We are what we speak

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January 27th, 2013 Veenu Sandhu

Some weeks ago, while getting a flat tyre fixed at a petrol pump, I saw a middle-aged, and a rather distinguished-looking, gentleman walk up to a mechanic. It was a cold winter morning and he was wearing a hat and a red muffler. Perhaps he had come from one of the upscale localities near which this petrol pump was located. He looked like he belonged to Delhi’s educated and upwardly-mobile world.

These thoughts flashed in my mind as thoughts are wont to do and then other thoughts – of the many that keep our minds occupied during the course of the day – took over. Suddenly, an obscene abuse shouted out loud in Hindi interrupted everything and everybody at that petrol pump. All eyes turned to the source of the profanity. It was that man in the hat and the muffler – that ‘educated’, ‘civilised’ man. Expletives were pouring out of his mouth and the target of the cuss words was the mechanic who had messed up his car. The abuses that the man was shouting were aimed at the mechanic’s mother and sister. We all know those. We’ve heard them hundreds of times – on the streets, in shops, and in the movies. They are blurted out without a thought, sometimes even by us.

This incident at the petrol pump took place less than a month after the brutal rape of a 23-year-old in Delhi. The man in the hat was probably among those who had followed her story with horror and anger. And yet, here he was standing in a public place and shouting out expletives degrading to women.

In doing so, he displayed the attitude we as a society collectively have towards women. Even in our choice of expletives, we refer to the mother or the sister. When we want to hit out at a man, we will go for profanities targeted at the women in his house. It’s disturbing how often we hear such expletives today.

I remember the time when Shekhar Kapur’s film, Bandit Queen, on the life of Phoolan Devi hit theatres. There was immense curiosity about the film. Cinema halls were choc-a-bloc. The one I went to in Chandigarh had mostly students. Anybody who’s familiar with Chandigarh would know that this is a city where people choose to be proper. Life is easy and the reasons for losing your cool or abusing are few. And if you do abuse in public, you’re bound of invite several disapproving looks from the elderly uncles and aunties who are found in good measure in Chandigarh. Back in 1994, when the film was released, the city was even tamer and majority of the young folk minded their language. Bandit Queen, which is loaded with cuss words, soon had the women in the hall cringing. Given the subject and her life, I cannot imagine how else Shekhar Kapur could have delivered this brilliant film. So the movie wasn’t the problem. The problem was what I witnessed after the film. As they got out of the hall, the young men – mostly students from Chandigarh’s well-to-do, educated families – went berserk shouting profanities. They abused as they kick-started their scooters and bikes. They abused as they drove away. They abused as they crossed the women on their way. It was horrifying. All it had taken was a 119-minute film to cut through what was socially acceptable and have men switch over to the other side. In less than two hours, the film had shattered the veneer of decency which the society had been living with.

If I were to watch Bandit Queen with the same set of people today, I’m not sure the women would cringe the way they did then or the men would get out of the hall and shout out the expletives to celebrate their freedom from social and moral barriers. There’s no novelty associated with these expletives anymore. We hear them all too often now. And so we’ve progressed.

A behind-the-scenes video of Jackie Shroff which recent went viral on Facebook and Twitter shows just how far we’ve come. In this 1998 video, the actor is shooting for a pulse polio awareness advertisement in Hindi and Marathi. He keeps getting stuck on the sentences and rolls out a string of expletives degrading women. He does it again and again to the point that it is utterly disgusting. Yet, the social media was delighted and celebrated this video by posting it over and over again. Some serious news channels also carried the story and labelled Shroff’s obscene tirade as “hilarious abuses”. The man, instead of being censured for spewing such profanity, was suddenly back to being a hero.

If this is the way we are, then how can we as a people who allow or participate in such obscenity then turn around and put all the blame on the governments and the authorities when women get targeted? How much can things change until we change ourselves?

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2 Responses to “We are what we speak”

  1. Mayank Says:

    Very True.We need to understand the objectivity of the article.

  2. Mayank Says:

    Very True.We need to understand the objectivity of the article.

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