The new fad is to name and shame; ‘presstitutes’, ‘sickular’, ‘aaptards’, ‘bhakt’, ‘ISIS sympathizer’- you name it, and you’ll probably see it sprinkled all around your conversations on and outside Facebook and the internet. Furthermore, abstract nouns like intolerance, nation, anti-nationalism, terrorism, sedition, patriotism, rights, and opinions, are being thrown around like coloured water balloons on Holi-aimed at random people and unconcerned about who they land on. People are just glad that it managed to fall on somebody and did not go waste. As soon as one target is hit, they rush to grab the new one to hurl at the next unsuspecting passer-by.
Being a student of Linguistics, I work with languages, and watching these words being shorn of all meaning and implications and being inserted into random conversations (sometimes totally arbitrarily and with no consideration for contextual relevance) to conclusively prove one’s point, physically pains me.
New words get coined all the time. Words are blended, compounded, and older words take on new meanings all the time. But, that does not make them Holi balloons, to be picked up at random and hurled at will.
These words have political implications, as we all know. They have come to represent sides of arguments made by people of differing belief systems (note how I don’t use the word ‘opposing’ here), and one can understand the justification behind the use of these names too, but for heaven’s sake, stop using them as hashtags to mark someone’s position in a political continuum. It is great that India has become so politically aware and vocal lately, but where are all the conversations and debates? All I see is people reading or hearing two words someone writes or says, rushing to paint them red, green, blue or saffron, and then feeling around in their kitty for the right name balloon/abuse to throw at the other person, no questions asked, no nuances of their arguments probed.
So before we all reduce ourselves to a group of slandering, substance-less squabblers, let’s unpack what some of these terms really mean:
Sickular: A blend of ‘sick’ and ‘secular’, its implication is that anybody who is secular inherently possesses a sick mind, or that secularism is a sick idea. It is usually hurled at ‘assumed’ pro-Congress people (or anybody who makes a toot against anything BJP). Clearly, the Preamble to the Constitution means nothing to the users of this abuse.
Presstitute: A blend of the ‘press’ (of the non-ironing kind) and ‘prostitute’. It implies a media channel or media house that has sold its ethics and integrity for money and political patronage. It hence affiliates itself to a party, covertly (and seemingly in a neutral way) furthering its agenda. I won’t even get into how the name plays upon the word for one of the oldest professions in the world, insinuating that the word is a lowly insult, because who cares about insulting an entire source of livelihood of a small, disempowered group of people anyway? Often, it is used whenever any media reports anything against one’s party of choice; concerns of veracity and factual accuracy be damned. Even bad reporting is referred to as ‘presstitution’ sometimes. Word-meaning, anybody?
Libtards/Aaptards/Whatever-tards: A blend of ‘liberals’ or the name of the party/group you want to denounce and ‘retards’. It is used against anybody who uses any argument that so much as creases the ‘chaddi’ – Oops, full pants- of any revered person. Further, it ignores the grossly insensitive insults levelled at mental health patients in the process. It also ignores the fact that even a supporter of whichever ideology or party has the right to criticise its decisions or functioning from time to time- we live in a democracy, not an autocracy. That does not make them your enemy or a supporter of the opposition(s) by default.
Bhakts: A word meaning devotee, it has been re-appropriated to refer to devotees/fans/supporters of a certain 56″ chested, 10-lakh suit wearing gentleman in our country. It is used against anyone who so much as breathes a comma in support of said person and his allies, regardless of whether their critique is valid or not. The same goes for ‘Sanghi’ (from the name for RSS, the ideological fountainhead of said gent and his party.)
ISIS sympathizer: It refers to someone who supports the actions and ideologies of the eponymous Islamic militant group. It is based on a communal bifurcation of identity between Hindus and Muslims, and based on the presumption and propagation of the idea that they are opposing and always at war with each other, and they would rather not have it any other way. What about the ground reality, facts and research? Or even the complicated nature of the Kashmir issue? What be these words you use?
I will not get into the (mis)use of abstract nouns because they require an essay unto themselves, but it is sufficient to say that dictionaries have seen a sad, silent and unmourned-for demise in the last few years, while the rest of us were busy hash-tagging, defining, profiling, mocking and indicting each other.
The larger question I want to ask is that where on earth are the nuances? Where are the spaces outside such narrow binaries of political affiliations that most of us want to occupy? Why are the independent voices not being acknowledged as such, but hurriedly being slotted into these boxes? Are we incapable of comprehending and engaging with a multiplicity of voices and ideas, or do we refuse to even acknowledge their existence? What does that say about a country like ours that prides itself on its diversity and pluralism? Can one be Indian if one rejects the fundamental idea of what India is and represents? Must one throw terminologies around to slander and delegitimise the others without truly understanding the import of those words, and the emotional and cognitive violence they are unleashing with their use?
Why don’t we calmly try to listen to each other, for a change, instead of waiting impatiently to run each other down as soon as someone opens their mouth? Why don’t we set our aggression and differences aside and calmly debate upon the merits of all that all of us believe in instead of letting the ‘Mark Antonys’ of the media and political parties play with our minds and loyalties like a Sarod? Are we really that dumb or are we allowing our environment to dumb us all down? If so, why? Finally, what do we do to reverse it?
You know what my answer will be. But this time I will not “impose (my) opinion on (you)”. I will wait for you to get there, and cheer you on as you do, no matter which part of the continuum (not binary) you choose to affiliate yourself to.
Enakshi Nandi is currently a research scholar at JNU, pursuing her M.Phil in Linguistics. The views expressed are personal.