Saturday 17 November 2012

A very sinister hijacking of Savita Halappanavar's death

A guest blog from the unstoppable Farzana: dedicated to the memory of Savita Halappanavar
“Bigotry tries to keep truth safe in its hands with a grip that kills it” Rabindranath Tagore, (1861 – 1941)

When I read Praveen’s (Savita’s widower) account of the agony his wife was in and the reaction of the consultant when Savita asked for the pregnancy to be induced (as the fetus was unviable) I was angry and humiliated for the Halappanavars who were told “This is a Catholic country.”  A few tweeters noted the inherent racism within that response, @sunny_hundal for one, @SamAmbreen for two - and a whole host of others. However, when this was pointed out during the night and the next day, a very typical response came from certain people who refused to acknowledge that that statement could be perceived as being racist. We were accused of being “over-sensitive”, “reading too much into it” etc...

What I would say to those people is this: imagine you were Savita and Praveen. Savita was in agony by the time her cervix had dilated and both she and her husband were undoubtedly traumatised and upset that they were to lose their first child, thousands of miles away from home, away from the comfort of the familiar. Now imagine, as foreign, non-Irish, non-Catholic people that the medical intervention you have requested in good faith is effectively rejected and done so in a sneering condescending manner. Imagine if your daily lived reality is one of “being the other”.

If you haven’t experienced racism in its obnoxious and subtle forms then one could see how you might not relate to how those of us similar to the Halappanavars would legitimately react. Being generous, I will give you the benefit of the doubt. Being miserly; I would say this: if you do not know what it is like to be of non-white skin colour, if you do not know what it is like to be judged for worshipping God in a different form, if you don’t have the same ethno-linguistic or cultural norms or values as the majority, if you are made to feel as if your non-white skin colour, your different form of worshipping God, your different ethno-linguistic-cultural norms are INFERIOR; then you do not know what it was like for Savita and Praveen at that time. You get me bredrens?

Predictably, a small but highly vocal racist group of anti-choice odds and sods have attempted to hijack the death of Savita and gone to town with some very strange views: views which fetishise the fetus but hate the brown mother.

One of the earliest tweets I spotted stated this: “The baby Savita (rip) lost was female. Many Indian people abort female babies. 2 facts”. In fact, according to her brother she had ‘always wanted to have a girl.’

My head sort of exploded about this time. I had a sinking feeling that the most uninformed anti-choicers would use the ethnicity of Savita as a tool in their disastrous counter campaign against a very angry and grief-stricken pro-choice movement.

Claims about Indians and sex-selective abortions are a cheap way to attack Savita’s Indian heritage, MY heritage, as one which is violently disproportionate in favour of men. However, if you consider that India (1966 & 1980), Sri Lanka (1960* the first female head of a modern post-colonial state), Pakistan (1988 and 1993), and Bangladesh - the “Battling Begums”  (1991, 2001, 1996, 2009) all have had female heads of state far earlier than any western country did (including the UK with Thatcher in 1979 and Mary Robinson in Ireland in 1990), you have to wonder – for countries which are portrayed as being so patriarchal and male dominated – we didn’t too badly did we bredrens? The most disturbing commentary on Savita’s death however has come from a well known active hardline anti-choice racist/White Nationalist. a link to his view that ‘Indian people are a bit slow and backward' is here.

First of all his views hardly make any logical sense. To claim that Indians are “slow and backward” when India is 10th largest economy in the world, 3rd for purchasing power, exports worth $299.4 billion. He then goes on to argue if Indians don’t like the way things are done in Ireland, then they “should go back to their smelly overpopulated country.” Overpopulated? Hang on – in the same diatribe, he argues that there is “no justification to allow the murdering of unborn babies.” I would also have to say, bredren, plenty of Irish people leave Ireland too to look for jobs abroad...and to get away from racist bumbaholes like you.

Another tweeter – a silly little boy who clearly doesn’t get out much, doesn’t read a quality newspaper or listen to the news – claimed that:  “That Muslim girl died, she was refused an abortion, am not racist but I f-ing hate smelly rag heads.” After I had picked myself up off the floor laughing hard at his “That Muslim girl,” (Savita was HINDU), I again felt the unease that racists, stupids and anti-choicers make for an explosive amount of stupidly uninformed bigoted views. That Savita was Indian, means that her ethnicity WILL be a factor in their frothy mouthed bigotry. I actually tweeted back “you do realise the woman who you implied as being a smelly rag head was in fact Hindu and not Muslim? PS I'm a smelly rag head.” I await his response, if any.

Savita’s death was horrible enough. Praveen, her husband, will arrive back in Ireland to fight for justice for his wife. A fitting legacy to Savita’s memory would be if Ireland would just reconsider their current legislation and make the necessary changes to ensure that no woman: whether white, brown, Catholic or non-Catholic is ever told “This is a Catholic country” as justification to deny a life- saving medical intervention.

Pro-choice is more pro-life than the anti-choicers would have you believe. Reclaim the term, we OWN it.

Updated: For London based people, there will be a protest outside the Irish embassy on Saturday 17th November 4pm onwards, for further details:

1 comment:

  1. Great article, it's heartbreaking that Savita's ethnicity should be used in this way by a vocal minority, but I really LOVE your final comment about the term pro-life. It's true that pro-choice doesn't not equal anti-life and so I for one will be reclaiming the term!