Thursday, July 30, 2020

Russia’s weaponization of passport in East Ukraine

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Pro-Russian rebels in Donetsk. Eastern Ukraine | Source: Mstyslav Chernov via Wikimedia

On 24th April 2019, Russian President Vladimir Putin signed a decree which would simplify the procedure for acquiring Russian citizenship in the regions of Eastern Ukraine namely, Donetsk and Luhansk. He followed this up with another signing on 1st May. It extended the citizenship right to other categories of Ukrainians including the natives of Crimea.

Putin defended the move on humanitarian grounds but it drew criticism from the European Union and Ukraine. Despite the opposition, Russia went ahead with the distribution of passports in these regions of Ukraine.

The Russian Ministry of Internal Affairs had announced on Jan 1, 2020, that it had granted citizenship to nearly 196,000 Ukrainians. Moscow plans to grant one million citizenships to people in these areas by the end of 2020,

Russian President Vladimir Putin defended the move by saying there was nothing wrong in granting citizenship to the people of Eastern Ukraine and cited the example of countries like Poland and Romania which also grant citizenship on the basis of ethnicity.

At the end of a summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un Putin told the reporters "How are Russians in Ukraine worse than Romanians, Poles or Hungarians? I don't see anything unusual here."

The move, however, has drawn criticism from Ukraine and the European Union. It also  dashed hopes of reviving the Russia-Ukraine peace talks that have stalled since 2015.

Volodymyr Zelenskyy, the new President of Ukraine who was less confrontational towards Russia during his campaign said “Unfortunately, this decree does not bring us closer to the ultimate goal of a ceasefire.” He further stated “These actions are yet more confirmation for the world community of Russia’s true role as an aggressor state, which is waging a war against Ukraine.”

Pavlo Klimkin, Ukraine’s Foreign Minister termed it a “continuation of aggression and interference in our internal affairs.” He was seen advising people in a twitter post that Russia had deprived them of the present and was now trying to trespass on their future.

Ukraine warned that it would not recognize the passport in the event of its usage for crossing the border. The then Prime Minister of the country, Volodymyr Groysman wrote on Twitter,” I emphasize that we will never recognize the citizenship issued by the aggressor country” and termed the passports as a “flagrant violation of all rights and morals”.

The Deputy Foreign Minister of Ukraine targeted the timing of the announcement and said that it was a challenge “not only for Kyiv but Berlin, Paris, Brussels and Washington”.

The EU also stated that it was against the spirit and the objectives of the Minsk peace accords signed by Russia and Ukraine in 2015. Federica Mogherini, a spokeswoman for the EU’s top diplomat, said the distribution of Russian passports was "another attack on Ukraine's sovereignty by Russia."

Putin’s move to grant passports in Eastern Ukraine has been cited as Russia’s unwillingness towards granting Ukraine full control over the Russian occupied regions. It indicates Moscow’s intentions to increase Russian influence in the country and hence weaken the sovereignty of Ukraine as a nation.  

It appears that Russia has now weaponised the passport in its six-year long undeclared war with Ukraine in a hope that this will vastly improve its claim of working to protect the interest of Russian citizens in the disputed region of Eastern Ukraine.

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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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