Tuesday, August 18, 2020

Why the people are protesting in Hong Kong

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Signs condemning police brutality - Tensions rise in Hong Kong after the government banned protest | Source: Joseph Chan via Unsplash

Hong Kong is a special administrative region of the People’s Republic of China located on the Eastern Pearl River Delta of the South China Sea. From 1842 to 1997, the region was under the control of the Britishers.

In 1997 the  sovereignty of Hong Kong was transferred to China with the principle of “one country, two systems” which provided some degree of autonomy for Hong Kong. This system was supposed to be in force for a period of minimum fifty years from 1997 to 2047. However, under President Xi Jinping, China has been aggressively making such rules and regulations which increase the influence of mainland China on administration of Hong Kong.

In June 2020, China started implementing a new national security law for which potentially severely limits the independence of the judiciary of Hong Kong. Under the proposed law, Hong Kong’s Chief Executive, who is answerable to Beijing, gets the power to appoint judges for specific security cases. It also calls for setting up a security agency in Hong Kong to resolve existing conflicts and challenges faced by Beijing with respect to Hong Kong.

China defended the law by citing that it would prevent and punish secession, subversion as well as foreign infiltration. Beijing has argued that these three factors are responsible for fuelling unrest in the city since last year. Critics however have very different opinions regarding the law. For them this law directly attacks the relative autonomy granted to Hong Kong after Britain handed it back to China in 1997.

The law can potentially be employed to target anti-government protests and other forms of dissent in the region of Hong Kong. It has instilled fear in the minds of the Hong Kong residents that the Chinese Communist Party is trying to curb the freedom of speech and protest in the region in an effort to bring Hong Kong under its authoritarian rule.

Many protesters are of the belief that the local governments of Hong Kong are no longer autonomous and act on the whims of Beijing. They accuse the city's top leader, Chief Executive Carrie Lam, who is appointed by Beijing, of acting only in the interest of mainland China while ignoring to safeguard the autonomy of Hong Kong.

The protests Hong Kong witnessed in May 2020, were quite similar to the ones the city witnessed almost a year ago when China proposed an extradition law for Hong Kong. The law was eventually scrapped after a flurry of protests. However the protest against the territory’s existing leadership turned into a protest against Chinese ruling party’s efforts to merge Hong Kong with mainland China.

At its core, the protest movement is aimed at protecting Hong Kong’s autonomy and resisting encroachment from the mainland. However, China’s adamant approach in bringing Hong Kong under the mainland amidst a falling economy and rising agitation and police brutality has had a negative impact on the residents.

Many Hong Kong protesters have started moving to countries who are willing to adopt them over fears of being under scrutiny from the Chinese government. Many of the skilled workers are now looking at ways to exit the city and move to better alternatives. More than half of the people from the age group of 18 to 24 are considering options outside of Hong Kong owing to the uncertainty surrounding the region’s fate.

Despite the protest by citizens and condemnation and actions by the US, Britain and other Western countries, it seems unlikely that China is going to halt its efforts to dismantle the autonomy of Hong Kong and effectively merge it with the mainland China.

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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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