It started off innocently. People began using the term "politically correct" in the 1970s to be sure their views did not offend anyone else’s political sensibilities. The gesture acknowledged that the world was made up of those different from oneself. For a while, all was well.
Then suddenly, it wasn’t. Political correctness turned into a way for anyone who’d ever felt victimised to demand appeasement. Civil-rights activists and gender-equality champions got on board. Right wingers, left wingers, progressives and conservatives joined in. Godmen, culture-crusaders, agnostics, academics and scientists piped up too.
Four decades on, what you can and cannot say (and to whom you can and cannot say it) is a confounding minefield of madness. In America, Seattle’s people are not "citizens". The PC term is "residents" so as to include those without US citizenship. Pork producers in the West don’t want you calling the disease Swine Flu because it slights their profession.
In India, things are just as complicated. Our A-Z guide to figuring out what’s safe (and what might get you trolled, arrested or killed) covers not just your Ps and Qs but the whole alphabet. Want to add to the list? Tell us here...
A is for
The spin-off of the popular Adarsh Balak illustrations was created to poke fun at the worst stereotypes of Indian liberals – their support of Naxals and beef. Liberals, however, sportingly laughed along, reacting with posters lampooning the Adarsh Bhakt/Adarsh Sanghi (Drinks cow urine; Ready to ban documentary or movie). You can accuse someone of being an Adarsh Liberal to general good humour. But call someone an Adarsh Sanghi, and no one laughs.
You put people before policy? Prepare to be called anti-national on Twitter and told to "go live in Pakistan". See F for Five star Environmentalists.
Once ignored, now feared by religious fanatics. If you thought belonging to the “wrong” religion was bad, not following one is worse – atheists are immune to faith-based insults, and remain frustratingly rational through arguments.
B is for
You can show it on TV but the word will be bleeped out in the audio and the subtitles. Now a banned item in Maharashtra. When in doubt, say tenderloin.
When Ajmal Kasab’s lawyer lied about the terrorist demanding biryani in prison, the dish became a new way to fuel nationalistic sentiment. Your crimes don’t matter these days; it’s your food preferences that make you the villain.
Banned from Hindi cinema, as of February 2015, though other colonial names like Bangalore and Poona are inexplicably permitted. See C for Censor Board.
C is for
The organisation that believes that adult viewers need protection from 28 expletives, the word Bombay, (any) criticism of (mostly the Hindu) religion, and any depiction of sexual minorities. India’s movies can portray horrific violence, gore, misogyny and bike-riding godmen calling themselves God, but calling the city Bombay, that’s the real no no.
D is for
A much-criticised justification for women’s safety, say the defenders of women’s rights. A woman should be respected not because she is a daughter/mother/sister or wife, but because she is a woman. So while you should champion your right to watch the BBC documentary India’s Daughter, it’s alright to also question its title.
You have the right to complain, to disagree and to protest – as does your fellow countryman. But here’s what will land you in trouble (and worse, weaken your argument): slander, hate speech, personal attacks and threats of violence. And remember, if you’ve used a swear word, it doesn’t count as having the last word. See Freedom of Expression.
E is for
The good news: iOS 8 now comes with multi-ethnic emojis – male and female characters in shades of brown and black to reflect a diverse humanity. The bad news? Racist emoji jokes started doing the rounds on WhatsApp on the very first day.
The popular Twitter hashtag that proves that gender bias crops up in both petty and profound ways. Could you be sexist? Do a hashtag search to find out. And speaking of sexism, even the way you mention it can be sexist – most newspapers have stopped using the term ‘eve teasing’, which called to mind good-natured heckling instead of what it is: sexual harassment.
F is for Five-star environmentalist:
Any English-speaking middle- and upper-middle-class activist who values ecological balance over developmental policies. Don’t be confused about the five-star reference, many oppose the construction of five-star resorts in forest lands too.
Freedom of Expression:
Does your opinion threaten national security, defame someone or is in contempt of court? Zip it. Does it threaten public order, decency and morality or incite others to commit an offence? Sorry to break it to you, but zip it. Think you need to backtrack on some statements? You can’t. Somebody or the other has probably taken a screengrab already.
G is for
A fairer term for fairness creams. Other euphemisms include Radiance, Removes Pigmentation, Illuminating and Even-toned Skin. Think of it as an old bias in a new bottle.
Good Governance Day:
New name for Christmas Day in India after the PM’s office declared it a government working day last year.
H is for
How to tell if your opponent has run out of arguments? Look for the Führer. If an online discussion (regardless of topic) goes on long enough, sooner or later someone will bring up Hitler or Nazism.
How do you balance work and home?
A question you should not be asking women if you don’t plan on asking the same to men.
I is for
It’s your fault:
Satirical 2013 AIB video that mocked India’s victim-blaming rape culture. Two years and 47 lakh views later, the belief that rape is the woman’s fault still persists.
J is for
Scoff at serving no-onion, no-garlic cuisine at your restaurant? Sorry chefs, your bigotry is showing. If a Western-inspired menu can account for veganism, local produce and allergies, surely it can fit in religious restrictions.
Je suis Charlie:
Literally “I am Charlie”, the slogan showed solidarity with free speech and Islam when Islamic gunmen shot dead 12 people at the French satirical paper Charlie Hebdo for caricaturing the prophet Muhammad. Weeks ago, when terrorists attacked a university in east Kenya, separating the Muslims to kill nearly 150 others, it prompted the question: Why No #JeSuisKenya?
K is for
A new form of activism, as the Kiss Of Love protests showed last year. It kicked off in Kerala in November and was widely attended in several other cities despite opposition. For the record, you can kiss in public. Both the Supreme Court of India and Delhi High Court have made it clear that no criminal proceedings can be initiated.
L is for
Catch-all acronym for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgendered, queer, questioning, intersex, asexual, pansexual and other sexual minorities. Each subgroup will have its own ever- changing terminology as well. Just don’t call them “homos” – that’s a slur, or “gays”. Or say “That’s so gay” – that just shows you have a poor vocabulary.
M is for
Proof that jokes have power. Memes that depict public figures are now illegal in Russia because the state deems they harm the honour, dignity and business of the celebs. So Putin jokes will now come from ’Murica – isn’t that worse?
When Instagram user Rupi Kaur posted photos featuring menstrual blood to “demystify the period” last month, Instagram deleted them. Twice. What followed was a global uproar over demonising what is indeed normal. The pics are back if you want to see or ignore them.
Deepika Padukone collaborated with a fashion magazine to make a video about the ‘fashionable’ version of feminism. The reactions were infinite in all directions. Do you see an actress making a bold case for gender equality and personal free will? Or a celebrity distorting equality to endorse amoral selfishness and adultery? Your choice!
N is for
No matter what your faith, political affiliation or economic group, it’s overwhelmingly politically correct to support Net Neutrality. When it comes to standing up to greedy Internet service providers, we are one people, after all.
That pink-beige colour whose name seems to suggest skin, but really means white person’s skin. Activists are fighting to get Indian crayon manufacturers to stop calling their peach shade Skin or Flesh. When in doubt, call it Champagne.
O is for
Outrage/ Offence/ Opinion:
One is what everybody is free to have. One is what everyone has the right to give. One is a reaction to the other two. You have two minutes to solve this puzzle.
P is for
A way to feel better about your team’s loss at the World Cup. Cyber bullies attributed India’s defeat to the inauspicious and distracting presence of Virat Kohli’s girlfriend Anushka Sharma at the stadium. The wives and girlfriends of the opposing team, however, were no deterrent to their win.
American trend forecaster Gerald Celente popularised this term for a journalist or news company that pretends to be unbiased but is actually in the pockets of a political or corporate organisation. Known synonyms include Supari Journalists or Paid News. When the news and views are in a certain party’s favour, their preferred term is Unbiased Research.
What happens to a book in India if anyone, anywhere finds it offensive in any way. Unsold copies get recalled, undistributed ones get withdrawn and all pages are literally mushed into, well, pulp. Ebooks, however, multiply underground and the book lives forever.
Q is for
Looking to land a government job, admission to a college, darshan to a temple, or just a seat on a bus or train? How you view the Q word depends on your age, sex, religion, caste, if you have a disability, are a sportsperson, a victim of a terror attack, a child of a freedom fighter, a former military serviceperson, a tribal, domiciled or if you wrote a large cheque. None of the above? You’re General Category. You’ll be surprised how many people are still left in the general category.
R is for
In comedy, a roast evolved as a contrast to the toast – to poke fun at the guest of honour (with his consent) to amuse an audience. In India it’s not enough that the roaster or the roasted have a sense of humour. In the case of the AIB Knockout, at which Karan Johar roasted Ranveer Singh and Arjun Kapoor, everyone from the CM to Salman and Aamir Khan had something to be offended about, prompting apologies from AIB, and much rallying by defenders of free speech. Comedy Central’s roast of Justin Bieber was locally televised, but no one was offended on the Bieb’s behalf.
S is for
Rein in your hate. Selfies may be narcissistic, but they’re harmless. But selfie sticks are considered an invasion of another person’s visual field. So Chicago’s Lollapalooza music festival, China’s Forbidden City, Versailles, several museums, parks, football clubs, and tourist spots have banned them.
Anyone with the idea that plurality should be celebrated, that tolerance is a virtue and that all humans, regardless of religious affiliation, deserve respect under their government. We are all equal – what a monstrous idea, right?
No, you can’t call a woman a slut, but she can call herself that while protesting your misogyny. In 2011, New Delhi, Bhopal and Kolkata each held a version of the Slutwalk, aka Besharmi Morcha, to protest against blaming a woman’s clothing and appearance as a justification for rape. To recap: the problem is not what she was wearing, it’s what he did.
T is for
A suffix to apply to the followers of a movement or person you dislike. Hence AAP-tard, Lib-tard, Bhai-tard (for Salman Khan fans). Most followers wear the epithet proudly. Be warned: fans of lions cannot be called Leo-tards.
If he’s Muslim, on a plane and looking suspicious, the public is quick to label him a terrorist. If he’s a Germanwings pilot who wilfully crashed himself and 150 people on board, he’s most definitely a terrorist too.
U is for
The film based on a lesbian relationship has been banned from release on the grounds that “it will ignite unnatural passions”. The move, however, has only given Unfreedom’s publicists more fuel for promotion internationally. The trailer advertises that the film has been “banned in India” and it is the film “they don’t want you to see”.
V is for
It’s now alright to call an unexplained 56-day hiatus a vacation. After all, if the nation’s top politician could get away with it, surely your office HR should allow you two months off to introspect.
Whether it is someone who’s been raped, fought a debilitating disease or lived through abuse, the term to use is no longer Victim, but the more empowering Survivor. Not a bad way to see a person, we think.
W is for
This rhetorical strategy was invented by the Soviets during the Cold War to shift the focus away from uncomfortable discussions. Whataboutism applies to anything: Hate this government? But whatabout how bad the previous one was? Pasta too spicy? But whatabout how spicy Indian food is? Try it tonight.
Using ‘Wife’, as opposed to the gender-neutral ‘Spouse’, will spark trouble, as an airline recently found out. Their billboard slogan read “Sleep With Your Wife” indicating that all their customers (or at least the ones deserving of their communication) were male. Not cool!
X is for
Sexually graphic films are banned in cinemas, but you can stream them online. Nude statues are covered up while Kama Sutra books are top-selling souvenirs. The Fifty Shades Of Grey film is banned, but far more explicit books aren’t. You pay more to watch Game Of Thrones on Indian TV, but the episodes are trimmed by half. If India had to describe its relation to sex on Facebook, it would be: It’s Complicated.
Y is for
It used to be that those who raised their voices were those who had weak arguments. These days, yelling is a legitimate way to make yourself heard over the news host in the studio.
Z is for
Because, you know, it was invented in India. And that means India is great. We can pick and choose the feel-good parts of our past and silence anyone who pokes at the dark patches in between.
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From HT Brunch, April 26
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