State terrorism against women: Purvi Patel and the erosion of reproductive justice in the U.S.

It is now four months since an Indiana court sentenced Purvi Patel to 70 years in prison for feticide and neglect of a dependent, based on an obsolete method called the floating lung test which determined the fetus was alive, not stillborn as Patel claimed. Despite an initial flurry of protest from various organizations internationally, such as National Advocates for Pregnant Women and Manavi, since their April and May 2015, there has been silence in the news media regarding her cruel and unjust conviction.

Looking at this case within the framework of the crumbling reproductive justice for women highlights important factors that are becoming more widespread across the U.S. Patel’s case is part of a growing history of women who have been convicted for miscarriages. With the erosion of reproductive justice in the U.S., women’s intentional abortions, miscarriages and giving birth to a stillborn child increasingly come under judicial scrutiny. In Patel’s case, the Indiana law penalizes women for getting abortions outside state sanctions. So even if abortion is legal under federal law, state law found Patel guilty.

Would her sentence be different had she been a resident of New York or California, since the cutoff dates for obtaining legal abortion differ between states? This question gets murkier, when we put race and class into the heavily gendered mix. The arbitrariness of the law when applied to women is dumbfounding.

If the abortion pill can be legally obtained in the U.S., why is it illegal to obtain abortion pills by mail? It would be absurd to restrict pharmacies in other countries to mail abortion pills to the U.S. So the prosecutor in the case argued the obvious – that the fetus was a person and needed to be protected from the mother who was trying to kill it. The absurd and cruel outcome is that the case was treated like first degree murder, instead of a case of unintended pregnancy, the mother’s attempt to abort (legal in many countries, including some states in the U.S. currently), and birth of a stillborn fetus. Patel did not receive any respite from medical practitioners or the law.

Does Patel’s attempt to go to a hospital because of her bleeding that led to the doctor and law enforcement officer reporting her “illegal act” mean that pregnant women would fear getting medical help? This is exactly the outcome, says Lynn Paltrow of the National Advocates for Pregnant Women. Doctors who are supposed to be advocates for patients are now turning against their female patients based on the law of the state, and sometimes their belief systems. Forget the Hippocratic oath!

In India, where feticide is prevalent, the judicial system is caught between legal abortion, which was partly strengthened by a population control policy, and the government’s attempt to dissuade women from aborting female fetuses. It is often difficult to say for sure if an abortion was just that, an abortion, totally legal, or a female feticide. How can the same abortion if legal be also illegal—this is the conundrum for Indian courts. As social scientists point out, we need to look at the large social system—institutions, families, and so on that promote male privilege; so we need to figure out how to change the culture instead of penalizing women.

Recently, an Indian reporter said Purvi Patel’s alleged feticide would be “normal” in India. I would argue that it is important to combat a culture that would advocate feticide; by the same token, we need to combat a culture that penalizes women for obtaining an abortion and tells her summarily that her body, and her fetus, is the property of the State. Apart from the legal determination on Purvi Patel’s case, the very fact of women not being allowed any right over their reproductive functions is outrageous. And to be eviscerated of freedom by being sent to prison, by arguing that self-induced abortion is a crime, is an egregious wrong.

 

 

 

(Photo Credit: Kostsov/Thinkstock) (Original drawing by Pierre Colin Thibert)

Misogyny and Racism among Republican Contenders for the 2016 Presidency


The current competition among several Republican candidates to win the Republican ticket for the 2016 Presidency is overwhelmingly centered on statements and promises to support policies that are misogynistic.

Candidate Donald Trump is gaining popularity among the Republican voters for his stance on immigration. He vows to deport the children, even if they are American citizens, born to “illegal immigrants.” Apart from this notion being unconstitutional, it exposes an immigration restriction that used to be applied more than a century ago–the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, “which severely restricted the entry of unmarried Asian women [my emphasis] into the United States as part of an effort to limit the growing Asian and Asian American population” (Gurr 30). Other Republican candidates, like Ted Cruz and Jeb Bush, are in agreement with Trump, although Jeb Bush has picked Asians over Mexicans as his voodoo doll.

In giving credence to the belief in ousting children of illegal immigrants, Republican candidates are enhancing the population control practices that have been historically enacted on poor and non white populations.

The most recent battle is being waged to defund Planned Parenthood, an old battle that has now become frenzied and vicious. The gradual erasure of Planned Parenthood from many states attests to the gradual diminishment of health care for women who are particularly disadvantaged—rural women, poor women, teenagers, women of color. While the Republicans have built up arguments about Planned Parenthood’s evil, like their trade in “baby organs” (fetal tissue), based on evidence collected by decoy clients, the facts remain glossed over and unheeded: Abortion is a vital service PP offers, but is not federally funded and is a tiny percentage of the care that Planned Parenthood offers women, from prenatal care to breast cancer screening and HIV tests.

Also, much talked about in the news is Trump’s crass treatment of Fox’s news anchor, Megyn Kelly. In critiquing Trump, one finds oneself supporting an equally misogynistic and neoliberal institution, Fox News. Interestingly enough, during the first Republican debate, Megyn calling out Trump’s misogynistic name calling of women made her a target of Trump’s humiliating riposte—he questioned her intelligence and her work as a journalist. And she was not spared the name calling either; on social media, Trump continued his war days after his first fracas, and called her a “bimbo.”

While many have rallied to Megyn’s support (due to her privilege of being an anchor on Fox, her youth, her whiteness, and her class), there was no protest or walk out when Jorge Ramos, a top Latino journalist, was summarily kicked out by security when he tried asking Trump a question about his proposed immigration policy! Here we see, along with misogyny, a deep and fertile racism, (the two often go together), but a section of the populace is eager to overlook these events as harmless, pure theater.

These recent events bear a dangerous echo to the beginning of the Nazi era and Hitler, with Mein Kampf as the bible that would build a country based on exclusions through genocide of the unwanted. If Americans select a President who will enact policies that are racist and misogynist and do away with press freedoms, we can begin to believe that we have lost our basic human and civil rights. We need to be angry, stay alert, and organize more than ever.

(Photo Credit: Getty Images / Fusion)

Pitting one against the Other: Police March or Anti-Police March

 

 

The march against the shooting of Michael Brown, an unarmed black teenager by cops, was well underway in cities across the United States in December. Earlier in the year, there were many more such marches, that both mourned the killing of Trayvon Martin, which had taken place a year earlier, and also sought to bring attention to an epidemic of the shooting by police of innocent teenagers, all black, that is sweeping across black neighborhoods, especially in poorer areas. While one such march was going to take place in New York, right after the officer who shot Brown was exonerated, two police officers in Brooklyn were shot in their police car at point blank range by a black man and later declared dead. Chased by police, the killer shot himself in the head and was later pronounced dead.

The outrage against the killing of the cops was understandable. What was surprising was that people who spoke out against the cop killings said that the anti-police march was an abomination for it showed no respect for the tough work that police had to do in crime-ridden neighborhoods. Journalists in mainstream TV stations started repeating the mantra of “anti-police march” and rhetorically answering their own question of whether such a march conflicted with the “assassination” of the cops. A couple of days later there was a march in solidarity with the cops who were killed in the line of duty.

There are several problems with this line of thinking:

First, why should the killing of the cops obliterate the question of justice that is central to the killing by cops of unarmed black teenagers? Clearly, there is a difference between an armed man who killed the cops and the unarmed black teenagers who were being targeted and killed by the cops. And why should a march that questions the justice meted out to the Brown family be called “anti-police”? When journalists use such terms they whitewash the very essence of what the protest against police brutality is about.

Second, why is the killing of the Brooklyn cops called an “assassination,” but not the killing of the unarmed black teenagers? Do the cops’ lives have more value than that of black children?

Third, why is there immediate outrage at the killing of cops but no alarm at the killing of unarmed black kids? Why aren’t the police and government officials conducting grand funeral processions for the dead kids that they conduct for the police killed in the line of duty?

Fourth, why are journalists so keen to take the side of the police and against the question of justice central to the march against the brutal killing of unarmed kids?

Finally, why are cops using military style weapons to target children who may either be unarmed or who may be using toy weapons? (Incidentally, Toys R Us sells toy guns to kids, as part of the weapons culture that is being promoted by the NRA and its supporters). Let us not miss out government’s support of weapons corporations who market weapons globally so we can enjoy a free market of weapons along with beverages.

The cop-killing story became a security blanket for the police who could not find a way to duck the question of why so many black teens across the country are getting killed by police. We need to continue to march and expose the violence that is done by police to the poor and minorities and children and point out that while the killing of cops is tragic, the killing of the unarmed black teens by police is more than tragic: it shows the power of the State trying to eliminate what it deems unworthy. And this undermines not just democracy but the human right to exist—as a dark-colored child or young adult.

 

(Photo Credit: http://blacklivesmatter.tumblr.com)

Devyani Vs. Sangeeta: Domestic Workers’ Rights

Sangeeta Richard

The recent strip search, including cavity search, of a female Indian diplomat, Devyani Khobragade, in New York, raised a hue and cry in India. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, including much of the administration and the public, denounced the U.S. act as demeaning, primarily because a body search of a female is considered dishonorable by Indians for it brings shame upon the woman, her family and the country, and secondly the Indian court would not consider a salary issue between an employer and her maid tantamount to a crime that necessitated a strip search.

But we need to look at some underlying blind spots this issue glaringly reveals:

1. While Devyani’s experience of undergoing a strip search is demeaning, I believe that such a treatment of any woman in the U.S. who is in police custody or in customs/immigration, whether the crime is unremarkable or severe, as unacceptable. We have not protested enough about strip searches of women especially since such searches are now placed within the umbrella of security and anti-terrorism jurisdiction.

2. While there is now a history of protest to raise minimum wage in the U.S. and the pay discrepancy between men and women is a hot button issue, brought to light by the Lilly Ledbetter bill signed by President Obama in 2009, enforcing this in reality has been tough. But many grassroots movements, such as Working Families and Occupy, are making their mark in trying to make employers conscious of pay gaps and inequities. While Devyani’s lawyer may argue that she has done everything legal under the contract with the maid, Sangeeta Richard, nevertheless, the reaction of the Indian government and a mortified public brings up the fact that Indians have internalized the notion that since most of middle class has maids and there are no unions to protect their wages or their treatment, that there is nothing shocking in the continuation of this practice when domestic workers work in Indian households locally or abroad. The protest about wages and treatment of domestic workers both local and migrant is heard loudest only among feminist organizations. Governments have not taken it seriously; there is no proper jurisdiction regarding wages for domestic work, therefore the issue prevails in the shadows.

3. The irony of the Devyani case is that Devyani is Dalit herself—the oppressed class in India’s caste system. The Dalit movement began during the time of India’s nationalist movement for Independence from British rule. Although the reservation system (similar to Affirmative Action) was put in place to address the rights of the underprivileged castes in the caste hierarchy, nevertheless the oppression of Dalits continues. Devyani’s family is Dalit, but well to do, and she is a diplomat employed by the Indian government. It is indeed a lesson in the nature of oppression to see one who has risen to a privileged position in terms of economic class and status to pay a low wage to a woman she hired to work in her household. Of course, since this act is an allegation until proven, and Devyani may after all be innocent, nevertheless this case brings to light two questions: Should foreign diplomats be allowed to get away with anything because they have diplomatic immunity? Should the U.S. use cavity search and strip search on women in immigration violation cases? How can we separate wage issues from labor trafficking cases, since labor trafficking is another charge brought against Devyani? How can we take personal responsibility to make sure someone we know is not being paid below minimum wage?

 

(Photo Credit: Times of India)

Why Are We Not Enraged By The Fire In A Sweatshop In Bangladesh?

 

Why is it when women jumped to their deaths to escape the deadly fire in the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory in New York City in 1913, we are even today able to be horrified at the management’s cold blooded view of workers as expendable? But why is it we are not as enraged when hundreds of women were killed in the April 2013 Rana Plaza Factory fire in Bangladesh?  Even when we know that the workers were making products for Disney and Walmart, why aren’t we horrified? Shouldn’t we be enraged that workers anywhere are killed because of lack of safety standards, regardless of which company they are working for, whether it is a multinational company or a local company? Once we put an American face on the sweatshop, one hopes that will generate some amount of questioning, such as why Walmart has not followed safety standards in Bangladesh, what companies are overlooking safety regulations, why they are exempt from local laws regarding worker safety, and so on. More importantly, when we see advertisements showing how most of us profit from shopping in Walmart because of their low prices, shouldn’t we be asking how we are implicated in Walmart’s ability to keep prices low? Who benefits? At whose expense are we enjoying bargains?  But, perhaps, we are so conditioned by the system of consumption, where the ideal customer is often confused with the ideal citizen, that we do not see the shadows of workers behind the aisles of clothing or behind the glass cases holding our electronic gadgets.

The worker has become as intangible to us as a theorem or a cosmic body. How can we see/feel/touch/hear/smell workers in the business of making our life livable?

Once the American consumer is able to SEE the connection between his/her “deals” and “specials” and the masses of brown, malnourished women working in unsafe factories making the goods that flood markets in the U.S., the consumer will become informed and this would be the beginning of addressing the rights of both the worker and the consumer. But this connection cannot be established if the consumer is not really given the full “news” about the conditions of workers. Just as we know so little about the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, we do not have complete knowledge about sweatshop atrocities. The news media has not shared with the American public images of sweatshop workers dying and injured in the Bangladesh factory fire. As Amy Goodman says in an interview about the American wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, if Americans were to see graphic pictures of war, they will urge their government toward other means of resolving conflict. Images of workers’ in unsafe conditions will have the necessary effect on consumers, which will then propel companies to act and governments to enforce laws protecting workers. It is a shame that the U.S. multinational companies can shelter under the very laws that are meant to protect workers.

Elizabeth Cline points out, “In 2009, the Ninth US Circuit of Appeals ruled that workers in foreign factories that supply Walmart can’t hold the company responsible for their workplace conditions, despite the retailer’s code of conduct that’s supposed to hold its contractors to decent labor standards. This lack of liability is enjoyed by every retailer that uses contracted factories, which they do not own. It’s this loophole, the one that legally distances clothing companies from the very people who actually make the clothing, that has consistently and historically wrought disaster and human tragedy. This chilling othering of the worker makes us lose our very humanity.

We can create a movement by posting images of atrocities as a way of mobilizing the public to stand up against a greedy capitalism that is eroding both worker rights and our rights as citizens. It is time to say, we are global citizens, not consumers. It is time to claim our humanity.

 

(Photo Credit: Trusted Clothes)