Political Correctness has become one of the most damned phrases in English language. It is taken to mean everything from superciliousness, hypocrisy, pandering to a minority to outright lying. Its cool to be ‘politically incorrect’, but of course we never stop to wonder how politically incorrect we routinely are in much of our speech and interaction.
Take an example, Manmohan Singh bashers jokingly call him Manmohini Kaur, presumably to show his powerlessness and obsequiousness to Sonia. But what does this mean, that ‘women’ are powerless and spineless and Manmohan Singh a man, is powerless and spineless and therefore a woman. Today, I heard that he was referred as Shikandi (Shikandi is a warrior in the Mahabharata, but in common parlance today is taken to refer to a eunuch). I saw a post on FB which said ‘Jab Tak Suraj Chaand rahega, napunsak PM tera naam rahega.’Again, does it mean that eunuchs are spineless. Without even realizing it, isn’t there a hierarchy here of the assertive alpha male, and the ‘submissive’ female and ‘gutless’ transgender. I know its a joke, I know we are not expected to over-analyse this, but if jokes routinely promote such stereotypes, what is the message we are giving.
While on the subject of Manmohan bashing, maybe it is time for his critics to reflect on whether he draw so many brickbats because he, as the elected Prime Minister listens to Sonia, who holds no political office, or that he as a man and as a elected Prime Minister listens to Sonia, who is a woman and holds no political power. This is not to justify any of Manmohan’s or UPA’s actions, I am not politically astute enough to critique it. But as a woman, I am able to pick up the some element of gender bias in this.
Its not just gender, I am sure our everyday language is full of idioms, which, while not intending to be derogatory, paints a negative, or patronizing picture of some group. I have been lucky that I am a member of the majority community in my country, I come from Mainland India and I come from a relatively privileged socio-economic background. Apart from gender, I cant really pick out any of the other stereotyping idioms. But millions of others are not so lucky.
Political correctness is a jargon, simply put, what it means is that we are sensitive to what other people feel. That if we truly aspire to be a society where people of all castes, religions, ethnic identity can interact as equals, through our words, through our behavior, we constantly reinforce our equality. Not just when we are interacting with people from the other groups, but routines, as a matter of practice, so much so that we are not really aware of it. Its not easy to do this, equality is not an inherent value for any of us. But can we start by reflecting on what kind of impressions- intended and unintended- we convey through our words. Can we stop making ‘political correctness’ a dirty word? Can we stop making people who are aspiring to be ‘sensitive’ feel like they are a bunch of hypocrites?