One seasoned politician appreciatively calls a younger colleague “tunch maal” at a public function; another jokes about a stout lady doctor being like a road roller; and the son of a third, in a breathtaking display of an inability to recognise irony even when it is right in his face, tweeted that Shobhaa Dé should have made her comments about Mumbai statehood on the streets of the city “after which she won’t be left with any ‘shoba’”.
If language offers a direct window into an individual’s mindset, then it would seem our politicians are, at best, politically incorrect and at worst, misogynistic, even dangerously anti-women. Of course, in the context of the spoken word, in a country like India with its many languages and dialects and multiple interpretations, chances are one man’s innocuous comment delivered to a particular audience might be viewed very differently elsewhere — a process aided by hydra-headed television and social networking.
It is possible, at least in the first case sited here, that much was lost and gained in translation. The next was the result of not adequately grasping how a casual comment made in jest and understood as such by those at whom it was directed, can be twisted. The last case, however, cannot be condoned at all. The written word is always more deliberate than the spoken one and this is true of tweets too. The supposed shaming of Dé reveals a serious lack of understanding of the true meaning of her comment, a lack of knowledge of rudimentary English, and most worryingly, a crude mindset that thinks it’s acceptable to intimidate women. Indeed, the tweet was utterly contemptible for the brazen threat of sexual violence directed at Dé.
Some of our politicians need an urgent crash course in how to avoid going so off tangent so often. The course would have to perforce stress on how language can be interpreted and indeed manipulated in a world saturated with media, how flippant remarks, especially those directed at women, can become dangerous gender firecrackers in an increasingly aware India. The success of the course would depend on the receptivity of the individual politician. In the Shobhaa Dé instance, perhaps the nasty tweeter, who harbours fond hopes of becoming a successful politician himself, may need more than just a course. A sharp reprimand from his powerful father would be a good start. Or an adherence to that old adage — speak only when you are spoken to.