This guest blog was written by KWLI 2014 alumna Arpita Mitra
Every day I see people struggling – a struggle to sustain oneself, to cope up with the trying moments; much courageous, a struggle to move on. The omnipresence of a certain sense of competition, of an uncalled-for pitting oneself against the other, or the increasing desirability of a number one position, makes me wonder about what went wrong.
In an inter-connected globalized world, transcending borders have not only increased opportunities, but have differentially, yet paradoxically hindered the same for many communities. While I’m coming to terms with the increasing costs of education for international students at much aspired universities, there are many others who are employed as child labourers because education itself is made to appear as a distant privilege to them. From the last breath of a young girl who was left abandoned by her parents to be chewed by dogs, to young boys unethically labeled ‘terrorists’ or ‘national threats’, heinous enough for crimes they haven’t even committed or the fainting voice of a teenager who committed suicide in response to the fear of being bullied again – these narratives are linked together by a delicate thread – ‘What wrong did they do, to face the consequential experience?’
The situations in conflict-torn region of Darfar (Sudan) are extreme, to such an extent that children in camps of Fata Borno tell UNICEF Officers “we are here, please don’t forget us”. The act of forgetting is closely tied to the act of remembering. History writing is interesting, not only because it glorifies one set of events to the level of nationalist consciousness, but simultaneously deems irrelevant the narratives of thousands of ‘insignificant’ individuals through the political art of silencing. The history of memory, then, is equally a political act of depoliticizing certain specifically chosen voices to represent and validate the history, almost as a natural occurrence, thereby taking away the agency from specific communities to retell their story, their past. It is not that the subaltern subject cannot speak, the question rather becomes, as Prof. Gayatri Spivak accounts, is ‘can the subaltern be heard’.
So when this hitherto unperturbed mainstream consciousness is met with a reality check through a kaleidoscope-like vision, what we unfurl beneath the layers of our oblivion is a struggle. A struggle gets re-conceptualized in extraordinary movements – to reinstate that #BlackLivesMatter, or as Lila Abu-Lughod would refer, to an ‘unbelievable’ variant of Islamic feminism, evident in Muslim women’s reassertion of cultural heterogeneity, and embracing various forms of wearing the head-scarfs and Islamic veils as against the popular conceptualization of them being ‘victims’ in dire need of ‘saving’. My question still remains – why do only some persons, groups, communities have to struggle to make their voice heard? Why does the recognition of a non-mainstream narrative made possible only in its capacity as a movement threatening existing status-quo? Why does it take for the State Attorney (Baltimore, Maryland) to recognize the disproportionate impact of criminal justice system on people ‘of colour’? This struggle – however a spark in history, is nevertheless a painful journey. Amidst the tussle between special recognition and complete integration (into the mainstream), the struggling voices shall forever be viewed as an exception than a norm. The history of non-mainstream lives are tailored to structure the permanence of the mainstream, like the fine contours demarcating ‘us’ from ‘them’. The mechanisms of control pervade not only in normalizing the discourse, but equally in exploiting and refusing to hear the other – the very act of denial often guides our willingness to forget. We struggle, we fight, some of us even give up our lives, but only few are privileged to be regarded as martyrs. How is the life of a factory worker dying due to industrial toxic fumes each day, any less significant than the soldier who dies on-field protecting the honour of our respective nation-states? To me, there isn’t, but that’s easier said than done, since our privilege equally blinds us to the very ‘privilege of ignorance’ – the fact that we can often choose to ignore our caste identities or class positions is precisely because it hasn’t affected our life struggles. But where ascribed identities determine the extent of achievement, we are destined to struggle or lead a life with the fear that our stories will soon be forgotten. Who is to be held accountable?
In the constant Foucauldian struggle between ‘subjection’ (as individuals’ submission to domination) and ‘subjectification’ (an identity created for us not in terms of who we are, but what we come to represent as per the gaze of the dominant group), we are increasingly giving away a crucial component of who we truly are, in the effort to contest what they’ve made of us. It is time to recognize the sincerity of these struggles as the real foundations of our histories and her-stories.