how does a women deal with the many things she must when her identity as mother shapes what is expected of her? i’ve been reflecting these last two days on how Kamla Persad-Bissessar, the first woman PM and Indian woman PM in T and T, should deal with the cuss out and threats directed at her in a non-Indian young girl’s online rant.
This girl’s video carried so much racialised hostility against the PM, it was disturbing and hurtful for Indians and particularly Indian women of all ages. it was disturbing to anyone, especially mothers and women who saw it, regardless of their ethnicity. the attack on kamla was powerfully sexualised, with kamla’s body and “cunt” the site for retaliation for the state of emergency’s penetration into working class, urban, Afro-Trinidadian communities, a penetration that has been perceived as making Afro-Trinidadian males vulnerable. when did the Indian woman’s body become a public symbol for political violence?
the AG rightly advised the girl to give herself into the police. many instead hoped for a solution based in mediation rather than punishment. women in particular wanted kamla to deal with this young girl as the mother and grandmother figure she embodied on the campaign platform.
my mother first asked me what i thought kamla should do. i thought that she shouldn’t get involved at all. she was busy running a country under a state of emergency, having to act decisively on many fronts at once, most of which were getting full frontal public critique. why couldn’t this young girl get her telling off, and letting off, from a magistrate or the family court instead? where were her parents? Was it even judicious to intervene? The PM needed to be left to do the work in her portfolio. Was she supposed to meet with everyone who chose to act out and needed some serious reasoning? that would be all of trinidad, shotters and politicians included.
i discussed this with two colleagues. One said he thought the familial, caring gesture, the challenge to a masculinist model, would be for Kamla to meet with the girl. The other, mother to a teenager herself, felt that teenagers say and do stupid things. usually they think through and mean little of what they say. she pointed out that everyone in our society, from union leaders to political leaders, abuses and threatens and cusses people, with no consequences. why come down hardest on one teenage girl?
in the end, kamla made the gesture that no man politician would likely have done. she suggested, against due process, to meet with the young girl and talk rather than criminalise her. is this what happens when mothers take office? is this how conflicts are worked out when grandmothers become PM?
i have found the way that kamla calls mothering and grandmothering into political life to be brilliant. she’s been critiqued for playing up stereotypical female markers. must women always be understood in relation to reproduction, even when its not relevant to their other roles? but i think its important that she governs in a way that, perhaps, reflects having seen life through the practice of caring.
kamla is an interesting historical figure as well because she symbolises the mother figure of an Indian community, and the nation. To say her success was one for all women is true, but it was also a victory for Indian women who have been defined as one of the most disempowered and marginalised groups in our history. she’s a heroine that all too humanly brings together the sacred, the profane, the personal, the political. Her success has elevated her to status of the mother goddess in the Hindu community. She’s like Kali, the destroyer of her two rivals, Panday and Manning, and creator of a new order. She’s like Durga, empowering and protective. She’s like Lakshmi, symbol of national hope that from darkness will rise light. It’s fascinating, these multiple motherhoods. At the heart of them all is Shakti, the female energy, that powerfully pervades the cosmos…and us all.
Looking back at this incident, there will be much for us all to learn about how we mother our children and our girls, about how fathers and men of all kinds need to set the kinds of examples that mothers would, about how politicians would behave if they thought of themselves less as patriarchs and more as nurturers, about how vulnerable women, their bodies and their sexualities are in office even or especially when they are also Prime Minister, and about how politics may be, not perfect, but perhaps different if situations were handled the way mothers would.