Migrant bodies exist

This article is cross-posted from Alice News


Migrants face a number of life threatening situations in the process of migration. However, the ´life threats´ to which they are exposed to after the migration process is completed are no less dangerous. These threats unveil a range of perspectives through which a human being is considered much less than human, and they tell a lot about the level of in-humanity that exists within the institutions of the states of the neoliberal market society in 2019.

One such example is that of the story of Singh, this article is to honour him. While not the story of a fictitious character, Singh was a real person whose body was alive until a few days ago. One could argue that he has never fully existed in Italy, where his body had survived for the last nine years of his life. In India, his country of birth, he was unable to feel that he was living a dignified existence. This is proven by the fact that he decided to quit the state of Punjab and migrated to a country that gave him hope, but did so only through very poor and precarious life conditions. In Italy, he worked as seasonal collector of vegetables and fruits, for long hours and for a poor salary. In Punjab, he left a family, a community, a language, a social context, and all that could grant him some sort of security in life and give him a meaningful existence. In Italy, Singh had no other option than go to work by bike on country roads where cars pass by very quickly. The day in which he was hit by a car, he was simply left on the ground. The driver of the car did not consider Singh’s body to be more valuable than the complications they would incur by admitting to the accident and the related responsibility of having committed it. Therefore, the driver left without providing assistance to him and the state´s institutions had to play their role.

For a moment of Singh´s life, his disfigured body forced the institutions to recognize him, to touch him and to attempt to save him. The public hospital could not reject life-saving treatments, however Singh had to pay the cost of bodily recognition with his own life.
The injury Singh suffered was profound, as a brain surgeon had to remove part of his head, leaving it to be greatly asymmetrical while a plate replaced what used to be his right temple. Singh’s life would never be the same as he was mentally and physically impaired, and as a result he would not be able to go back to work or to Punjab. His body would be constrained to a bed for the rest of his life.

Singh’s body needed lifelong care, and this was not something that could be provided for him by a normal hospital. Therefore, he was brought to a private hospice. These kinds of private clinics are very well-equipped in terms of accommodation and medical facilities. They are prepared for those members of society that need constant assistance and whose families cannot or do not want to take care of them. Each “guest” pays a monthly fee that is roughly equivalent to the salary of a schoolteacher, or more depending on extras.

Singh had a brother in England, the relative that was living closest to him. Singh’s brother learned about the accident but could not do much apart from visiting him. At some point he had informed the doctor of the clinic that he intended to bring his parents to Italy in order to take care of his brother. This never happened as Singh’s family had to face the dramatic truth: they had lost Singh when he decided to migrate, and the accident took his body away.

After the accident, Singh, a nice man of around 35 years of age, was ready to eat voraciously whatever food was offered to him in the public hospital. Visiting him with a pack of biscuits would be a nice surprise for him. However, over the last few months in the hospice he had ostentatiously lost weight. A month before his body died, Singh was reduced to a few kilos, while his legs were so skinny that the arm of a young person would easily be of the same size. Singh was fully aware that his body was slowly disappearing and he cried out in pain. But his cry was disturbing because his body was “useless” and even “abusive” in that condition.

When asked why Singh was so skinny, the nurse responded that she could not provide such information and in any case one should talk to the doctor. A few days after his death the doctor responded simply by saying: “you know, Singh[‘s body] was removed a part of his brain, it was not easy to understand what he wanted”. The subtle implication that Singh did not eat because he was not clear about being hungry is a horrifying contradiction.

The doctor was not able to say what was Singh’s cause of death. He was only able to say that it could have been due to a stroke or a heart attack. However, he added, “it occurred while Singh[’s body] was sleeping”. The implication that “his body died without suffering” is a macabre implication that his body was simply misplaced, if its sufferance could ever be identified as such.

The doctor would not explain much more of the basic information about Singh. The less one asked about a disturbing death body, the better.

Singh’s story tells many things about the relations between neoliberal market politics and migrations. It shows how many times a person’s existence can be negated. Singh was not born in a rich context, nor from a rich family, and therefore he was never fully established as a human being. Human beings are entitled to basic human rights and they can protect themselves through socio-economic affluence. A poor Indian in Italy cannot afford to enforce one’s rights, his bodily needs were left with global charity. Italy impaired his life and “compensated” by slowly keeping his body alive. This proves that migrant bodies exist.

Singh, as a person, has never really existed in the neoliberal market, as many others. Singh was unfortunate for his accident, but many others that “survive” are obliged to live their non-existence in the underground. Their body-existence serve as “little mechanism” in the big scale of global production. What carries them on is the hope to finally come to life, thereby going beyond their body, achieve a recognized social status.

Many, as Singh, try to cross the line of the abyss of bringing their body to a real existence. Migration is an instrument to cross through the impossible. Many like him remain marginal bodily mechanisms in a different geographical place. Those who succeed, however, give strength to the general narrative of migration. The resulting hope is a reiterating force of a bigger apparatus that helps to reproduce “little mechanisms” and neutralize struggles for different kinds of expectations and apparatuses, but it also exposes the contradictions of neoliberal market society.

Meet the author

Cristiano Gianolla studied Computer Science, Philosophy (BA), Political Philosophy (MA), Human Rights and Democratisation (E.MA), Sociology and Political Science (PhD) in Italy, Germany and Portugal. He has been a junior researcher at the Centre for Social Studies of the University of Coimbra, Portugal, and he integrated the ALICE Project (ERC). Since 2017, he is a researcher in the same institution where he currently integrates the ECHOES project (Horizon 2020). He authored two books and a number of scientific articles.

One thought on “Migrant bodies exist

  1. Hi
    I have read your blog. You provide excellent information about the human rights of migrant workers. But in Dubai there is the kafala system which ties a migrant worker to their employers, who act as their sponsors and makes it difficult for them to change employers. The migrant workers are not able to change their jobs, they didn’t get the wages at the right time and also low wages are provided to these migrants. To stop this violation we have to submit the petition by visiting the website:- “www.humanrightsdubai”.


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