It is a popular notion that crossing one’s arms is a sign of being unwelcoming of someone or something. In response to a person folding hands to say namaste once, the recipient said, “Did you know that in the context of slavery, namaste was understood by a master to be submissive?” The crossing of arms fits into a similar narrative; a submissive person may cross their arms and hang their head down to avoid direct eye contact with a person who has assumed power.
I came across this scenario a few days ago. A person I associate with through my work- a person with long years of experience of working with vulnerable communities, crossed their arms while speaking. He did that out of habit and in a matter of two seconds, his team mate who sat beside him, pushed his arms down in the attempt to stop him from doing that. Since then, I have been thinking about learned behaviours.
A few weeks ago, Kasi, a man who was exploited inhumanely as a bonded labourer, fell on his knees to seek freedom. It was an intimate moment in his life where he ‘begged’ for mercy – mercy he was not entitled to get from his exploiter. It is safe to assume that in the hardest days of his life, he might have fallen on his knees and bowed down before his ‘owner’ begging for freedom.
Slavery is complex in nature; you needn’t be in shackles to be a slave anymore. However, the profile of a slave remains more or less the same – someone who belongs to the lower strata of the caste system, someone born into abject poverty, someone who is understood to not have any rights or freedom or is not aware of their rights or freedom, someone who doesn’t have bargaining power or simply the matter of choice, that you and I enjoy.
Slave mentality can be described as attitudes including feelings of inferiority. Feeling lost without hope, a feeling that we do not have the power to significantly alter our own circumstances. Such a mentality leads to developing habits such as crossing of arms and falling on knees. Will slavery ever end? That is a question I am in the quest to find an answer to.