Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Does It Matter That Purvi Patel's Baby Was Mixed-Race?


[image source: YouTube]
by Sharon H. Chang

In February/March of this year Purvi Patel, a 33-year-old Indian-American woman, became the first woman in the U.S. to be charged, convicted and sentenced for feticide and child neglect over the loss of her late-term fetus.

It started with barely a hunch. I read, "resulted from...relationship with a married co-worker," "didn't want her conservative Hindu parents to know," "shouldn't have sex outside of marriage," and a light bulb was dimly lit in my mind. I reflected on those words and in them I saw boundaries, boundary-crossing: (cis)female/male, married/unmarried, Hindu/non-Hindu, proper/improper, faith/fear, expectation/defiance. The light bulb grew brighter; an unformed contemplation sat vaguely in the corner. Then other details emerged: immigrant/American, authority/subordinate, empowered/disempowered, justice/injustice. The light bulb grew even brighter, illuminating an idea that stood up and stepped forward out of shadow.

Patel being from an immigrant family in the U.S., living unmarried in an inter-generational conservative household, supporting her Indian parents, hiding her pregnancy, having to negotiate her culture of origin within home against a vastly different mainstream American culture out of home. Here was a highly racialized gender-baised case rife with all parties exploding because of fences being traversed. I suddenly and reflexively thought to myself with clarity, "I bet the baby was mixed-race."

And guess what? It was.

Now before you jump to the conclusion the baby was Asian/white (which is so often the assumption when Asian women conceive mixed-race children) let me fast stop you. Very little mention has been made of the baby's biological father but a some sources allege he is Hispanic. According to WNDU.com when Purvi's own father, Nic Patel, took the stand in January he gave this testimony:

While the Hindu religion does not allow for pre-marital sex, [Nic Patel] said he would have loved his daughter’s child and would have welcomed it into the family home anyway, even though the apparent father was Hispanic, not Hindu. (bold mine)

Nic Patel testified their household is strictly Hindu and that he taught the religious principles of no sex outside marriage. He also testified he would prefer his daughter married within the Hindu faith but would love her regardless.
WNDU.com reported the father saying he prays at least two hours a day. He also said he would have loved his daughter’s child and would have welcomed it into the family home anyway, even though the apparent father was Hispanic, not Hindu.
- See more at: http://www.americanbazaaronline.com/2015/01/30/purvi-patel-feticide-trial-father-says-welcomed-baby-despite-impregnated-hispanic-lover/#sthash.iRXPmE4k.dpuf
Nic Patel testified their household is strictly Hindu and that he taught the religious principles of no sex outside marriage. He also testified he would prefer his daughter married within the Hindu faith but would love her regardless.
WNDU.com reported the father saying he prays at least two hours a day. He also said he would have loved his daughter’s child and would have welcomed it into the family home anyway, even though the apparent father was Hispanic, not Hindu.
- See more at: http://www.americanbazaaronline.com/2015/01/30/purvi-patel-feticide-trial-father-says-welcomed-baby-despite-impregnated-hispanic-lover/#sthash.iRXPmE4k.dpuf
Nic Patel testified their household is strictly Hindu and that he taught the religious principles of no sex outside marriage. He also testified he would prefer his daughter married within the Hindu faith but would love her regardless.
WNDU.com reported the father saying he prays at least two hours a day. He also said he would have loved his daughter’s child and would have welcomed it into the family home anyway, even though the apparent father was Hispanic, not Hindu.
- See more at: http://www.americanbazaaronline.com/2015/01/30/purvi-patel-feticide-trial-father-says-welcomed-baby-despite-impregnated-hispanic-lover/#sthash.iRXPmE4k.dpuf
You should also know that shortly after Purvi was admitted to the hospital post-miscarriage for heavy bleeding and underwent a surgical procedure, she was questioned by Detective Galen Pelletier for an hour in her hospital room. This interrogation was taped and later shown to jurors in her trial. PRI reported Emma Selm of the Indiana Religious Coalition for Reproductive Justice watched the recording and noticed:

"[The officer] asked about, 'So who's the father of this baby?'... [Patel] acted kind of embarrassed, like she didn't want to talk about it. And he said, 'Was it a one night stand or something? Oh, and was he Indian too' He kept going on about 'was he Indian and where is he?'" (bold mine)

But this all said, does it really matter that Purvi Patel's baby was mixed-race? Does that one fact matter in the midst of everything that's been going on here? Yes. Of course it does. I think it actually matters a lot. NOT AT ALL as validation for the pro-life stance this case got pushed into or the way anti-Asian anti-abortion legislation was abused/leveraged to achieve a twisted, grossly unjust conviction. No. The fact of the baby's mixedness (if it was mixed) matters hugely because of what it represents, uncovers, reveals about the way this entire debacle unfolded.

It matters that Nic Patel said he would have welcomed the mixed-race child "anyway" even though its bio-father (and by association the baby itself) was non-Hindu, Hispanic. It matters that the baby would have been an outlier to a degree and as such, representative of something outside the strict nuclear/extended family values Purvi felt beholden to. It matters that the white officer who interviewed a likely traumatized Purvi post-miscarriage (but cooperative nonetheless) was fixated on whether or not her baby's bio-father was "Indian too". It matters that it was then this same U.S. authority that stole her rights, condemned and convicted her. It matters that the entire case made against Purvi hinged upon debating, justifying, going over in gross/upsetting detail the treatment of her baby's physical body. And that body -- was a mixed one.

Mixed-race bodies become a stage upon which global politics play out

All this matters because it points to the sexist, racist and patriarchal systems that cornered Purvi in the first place, and then punished her for ending up in the spotlight. All this matters because it points to the sociopolitical boundaries that uphold these systems and how vigilantly those boundaries continue to be policed. How crossing any of these boundaries (racial, gender, faith, class, immigrant, etc.) can range from othering, ostrasizing, alienating, to terrifying, dangerous, even life-threatening. And how women of color, their sexuality and children - sitting at the crossroads of multiple boundaries - are particularly vulnerable in a volatile minefield set up from the start to disadvantage them.

I've often made the argument that mixed-race bodies become a stage upon which global politics play out. In some ways, America encapsulates this tense theater better than anywhere else with its growing diversity, immigrant and mixing populations. A lot of politics are contentiously exploding/battling at the intersection of American multiraciality today though the U.S. is struggling greatly to talk about what that means in relationship to itself. In the 25th edition of his well known book Orientalism, Edward Said wrote sagely:

How can one today speak of "Western civilization" except as in large measure an ideological fiction, implying a sort of detached superiority for a handful of values and ideas, none of which has much meaning outside the history of conquest, immigration, travel and the mingling of peoples that gave the Western nations their present mixed identities? This is especially true of the United States, which today cannot seriously be described except as an enormous palimpsest of different races and cultures sharing a problematic history of conquests, exterminations, and of course major cultural and political achievements.

I think we know this to a point and talk about in in limited terms. We're generally willing to weigh mixed-race into conversations about appearance, identity formation, media representation, celebrities, advertising etc. (which is most of the mixed-race writing I see). But I also believe we like to relegate conversations about what mixed-race means to intellectual "safe" spaces and have a hard time or even resist seeing the bigger picture. And this is where the fact of Purvi's baby being mixed holds tremendous import for us personally.

Insulating our mixed-race thinking moves it into abstraction and ineffectiveness and we need to broaden our scope. I know it's excruciatingly painful to allow that mixed-race is also at play in Purvi Patel's case which comprises so many devastating components: miscarriage, death, a baby's corpse, reproductive rights, state violence against women of color and unjust incarceration. Nevertheless it does. And I issue a warning now. As more and more people in this country start identifying with "2 or more races" we cannot disconnect mixed-race from racist, oppressive realities. We need to understand mixed-race from a historical, politically critical and resistant point of view. Because it is only when we hold this critical, resistant multiraciality that we will be able to see in sharp pixels - despite the ache in our souls - the truth of Purvi's conviction as the tragic tale of a society that cared more about its sociopolitical boundaries than the honor, humanity and dignity of a mother, her loss, and her lost mixed-race child.

Purvi Patel, better times [source: WSBT]



5 comments :

  1. Sharon, a Black lawyer told me that laws are made to oppress. The more I look, the more oppression I see.

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  2. What's crazy, do you think a lawyer or judge would put his or her own daughter in jail for even one day for breaking this same law?

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  3. An important critique from Aruna D'Souza on Facebook who points out how politicized language is and how words like "baby" and "mixed-race" here, even though used with resistant intent, may in the end just reproduce oppression of women's choices:

    "Patel did not have a baby -- her body naturally expelled a fetus. It is the particular egregiousness of the Indiana prosecutor that she was charged with feticide and baby killing -- the law says they are not the same thing, even in Indiana. Reproducing te confusion between the terms reproduces the horror of what was done to her...In refering to the fetus as a baby, you are reproducing the anti-choice language of fetuses becoming human subjects from the moment of conception (and therefore any action causing its demise is murder). And moreover, on this case, by refering to a fetus as a baby, you are reproducing the language that the procecutors used to charge her BOTH with feticide AND baby-killing. (A fetus cannot be a baby and vice versa -- they've charged her with killing both at once.) She did not have a mixed race or any other kind of baby. She did not have anything. There was a fetus. That's all there was."

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  4. Response to Aruna D'Souza from Daniel Benson on Facebook:

    "In all honesty [what I] find objectionable here is: 'She did not have anything. There was a fetus. That's all there was.' This being very close to my heart, it's very disrespectful to the many people that lost a child midterm or stillborn to denounce the humanity of their child. They suffer the pain and loss of having a new person in their life and you feel your cause gives you the right to invalidate that child??? I doubt that was your intention, but rest assured that's how it will be received by many."

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  5. Response to Aruna D'Souza from Peter FrankWomack Johannesen Osisi:

    "Interesting consideration. I am pro-life, but I disagree with the conviction against the mother. I think that is horrible (without knowing the details of the case other than she apparently abstains from doing anything to intentionally cause the death of her child). I do believe that life begins at conception and deserves protection accordingly. However the decision to prosecute the mor (mother) serms to reflect the chavinistic proprietary tendencies that pro-choice advocates admonish. A friend tells me a quote from Joan Chittister that conservatives who lobby for unborn baby rights and simultaneously lobby to cancel public welfare are essentially 'pro-birth' rather than 'pro-life' (essentially showing disregard for basic human life). And such individuals are essentially attempting to impose policy on the bodies of women rather than protecting life. The decision seems to be a 16th century American witch hunt. We can do better. Thanks for posting, Sharon. Love And Peace, Peter."

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