged sections, then the basic foundations of a democracy are violated. When people use antiquated and offensive terminology, they are restricting the rights of the group who they are allegedly attacking.
This is why I believe that political correctness doesn’t necessarily limit the right to free speech, but instead expands on it when you look at its impact on the society as a whole. So while political correctness shouldn’t become a legal mandate, it should definitely be something that people are actively sensitive to.