being brown

Posts tagged “politically correct

Coloured? I am!

I have learnt that in Tamil if you hear, “nalla colour da, macchaan” (“good colour dude”), it is usually a comment made by a guy to another guy about the skin colour of a passing lady who is ‘fair’. What a contrast to what ‘colour’ means in the western world of skin tones.

In yesterday’s episode of Neeya? Naana? Host Gopinath began the show by asking participants to describe the specific features that made them beautiful. Interestingly, nobody mentioned skin colour as their single most defining feature of beauty. Responses included features, smiles, vivacity, etc. The next question was which colour (fair/dusky- the dark people would rather be called dusky than dark!), they thought was beautiful and why? The answers came pouring forth. I watched as self-assured women made a case for what they perceived to be their own skin colour. ( interestingly those who considered themselves ‘fair’ wouldn’t pass for fair in Bombay.They would possibly fall under that unique category of skin colour exclusive to India, wheatish)The ‘fair’ brigade said that all kinds of colours suited their skin tone; all kinds of jewelry, from gold to silver to platinum showed up on their skin tone; their skin tone gave them an educated look; it provided the trump card in most arranged marriage situations. The ‘dusky’ brigade said that they could in fact carry off light coloured clothes the way their fair sisters couldn’t; their skin tone allowed for a clearer definition of features; their eyes and teeth shown in contrast to their dark skin. Political incorrectness to the hilt, sure! But the candour must be applauded!

In a country that is obsessed with skin colour, I thought this show was imperative. Fair & Lovely and Fair & Handsome are doing extremely well here and the reason might have a lot to do with the pursuit of that elusive Caucasian colour.  And instead of some kind of simmering resentment among the young, airing politically incorrect opinions out in the open might just do the trick.

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When Sedition became Sexy

Arundhati Roy had a case of sedition filed against her. She is a sexy woman but that didn’t make sedition sexy. It just made the government look silly. Binayak sen, though, was charged with sedition and waging war against the Indian state; he was committed to life in prison for the same and that made sedition sexy.

Victim of national paranoia

Victim of national paranoia

The equanimity with which some people are taking this horrific tale of injustice is mildly unnerving. On Barkha Dutt’s show, We the People, the ‘oh so reasonable’ Swapan Dasgupta, with his impeccable English concedes that even if Sen was guilty of sedition, the penalty is over the top. However, do not lose heart, he says. Because, as another guest points out, the Indian judiciary has a redressal system that is good enough to set wrongs right. Of course, he meant that the case will go on appeal and a higher, saner court will topple this ridiculous ruling. Little regard is given to the fact that the man will, in all probability, lose many years of his life, looking for justice in this remarkable judicial system that has mechanisms of redress. Suffice it to say, the time spent in different courts will amount to his lifetime- the sentence for life is not looking that ridiculous, is it?

Swapan goes on to say, the magistrate has just interpreted the law and there is no need to think that the Chattisgarh court is in some kind of conspiracy with the government to put Binayak Sen in prison. He is trying to remove the political context from the judgment because civil society assumes that context and that’s why it is outraged. But 10-15 minutes in to the discussion, he contradicts himself when he says that the judgment has been taken with a context in mind. The context being that some number of people, police and civilians were killed by the Maoists. Indeed the judge seems to have said something to the effect of how he would normally have been sympathetic had it not been for the larger issue of Maoism. This convenient politicizing and depoliticizing is what makes Swapan the hawk that he is.

Harsh Mander, also on the show, amply illustrates the paranoid context that really is in play in this judgment. He alludes to a POTA-type draconian law that makes the way the evidence has been assessed and evaluated or used questionable. This law is specific to the state. In the commercial break during the Big Fight programme, an ad by the Chatisgadh government was aired. It was an animation advertisement about the terror unleashed by the Naxals and how the Government of Chattisgadh itself is inclined towards ‘jeeney ka haq’ or the ‘right to life’. If it is true that the sessions court judge himself conceded that he might have been more lenient had the situation been ‘normal’, he is himself setting the paranoid tone for the context. His own argument is in line with the Government of Chattisgadh.

This paranoid response of a state, both legislative and judiciary, to an innocent man’s ( forget his service to the less privileged) is eerily reminiscent of that other witch-hunt in another ‘democratic’ country spear headed by McCarthy. And, like in that other case, it just shows the failure of the state.


The Journalist Menace Just got Worse

(Curiously, this isnt about the Raadia tapes or the Wikileaks.)

Nothing, I repeat, nothing spoils my day more than a crappy piece of journalism. And to read one in the newspapers, early in the morning after my walk is even worse. This morning, after my beautiful jog in the park that made me feel on top of the world yet again, I was confronted with this article in the Bangalore Mirror. The Eunuch Menace Just got Worse. The picture was much larger and the elephantine headline seemed to jump of the paper and have a life of its own. Needlesstosay, my day went downhill after that.

The article was about how a cop, a constable, was attacked by two transvestites/ transsexuals and how the police, who were incensed by this travesty were looking for these ‘eunuchs’ in the ‘eunuch’ part of the city.

I come from Bombay, and we have our share of impoverished transsexuals who accost people at traffic signals. Once, one of them spat at me because I did not give her money. But, I have seen them often when not working/begging. I have seen them at the door of the local train, talking loudly about the price of something or the other, gossiping about ‘that one’ and ‘this one’, much like the other women in that compartment and the men in the compartment next door. They beg for a living because society has made it next to impossible for them to live a dignified life. Remember, society is also the one that says that to give charity to transsexuals and to get their blessings is akin to being blessed by god. With such circumstances, the blame for the ‘menace of eunuchs’ can hardly be laid at the door of the eunuchs.

And yet there are those hijras who have come out of the vicious cycle of humiliation, poverty and violence. I am reminded, instantly, of that Tamil show host Rose. She hosts this talk show called Ippadikku Rose and has a dignified and open attitude towards many social issues. And then there is that hijra who was elected as the mayor of a city in Madhya Pradesh. These are wonderful success stories where transsexuals/ transvestites have come to their own despite all odds. And for each of these success stories, there are atleast a hundred more that are constantly trying and hoping.

To title an article “ The eunuch menace just got worse’ and to go on and report one instance of attack is criminal insensitivity of the highest order and shoddy journalism at the least. If two men were to attack me, abuse me and steal from me, I would hardly expect the Bangalore Mirror to write an article entitled “The Menace of Men Just got Worse”.

Halfway through the article, the author says, “As a cop, he has been trained to deal with anti-social elements, but the attack by the eunuchs came as a shocker.” There is an obvious lack of alertness and preparation by the cop. Understandable, he was going home after a long day and did not expect anything untoward to happen. But one wonders why the ‘attack by the eunuchs came as a shocker’. Would he have been better able to deal with an attack from men/women? Would it have come as less of a shocker?

The writer continues, “Humiliated at one of their colleagues from the state police headquarters falling prey to eunuchs, the Kamakshipalya cops launched a major search operation to track down the offenders.” Why this sudden humiliation at being attacked by eunuchs? What is it about attacks by men that doesn’t hurt people’s pride. Irrespective of who attacks whom, the police should be humiliated for not bringing attackers to book. Unfortunately, the inability to do ones job doesn’t elicit emotions like humiliation.

Further in the article, it is said “Police inspector N H Ramchandraiah said: “I dispatched a few teams in search of the two hijras. They were sent to Magadi Road and in other areas of Basveshwaranagar where most hijras stay. We are still clueless but hope to nab them soon.” One can only imagine what is going on in these places now. Innocent hijras are probably being rounded up beaten and searched at this moment. Talk about humiliation!

Transvestites/ transsexuals are subjected to humiliation at every step of the way. With greater activism on the sexual minority rights front, one hopes that time will change this aspect of their life.  But this highly insensitive article only goes to show that this time is stretching to the horizon.

 


Twisting and turning through political correctness

Deepa (name changed) is a writer, apart from being a friend. She is a writer and true to being a writer, she is concerned with the use of words. She took issue with me for using the word ‘boy-cut’ to allude to a type of hairstyle that …well, quite frankly…….is alluded to in India, as a boycut. The term is understood by every Indian as a haircut that resembles a boy and his hairstyle, ordinarily. Stereotypically , the hairstyle requires a short crop, exposing the whole neck and neatly framing the ears. She was bothered by the use of the term, she said, because it was stereotypical and, therefore, not politically correct.

Another acquaintance, also conscious of political correctness in language, was aghast at my use of the word ‘common man’ in referring to the lay person. She felt that ‘common person’ would not only be more appropriate but also more sensitive and take into consideration all people. The same individual (there! I used a gender neutral term) objected to my use of ‘brethren’ when talking of a certain people. In indignation, I was asked, “well, what about sistren?”

I am reminded now of my friend, Steve (name changed), whose friend objected to his use of the term ‘person’ to refer to an individual. Apparently, the word is derived from ‘per son of Adam and Eve’. So the politically correct term would be ‘per descendant’. (Ofcourse, the fact that the descendant continues to be of Adam and Eve and not of Ram and Sita, Mohammed and one of his wives or the monkeys of evolution fame, does not seem to irk people’s political correctness).

I have been, sometimes, called a ‘midget’ to bring focus to my short stature. Ofcourse, this is done to tease me. I did not realize how insensitive this statement was until I met an American doctor to whom I mentioned that the word is used to tease me. Fleetingly, I saw shock pass across her face and immediately she donned a smile to hide her confusion.

So what is political correctness in language? And are all these instances, variations of the same theme? Then why do some appear more serious than others? And some absolutely absurd?

Take, for example, my interaction with our friend Deepa. Was she right? Yes. It is a stereotype. It says that boys usually have this haircut. And girls usually don’t have this haircut. So yes, it is a stereotype. Stereotypes are cognitive simplifications and categorizations, that ALL human beings make, to efficiently process information. So, for example, if a person is catholic and believes in prolife, it is natural for us to assume that she/he is religious and her/his prolife stance comes from her/his religiousness . But that might not be the case. However, when these stereotypes are used as category tools to differentiate, prejudice and discriminate against a group of people, then stereotypes become dangerous. Does the word ‘boycut’ discriminate against boys with that cut or girls with that cut or boys without that cut or girls without that cut? No. Does the word ‘midget’, on the other hand, imply any kind of discrimination. Yes. It carries the weight of historical abuse and political oppression of a people based on their height and physical development. Is it politically wrong? Yes. Is it wrong? Yes.

My sister and I have always been told to be correct. Correctness, it was explained to us, was to behave and talk in a way that doesn’t hurt people around you. Yes we have our prejudices, but sort those out in your own time, we were told. To make people comfortable in your company was your responsibility. It was necessary to understand the historical and political implications of our words and deeds. We were told to be vigilante and introspective. Perhaps ‘correctness’ can be used as a measure to keep from doing ‘political correctness’ to death. Because when you do political correctness to death, you kill it for all the small people , which would be plain wrong.