Monday, August 10, 2020

Italian Mafia make merry amidst the COVID-19 pandemic

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Logo of The Godfather (a movie made on Italian Mafia) | Source: Wikimedia

Italy was the first European nation to encounter the coronavirus and it still is one of the worst hit nations in Europe. The country has been battling with an economic decline and rising unemployment for a few years now. However, the COVID-19 pandemic hitting the country was like rubbing salt in Italy’s wounds.

The strict lockdown imposed by the government in Italy has had an adverse effect on a lot of people particularly the small scale and the medium scale business owners. Thus, a lot of people in Italy have resorted to desperate measures. The Italian mafia have made merry of the situation by providing these people with the much-needed aid they have been looking for.

Even as the country struggles to pull itself together, the mafia have made inroads in acquiring influence over the locals by distributing food packets to poor families with no source of income. There have been videos surfacing from the southern regions which suggest that the mafia have been actively involved in delivering essential items to the people.

In Palermo, a mafia gang member, who has been distributing food to the poor, says "People ring me and they cry over the phone,". He further tells, "They say their children can't eat. A young woman has been calling me every single day. She has five kids and doesn't know how to feed them."

However, the Italian mafia has been employing the tactics of exploiting vulnerability of the locals in the face of economic crisis for a long time. The COVID-19 pandemic was yet another opportune moment for them to capitalise.

"The mafia has never done anything out of generosity. That concept doesn't exist for them," says Enza Rando who works for an anti-mafia organisation. "All they know is I'll scratch your back if you scratch mine."

A report by  the Global Initiative Against Transnational Organized Crime (GI-TOC), based on virtual round table discussion between top anti mafia officials and activists suggests that the healthcare sector as well as the manual laborers and service staff who work mostly cash jobs are the most vulnerable to the mafia influence during the COVID-19 pandemic.

As per the national anti-corruption authority ANAC the mafia corruption has been a big setback to the COVID-hit Italian economy. "They are taking advantage of the emergency situations like the current one, with devastating effects on the economic system and on healthy businesses, already hard hit by the crisis," said ANAC President Francesco Merlon.

Sergio Nazzaro, a journalist, writer and adviser to the Parliamentary Anti-Mafia Commission says, ”The people who are jobless don’t care about the mafia, corruption or anything, but they see the state only talking, and from the mafia (they see) money, and I fear that at the end of all this we are going to see how much the mafia managed to buy while we were in crisis.” He stresses that the state will have to provide economic stability to the people if it hopes to eliminate the mafia influence.

Father Luigi Ciotti, an Italian priest and well-known anti-mafia activist pointed out three key areas that need to be monitored for mafia activity during the pandemic. The first is the increase in drug trafficking. The second one is new products like face masks, disinfectants etc which are suddenly in demand and provide heavy profits and third the predatory money lending.

It is quite clear that the Italian government needs to come up with strong economic reforms that ensure stability and security for its people if it hopes to counter the mafia influence. Otherwise, the mafia will always be there to trap vulnerable people by proving to be their benefactors in the short run only to exploit at a later stage.

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October 23, 2020 3:57 PM

Male gaze, their female guardians and sports-wear

In Helen Cixous’ essay, ‘The Laugh of Medusa’, she urges women to redefine what their body means to them, not just physically but also socially, emotionally and politically. This could happen by re-writing about your body in a way you deem  fit, the expression you identify with and separating it from how your body has been written about by men. The expression could be how you view your body separate from the patriarchal lense.

It is no secret that a woman’s body is subject to critique. While clothing for men is just a tool to cover themselves as per the surrounding environment, clothing for women isa social and political narrative that dictates their life or as we affectionately call it ‘culturally appropriate’.

The clothing style could vary. It could be a woman covered head to toe in a Burqa, it could be a woman who decides to wear sports-wear in a park or it could be jeans and a top. Everything is critically evaluated by men and by women who work towards protecting the male gaze.

The male gaze is a heterosexual way of looking at female bodies that sexualises these bodies into an object. It is a gaze that runs on the self-affirmative notion that the bodies of women, and what they do with it, is directly linked to how they  appear in front of a man.

In a recent incident in Bangalore, India, popular Indian actress Samyuktha Hegde was abused and threatened by senior political leader of the congress party, Kavitha Reddy,  for wearing sports-wear, in Bangalore’s Agara Lake park. She was exercising with her friend.

Kavitha Reddy initially claimed she was in indecent attire and went onto morally police and then later abused the actress and her friend.  A supposedly progressive political leader gets uncomfortable by what women are wearing. It breaks into an argument and a fight where the politician is supported by five to six men. Later on, the police appear to be appeasing the politician instead of the women who were harassed. Although she did apologise, her apology came after her video went viral, and as a protection for her own political reputation.

To look at Samyuktha Hegde’s clothing as a threat is to view her clothing as an act of obscenity therefore bullying her identity and sense of agency and reducing her to sexual object, who, by putting her in public, apparently gives the men present a right to look at her? Nevermind that she was there to workout like everyone else, her actions were confused as to how men look at her. In the video posted by the actress, the politician is surrounded by men who are championing her on. The politician choses to side with the patriarchal figures in shaming these women. Asking to protect from the male gaze is a far stretch but punishing women for the male gaze is where we should draw a line.

What roles does Kavitha Reddy play? She is the guardian of the male gaze. We find her in our mothers, in our grandmothers, in aunties and sometimes our friends. She understands a woman’s body as an object that is there to be looked at by men. She gets angry at women for wearing certain kinds of clothing but she is not angry at men for looking. The agency in this case always belongs to men.

When Cixous asks women to re-define their identity, she urges us to strangle the moral police that comes alive in such instances. It is the moral police that shames women for wearing clothes that don’t flatter their bodies or clothes that do flatter them. She urges us to reflect upon the source of such vigilance. Do we shame other women because we believe in what we are saying or our identity is partially (or  wholly) shaped by the male gaze?

Whether we chose to wear a burqa, or a dress, or variations of the new type clothing produced everyday, the crux of the matter is that it should not worry anyone apart from the one wearing it. The identity of a woman, sexual or otherwise, has to be redefined to be separated from the men and their gaze. We have to draw a line otherwise people in power will continue to abuse their power and preserve patriarchy and male gaze.

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