Wednesday, March 26, 2008

The modesty of a woman


Section 509 of our Penal Code states that:

"Whoever, intending to insult the modesty of any woman, utters any word, makes any sound or gesture, or exhibits any object, intending that such word or sound shall be heard, or that such gesture or object shall be seen by such woman, or intrudes upon the privacy of such woman, shall be punished with imprisonment for a term which may extend to one year, or with fine, or with both."

Section 509 of the Indian Penal Code states that:

"(Word, gesture or act intended to insult the modesty of a woman) This is included in Chapter 22 entitled ‘Of Criminal Intimidation, Insult and Annoyance’, and is cognisable, bailable and triable by any magistrate. It holds: ‘Whoever, intending to insult the modesty of a woman, utters any word, makes any sound or gesture, or exhibits any object, intending that such word or sound shall be heard, or that such gesture is seen by such woman, or intrudes upon the privacy of such woman, shall be punished with simple imprisonment for a term which may extend to one year, or with fine, or with both.’"

Section 299 of the Sudanese Penal Code also states... well, it states the same thing too, but ends with "... or intrudes upon the privacy of such woman, shall be punished.

Here, we should come to problematise our notion of the woman and modesty. In effecting such laws, we are only reproducing dominant patriarchal norms on gender roles and behaviour. The woman, although being thought to be empowered by legal and institutional protection, is actually slowly being placed into the category of weak and vulnerable; while the man, of course, will be seen as the active oppressor.

The modesty of the man is thus not conceived at all. You could turn to biology and say that men are generally more aggressive and sexual, but the point is, society has forgotten about the modesty and dignity of men, while attempting to make women seem more vulnerable and weaker - a double whammy for humanity.

Gender norms of the status quo are reproduced in the Penal Code. It implicitly targets the male aggressor, because it creates a victim status for which the woman is expected to assume. The law itself is highly patriarchal, obsessed with the disciplining of men, because it has been informed by positivist information that men are more prone to commit such deviance and acts. In the act oral sex (of the heterosexual nature), when it was once criminalised, the man is punished, whether he is the actor or the acted upon. Women here are once again symbolically annihilated. The woman becomes measured and defined not only with respect with the man, but also the interests of the man.

For all we know, it may be physiological, as the man statistically has a physical advantage over the woman, but the conceptualisation of victimisation is culturally ascribed. What about the violence and vandalism done unto men? Or should they just "take it like a man" and shut the hell up?

What is the modesty of a man any way? Is modesty truly exclusive to women?

This is Victorian morality/conduct, uncritically adopted by us Singaporeans, explaining why our Penal Code is like that. It has become so embedded in our legal and social culture, and we have even come to ascribe upon it notions of Asian-ness and Asian values. When we talk about moral conservativism in Asian values, it is actually Victorian morality that is at play. Well, any way, women are perceived to be not as sexual as men, probably even asexual. They must hence be protected from the ills and the corruption that are exclusive to men. It is very natural and normal for a woman to have this thing called a modesty. It is unnatural for a man to have modesty, because that is probably equal to shoving a straw up your nose and drinking through it.

Male-oriented society has, through the criminalisation of harrassment of women and their modesty, carved out a female space for women. Another problem, on another level, is that women too readily internalise the notions of "modesty" and feminine vulnerability. These women are actually soaking in the views, expectations and anxieties of (ideologically) male-dominated society. The woman is more prone to embarrassment and loss of dignity, therefore she needs more institutional protection; the man on the other hand, doesn't need the same amount of protection. Patriarchy, in this case, serve neither women nor men.

I think it's very sad that society subscribes to all the oppressive notions of gender (and sexual) identity. So much expectations are created, which shape how people behave and think. Moreover, the law, policy and welfare are all initiated based on these expectations. Disproportionately more men are incarcerated, for example, because the notion of crime is gender-coloured.

I believe it's about time we start thinking about how the notions of man and woman are straight-jacketed in our society, and how these contribute to a form of desired social order. But who is desiring this? Whose interest does this form of social order serve?

Sunday, March 23, 2008

The 'de Souza'-isation of Eurasians

The drama 'Lifeline', starring Gurmit Singh, was featured on TV Mobile on the bus while I was on my way to dinner. In the show, Gurmit is a Daniel de Souza.

In 'Triple Nine', a police drama series some time ago, which starred James Lye and Lim Yu Beng, Mark Richmond played Inspector de Souza. In 'A War Diary', Keagan Kang played prisoner-of-war Simon de Souza.

I am sure there are more Eurasians out there who do not have "de Souza" for a surname.

I am a bit puzzled about the racial categorisation here. Here's a scenario:
Indian man marries Chinese woman: Child is Indian (along paternal line)
Chinese man marries Malay woman: Child is Chinese (along paternal line)
Chinese man marries Caucasian woman: Child is Eurasian (WAIT A MINUTE!)

What about a Caucasian man and a Chinese woman? Is the child a "Caucasian" or "Eurasian"? Pardon my ignorance, is there "Caucasian" on the identity card? I think so.

In essence, so long as you are Singaporean, your racial/ethnic identity is sanctioned and determined by the state.

http://www.eurasiannation.com/articlesea2002-07stares.htm - a good read.

The policy on racial segmentation has to play catch-up with globalisation and intermarriages. Some people no longer fit the categories created by the state. If the government is so encouraging of people keeping their heritage alive, it should do something about dividing its herd according to "race" based on patrilineage, and at the same time remove the symbolic oppression of women in society.

I don't think Singaporeans need to be continually reminded of their state-designated "racial" identities. And neither do Singaporeans today deserve to be continually indoctrinated and reminded about the race riots in the 1960s, for it becomes a justification and legitimising reason for certain governmental policies and controls on civil society. History, in this case, is used as chains to shackle the feet of Singaporeans and tie them down to the agenda of the state.

How are Eurasians "formed"/"created" any way? Yes, of half-Caucasian half-Asian parentage. The state acknowledges both halves. But what about a child of a Chinese man and an Indian woman? Does the state recognise the ethnicities of both individuals? Does the racial identity of the woman become symbolically annihilated?

I guess we are still entrenched in this colonialist mentality, wherein we have an imbalanced perspective on Caucasians and Asians.

As we know by, race in Singapore is manufactured by the state. And reading deeper into that, this manufacturing is done with a certain world view and mindset. This is "engineered diversity", all in the name of the economic imperative. I wonder what then will happen to our economy if we did away with the suffocating CMIO classification.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Before and After: My letter got amputated by the Straits Times

We should allow peaceful public demonstrations

(Original Version sent to Straits Times - Mar 20, 2008)

Dear Editor,

I refer to Paul Antony Fernandez’s letter ‘Advice to Chee: Don’t waste taxpayers’ money’ (ST, Mar 20), which was in response to the article ‘SDP holds illegal protest against rising consumer prices; 12 held’ (ST, Mar 16).

I agree with Fernandez that no government can appease all.

Nevertheless, a government should be willing to hear out the concerns of citizens, as expressed through various modes of non-violent and non-threatening communication.

Citizens should not only be entitled to praise the government, but also criticise it. Criticism also does not deserve to be excluded from the media domains in which praise inhabit.

While most of us are living a relatively “trouble-free” life as suggested by Fernandez, we should not quickly dismiss those who are saddled with problems such as the rising cost of living.

Fernandez may believe that a good government “will do its utmost to ensure that the majority are taken care off”, but I believe a good government strives to take care of all its citizens, whether belonging to a majority group, or a minority group.

If minority groups or aggrieved peoples are unable to express their concerns or be heard, they should at least deserve fair representation. The Chee-led demonstration is such a representation.

We should rethink the notion of demonstrations in Singapore in the 21st Century, and not let the ghosts of the turbulent 1960s haunt us or legitimise draconian control mechanisms on public demonstrations. History in that sense should be a lesson for us to learn, not a yoke or a pair of blinkers citizens are obliged to wear.

We should also problematise the oft-quoted notions of ‘public interest’ and ‘public safety’ as Singapore is multi-layered and of diverse interests. If at all, peaceful public protests deserve police protection rather than police intervention. This symbolically and practically defends the rights of the citizen to voice his/her concerns.

I feel that peaceful public protests and demonstrations are an alternative to other state-sanctioned feedback channels. If views, criticisms and feedback get edited, censored or even thrown out, how else can the message be transmitted?

Maybe instead of mobilising huge police and riot squads to contain him, we should let Chee carry out his protest and be heard. Chee wants people to think about their condition and positions as citizens, not stir up violence and hatred.

Ho Chi Sam

(Edited version in Straits Times Forum - Mar 22, 2008)

Peaceful protests are part of life today

I refer to Mr Paul Antony Fernandez's letter on Thursday, 'Advice to Chee: Don't waste taxpayers' money', which was written in response to last Sunday's report, 'SDP holds illegal protest against rising consumer prices; 12 held'.

I agree with Mr Fernandez that no government can appease all.

Nevertheless, a government should be willing to hear the concerns of citizens, as expressed through various modes of non-violent and non-threatening communication.

Citizens should be entitled not only to praise the Government, but also, to criticise it. Criticism should not be excluded from the domain of the media.

While most of us live a relatively 'trouble-free' life, as suggested by Mr Fernandez, we should not quickly dismiss those who are saddled with problems such as the rising cost of living. Mr Fernandez may believe a good government 'will do its utmost to ensure the majority are taken care of', but I believe a good government strives to take care of all its citizens.

We should rethink the notion of demonstrations in Singapore in the 21st century, and not let the ghosts of the turbulent 1960s haunt us.

History should be a lesson for us to learn, not a yoke or a pair of blinkers citizens are obliged to wear.

Ho Chi Sam

Afterthoughts:
I feel very sad that my message did not get across. What happened to the parts in bold? It's not only edited, it was amputated.

Peaceful protests are part of life today

(Published - ST Forum. March 22, 2008)

I refer to Mr Paul Antony Fernandez's letter on Thursday, 'Advice to Chee: Don't waste taxpayers' money', which was written in response to last Sunday's report, 'SDP holds illegal protest against rising consumer prices; 12 held'.

I agree with Mr Fernandez that no government can appease all.

Nevertheless, a government should be willing to hear the concerns of citizens, as expressed through various modes of non-violent and non-threatening communication.

Citizens should be entitled not only to praise the Government, but also, to criticise it. Criticism should not be excluded from the domain of the media.

While most of us live a relatively 'trouble-free' life, as suggested by Mr Fernandez, we should not quickly dismiss those who are saddled with problems such as the rising cost of living. Mr Fernandez may believe a good government 'will do its utmost to ensure the majority are taken care of', but I believe a good government strives to take care of all its citizens.

We should rethink the notion of demonstrations in Singapore in the 21st century, and not let the ghosts of the turbulent 1960s haunt us.

History should be a lesson for us to learn, not a yoke or a pair of blinkers citizens are obliged to wear.

Ho Chi Sam

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Pardon my "PAP supporter" face!

I'm going to live in the opposition ward pretty soon. But that's besides the point. Upon signing the documents and stuff with the agent and the elderly sellers, we were talking about how decent the place is and that it was in the opposition ward. The agent, I think it was the agent, remarked that I, Sam, had a face belonging to a person who would vote for PAP.

It was an uneasy moment, but I laughed. But the incident got me wondering about something. I'm not referring to the insanely expensive housing prices, but rather to how political support in Singapore is imagined.

Political affiliation, as sometimes exercised through the vote, which comes by every five years, depending on the elections committee which decides for Singaporeans the best time to vote, is textured by elements of race, class and age.

One half of a young destined to be middle-class Chinese graduate couple, I speak decent English, poor Mandarin, broken Chinese dialect, and I look like someone whom you'll stare in the face for a minute and exclaim with doubt, "Are you PURE Chinese?"

What's "pure" Chinese by the way? Quite scary concept huh? Are you trying to insinuate I'm "unpure"? Do I deserve certain sanctions if I constitute your definition of "unpure"? Will you cleanse this impurity that is Sam? Final solution, any one?

We were buying the flat from an elderly couple, Chinese educated, of seemingly working class roots. So the "yuppie" couple (although I wished I had a yuppie wallet with yuppie money) comes in, English-speaking and all, and you call the boy a supporter of the PAP, just by his looks.

Yes, the PAP government is an institution of middle class values: meritocracy, democracy, technocracy, eugenics (graduate husband + graduate wife = graduate baby), 5 C's. Although it continually adopts and espouses anti-welfarism rhetoric, it is actually exercising socialist policies for the working class folk and the needy. This essentially connects the PAP government with working class folk, winning the working class vote.

Excellent political engineering. Reminds me of the Malay-isation of Singapore to improve Singapore's chance of a merger with Malaya to form Malaysia. I wouldn't call it a pro-Malay policy, but what still stands today is the adoption of a Malay-friendly policy which the PAP takes. You win the Malay vote.

I haven't researched much into politics in Singapore, so my views will be rather short. But I know that one strength the PAP has over the opposition parties is its ability to connect with the Malay population. It is a bit of a generalisation, but this is observed in the electoral contest of Aljunied, a constituency in which I currently reside. What I felt was pivotal to PAP's success in retaining the constituency (maybe they'll gerrymander again to improve their "legitimacy") is their Malay support, which is reflective of their pro-Malay policies. This is something the opposition need to build from the grassroots - engage Malay folk. Then again, most "Malays" in Singapore are not indigenous.

That's the good side of the PAP government. They do think about the ethnic minorities (although not sexual minorities), and also the underprivileged among the working class. When people come to hate the PAP government, they associate the men in white with fat salaries and technocratic and elitist divides.

I believe the disdain with the government is viewed through a working class lens, which makes a critique of elitism and disconnect a lot more damning. The working class frustration against the middle class values and normalities is extended to the government, which is profiled and ascribed with these characteristics. It's like an internet witch-hunt and all you have to do is slap a "Wee Shu Min" mask on some other person.

What is ironic is that the articulate and internet savvy presumably middle-class folk, actually adopt the working class analysis/critique of the government and speak the same way like they do. In using the working class rhetoric to criticise the government, the middle class in a way damns itself.

The "sandwiched" class should speak from the patty where it belongs and not from the bottom bun.

Going back to my experience of being called the guy with the "PAP supporter" face, the worker class seems to internalise a belief that all things English-educated (unpure) Chinese-raced mostly middle-class guys like myself essentially belong to what they imagine as PAP. My face, behaviour and voice become conflated into all things PAP, as perceived by them.

They believe that PAP is middle-class, English-educated Chinese, materialist and potentially elitist. I get profiled accordingly and associated with this description. Profiling someone and having their identity associated/conflated into another category/domain is beyond the action itself. It is layered with undertones of racial, class and age. That's how one creates the differentiation that goes beyond defining the "other".

It's a bit sad that certain forms of rhetoric are used to shape and limit our realities and experiences, which leads to a different understanding and appreciation of these meanings and symbols. Being blinkered by the rhetoric, we may miss out on other aspects of life and the experiences that might enrich us and empower us with different perspectives.

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

"Mas Selamat" does not exist

(Please don't take the above headline literally...)

I had been preparing to write about the transsexuality and transgenderism and their relationship with the moral rhetoric. I had also wanted to write about the meaning of “scholar” and “scholarship” in Singapore. But I guess there is no point talking about the unmaterialised and the invisible.

In Singapore, however, there is reason and motivation to talk about the invisible, namely one Mas Selamat Kastari.

Knowing that a dangerous man has escaped will definitely be a cause for concern for most who treasure being safe. Other than that, I am not very concerned about Mas Selamat the man, but Mas Selamat the concept.

But first, as a citizen, the efficient and truthful delivery and dissemination of information matters to me. In a social contract and obligation with the state of the nation which identifies itself as Singapore, I identify myself as a Singaporean and I have given up certain liberties to enjoy the safety and security measures the state has striven to take.

The only means by which my want for information can be satiated is an efficient and truthful answering of questions by the Home Affairs Ministry and the government. As an ordinary citizen, under the obligated care of the state, I believe I have the right to know all the accounts of ISD personnel on that fateful day, I have the right to see the security footage which serves as proof and substantiation of these accounts, I have the right to know the physical condition of Mas Selamat, a fellow Singaporean, prior to his escape, and I have the right to ask further questions and be entertained.

The withholding of information should not be justified by the internal/independent investigation process. If a dangerous man has escaped confinement or incarceration, the following questions should be promptly addressed:

1) When did he escape?
2) How did he escape?
3) What did he wear when he escaped?

And all of the above should be supported with video and photographic evidence. Without that, Singaporeans will speculate because Singaporeans are not media illiterate cultural dopes. Remember the case of Dave Teo Ming?

There will be (audacious) speculation, which will be more than unnecessary:

1) As to whether he is already dead and the whole incident is made up for whatever purpose.
2) News of his escape is aimed towards baiting other supporters and terrorists.
3) This is just a nationwide “firedrill”.

Now, moving on from here, I am more focused on "Mas Selamat" the concept.

I actually gave up reading the newspapers as early as the third day of his escape. I have observed that most of the interviews and opinions gathered are either from central public figures or ordinary Singaporeans.

Jean Baudrillard wrote the book ‘The Gulf War Did Not Take Place’. And the whole escape saga and accompanying (mainstream and internet) media frenzy reminded me of Baudrillard’s work, but of course after much stretching.

Conceptually, Mas Selamat does not exist. Conceptually, his escape did not take place. In essence, Mas Selamat and his escape are constructed. What the layperson knows of him is a constitution of imaginations, which are fed by messages disseminated by the media. Do you want press releases and opinions for information, or would you rather have accounts for information?

The state and media constructions of the episode are essential to the layperson’s understanding of the episode – of Mas Selamat and his escape. His profile is one that has been created in the wake of an allegedly true incident. He is a short ethnic minority, who limps and is very dangerous – a dark-skinned man who can survive in the woods given his training in the country known as Afghanistan, and Afghanistan is subject to the geographical imaginings of people who are exposed to globalised news media.

The creation of the “folk devil” is essential too. It will contribute to further legitimise the ISA and increased surveillance in the country. At the same time, it serves to unite Singaporeans, creating this siege/bunker mentality that has so often been articulated in rhetoric of Singapore being a small nation with no natural resources, Singapore being the Israel of Southeast Asia and so on.

By “creating” an air of uncertainty, you unite the herd of sheep under one central leadership and authority. A unity, whether at the level of the conscious, unconscious, or both, is good enough to deflect attention away from other issues that confront the Singaporean dream. The rhetoric will be, “Yes, we can carry on with our lives, but we must be vigilant. Thus our understanding of and direction towards pragmatism will be enframed by the value and virtues of vigilance”.

The media is also cautious in reporting the incident. The dominant status quo remains that way because it does not have the intestinal fortitude for media panics, unless these panics are aimed at marginalised persons and peoples that pose a threat to the norms and values of the establishment.

On a side note, media relations, on the part of the authorities, should also be critiqued. I am not surprised members of the task forces assigned and mobilised to conduct the investigation and search for the wanted man, are instructed to say "no comment" when approached by journalists and leave the answering of questions to the trained media experts of the organisation. And of course, a gag order/"no blogging about it" will have probably been imposed on personnel associated with the incident, investigation and search. Ultimately, another question will be raised: Which is more important, the image and legitimacy of the state authority or the safety of citizens?

“Mas Selamat” is not real and will continue to be unreal until Singaporeans see the video footages of his escape and hear the truthful and unedited accounts of personnel overseeing his confinement and wellbeing.

The secret police is simply becoming more secretive.

I recommend a little more prompt honesty and transparency on the part of the paternal state.

And I also hope, other than wanting the man to be found, that such people will rethink their violent and terrorist tactics. Then again, terrorism is a reflection of how legitimate "'in'-group" society conducts itself.