Of bans, blasphemy legal guidelines and politically appropriate language: Meanings of phrases are usually not solely contained in themselves


A blasphemy legislation proscribing a sure phrase might increase consciousness {that a} sure public habits is socially unacceptable, nevertheless it can not do very far more if the underlying attitudes have social acceptability.

Representational picture. REUTERS

Joining the Dots is a fortnightly column by creator and journalist Samrat during which he connects occasions to concepts, typically by evaluation, however often by satire.


It is the height of winter in every single place within the northern hemisphere, together with the nice metropolis of Kolkata. Like tens of millions of individuals all over the world, I’ve simply spent a complete yr attending to know my members of the family higher. On the uncommon events that I’ve stepped out in current occasions, I’ve been troubled by the sight of individuals strolling across the metropolis not sporting a necessary protecting protecting. I’m referring, after all, to the monkey cap. I don’t know what has occurred to my fellow Bengalis as of late. They are usually not sporting their monkey caps.

Back once I was rising up in Shillong, we used to see hordes of visiting Bengali vacationers throughout the summer season and Durga Puja holidays. Since Pujas are in autumn, when minimal temperatures in Shillong fall to as little as a Bengali-freezing 14 levels, the guests would step out correctly accoutered in opposition to the weather within the important multi-pack of topi, muffler and sweater. The topi to beat all topis was, after all, the balaclava or monkey cap. We might all the time recognise the vacationers each time we noticed a crowd with their heads and faces lined like financial institution robbers or Everest mountaineers, strolling across the streets searching for fish and rice eating places.

The affiliation of the Bengali with the monkey cap, typically made in a humorous method, is one thing that we’re all used to. It could also be that some individuals have began taking the jokes critically and consciously keep away from the stereotype. Or it might be that there’s nothing extra at work than fashions altering, and one wonderful day monkey caps and bell backside trousers will make a triumphant return. In any case, no offence is often taken to the humour round this stereotype – a uncommon instance in at the moment’s world, the place any joke about any group turns into speedy trigger for outrage.

The pushback in opposition to politically-incorrect humour, just like the pushback in opposition to the brand new farm legal guidelines, was led by individuals from Punjab. Journalist and author Khushwant Singh, who authored, amongst a lot else, a collection of standard joke books, was a kind of who confronted the warmth within the early days of activism in opposition to stereotypes in humour. In 2004, he obtained notices from the Shiromani Gurdwara Prabandhak Committee, the organisation that manages gurdwaras of north India, for his sardar jokes. Singh’s books, with their Santa-Banta references, nevertheless continued to publish and promote. Eventually, a bunch of court docket circumstances in opposition to such jokes was filed, and the matter reached the Supreme Court. The honourable judges requested how a ban could be enforced, and mentioned, “We are clear on the issue that the courts cannot lay down moral guidelines for citizens. We cannot issue guidelines to regulate individuals”. The court docket had additionally noticed that, “Today it is Sikhs. Tomorrow, people from the North East will come and seek a direction that there should be a ban on anyone referring to them as ch*nk*es. Day after that, the people living below Vindhyachal will seek a ban on North Indians referring to them as Madrasis”.

There is not any ban but on the phrase ‘Madrasi’ however the phrase ‘ch*nk*’ to consult with individuals from North East India is certainly banned now – not by the courts, however by the Home Ministry. The intention of the ban, instituted after the demise of a younger Arunachali man in Delhi following a battle that started with racial abuse, was to curb attitudes of racism in direction of individuals from the area in mainland India. This was maybe a crucial step to assist increase consciousness that such racial discrimination is improper.

However, there has by no means been any try and curb comparable attitudes within the North East itself, the place ethnic and racial tensions are commonplace and historical. Outsiders are known as ‘dkhar’ within the Khasi Hills, ‘vai‘ in Mizoram, ‘mayang‘ in Manipur, ‘bongal‘ in Assam. Different Naga tribes have their very own languages and totally different phrases for the outsider. There is even a well-liked acronym, ‘IBI’, which stands for ‘Illegal Bangladeshi Infiltrator’, which may be used for anybody whose identify, faith, linguistic background and look match the stereotype. Every state has its personal variations of the time period, and the reference is usually to ethnicity, race and faith, not residency and citizenship. These are due to this fact racial phrases. They are usually not utilized in jokes. They are utilized in all seriousness and have precise penalties for the “outsiders”, who represent native minorities that have confronted violent focused assaults down the years in varied elements of the area, and proceed to face stereotyping that may land them in detention camps even now.

Also learn on Firstpost — Unpacking ‘chinki’: Unlike ‘dkhar’, a term used for non-tribals, the slur is rooted in racial derision, power dynamics

And but…would banning all of the derogatory and infrequently racist phrases for outsiders within the North East change individuals’s attitudes? A blasphemy legislation proscribing a sure phrase might increase consciousness {that a} sure public habits is socially unacceptable, nevertheless it can not do very far more if the underlying attitudes have social acceptability. I keep in mind a dialog with an individual from the North East after the phrase ‘ch*n*’ was banned in India. Yes, she mentioned, the type of boys who used to name out that time period to harass her had stopped utilizing it. Now they have been shouting ‘momo’ as an alternative.

One can think about a scenario the place, steadily, your complete Tibetan and Chinese menu are banned by the federal government of India, however even that will not suffice to finish such verbal harassment, as long as boys catcalling ladies continues. Any phrase from ‘pancake’ to ‘banana’ to ‘ice cream’ could be perceived as pejorative or loaded with innuendo; the insult isn’t within the that means of the phrase however within the context and perceived intent of the speaker. This is why the worst abuses could be and certainly are sometimes used, particularly amongst college and faculty associates, as phrases of familiarity and even of endearment. The gaalis signify previous friendships. The identical phrases used on the street for a stranger would result in a right away altercation or battle.

The thought of politically appropriate language, and particularly of politically appropriate humour, misses an important level: the that means of a phrase isn’t solely contained within the phrase itself.

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