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Of “Honourables” And “His/Her Excellencies”: Why These Default Honorifics Should Be Abolished

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By Urvashi Prasad:

Titles such as “honourable” and “his/her Excellency” have been used for centuries in many countries including India in the names of dignitaries. In India, members of the parliament, ministers in the government, judges of the higher judiciary, are some of the classes of individuals who are entitled to the use of these prefixes. While there is a colonial legacy to this practice, it is high time that India abolishes it and sets an example for the rest of the world.

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We live in a society where inequality is perhaps our single biggest challenge. While on the one hand, we have successfully sent a mission to Mars, on the other hand, we still top the list of countries with the highest under-5 child deaths in the world. While we now have over 60 billionaires in the country with a combined net worth of US $250 billion, we are also home to one-third of the world’s 1.2 billion poorest people. While there has been impressive growth of our cities in the last few decades, over 20% of homes in rural areas still lack access to water, electricity and sanitation (individually, lack of access to these basic amenities is significantly higher).

In this scenario, do we really need to create symbolic divides among people by using honorifics? The purpose of electing or nominating people to seats of power is for them to serve the country and ensure that all Indians reap the benefits of development. This was highlighted by the Prime Minister, Shri Narendra Modi, who started his speech on India’s Independence Day with the statement, “I have come here not as a ‘pradhanmantri’ (prime minister) but a ‘pradhansewak’ (prime servant)”. It is critical that public servants truly imbibe this sentiment and work with the people and for the people of the country. An important starting point for this is doing away with all practices that create a divide between those who are in public offices and common citizens.

Moreover, just because people have a certain degree of power, does it mean that they have acted or will continue to act honourably? India has had a dubious record of electing parliamentarians with serious criminal charges, including murder, kidnapping and crimes against women. While several of them are never convicted because of the delays plaguing our justice system, the fact that so many of them are charged with committing grave offences, is a matter of concern and shame. Why should all of them then be automatically entitled to the use of “honourable”? Ironically, in Britain, two “Lords” who were suspended for inappropriate behaviour, continue to be referred to as Lords.

It is time that we rethink the use of such terms by default. If we really must use these titles, perhaps it can be reserved for people who have proved themselves through their efforts and achievements over a period of time, like our latest Nobel Laureate, Kailash Satyarthi, who has dedicated his life to lending a voice to the voiceless victims of child labour, a truly honourable cause.

In October 2012, The President of India, Shri Pranab Mukherjee approved a new protocol and discontinued the use of the salutation “His Excellency” while organising functions in India and also during interactions between Indian dignitaries and himself. Other countries too have slowly started realising the irrelevance of these titles. For instance, numerous members of parliament in Australia got rid of the “honourable” tag in 2003. A parliamentarian from Iceland expressed a preference for addressing his colleagues as “Miss/Mrs/Mr.” because he was of the belief that respect was not automatic.

During the launch of the Clean India Campaign on 2nd October, we saw citizens from all walks of life, including senior government officials and famous Bollywood celebrities, sweeping the streets as a symbolic gesture that they would play their part in keeping the environment clean and work together for the betterment of the country. It sent out a clear message that every citizen is equally responsible for keeping the country clean regardless of whether they are powerful government officials or “safai karmacharis” (sanitation champions who work tirelessly to keep our public places clean). I believe that doing away with entitlements like “honourable” can be an equally powerful symbolic step for striving for equality in our country and demonstrating to the world that India actually practices what it preaches.

If you support this cause and want to play your part in ensuring that this practice gets abolished, please sign this petition to the Prime Minister and share it with your family and friends. It is only if we all come together, that we can bring about lasting change.

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  1. Babar

    …serious criminal charges, including murder, kidnapping and crimes against women.

    Why have you selectively stated ‘crimes against women’?

    1. Urvashi Prasad

      It is meant to be illustrative and crime against women include rape, molestation which a lot of our MPs are charged with.

    2. Babar

      The media sensationalizes crimes against women, even though more crimes are committed against men, and now on blog articles we also get to read about ‘crimes against women’. During war, when referring to casualties, news reports mention the number of ‘women and children’ who die. It is almost as though the deaths of men, or crimes against them either do not matter, or are insignificant when compared to women. Maybe it is blatant sexism. Or maybe it is because women are the weaker sex.

      You decide.

    3. Urvashi

      That’s not the point of the article. If you pick on one or two words which are not even the central theme of the article it only creates and further sensationalises issues.

    4. Babar

      That is not the answer to my question.

    5. urvashi

      As Harsh has written “crimes against women” is a separate category which many of our MPs are unfortunately charged with. I have also written murder and kidnapping which obviously include men, women, children. Hope you get the point now.

    6. Babar

      Since when did crimes against women become a separate category?

    7. urvashi

      Since violence against women became so prominent especially in countries like india that it needed separate wikipedia pages to describe them.
      Since we started having more cases of female foeticide than male foeticide. Since we started having more malnourished girl children than boy children because in several households girls can only eat after boys. And there are countless such examples which you can go and read up about. The day we have an equal number of crimes, atrocities and episodes of discrimination against men and women, I am sure this category will not be needed.

    8. Babar

      This is the same rhetoric by the media, which chooses to selectively highlight crimes against women to gain attention, even though there are more crimes against men. Not to mention the bogus statistics and false facts and figures that feminists come up with to further their cause (read agenda).

      Men are always at the receiving end, men are victimized, tormented, and traumatized, and it is not surprising that suicide by men is escalating in India – A man in India commits suicide every 6 minutes. Twice as many men commit suicide as compared to women in India.

      The majority of children out of school are boys who work as electricians, plumbers, carpenters, woodcutters, car mechanics, in lock factories, as street vendors, pull rickshaws, and in every state across India, hundreds of thousands of boys do not have a chance to go to school. Overall, millions of boys in India are deprived of an education in India which they richly deserve.

      We never talk about the biases that men face on a daily basis, how women usurp half of men’s properties during divorces, how courts give men stricter sentences for the same crimes that women commit, how juries give verdicts against men in domestic disputes, how men give alimony to women, misandry in the media, sexism against men, domestic violence against men, how men are locked up in false cases of rape, dowry, and domestic abuse, etc.

      More crimes are committed against men, but people say ‘crimes against women’ because according to them, only women are human beings.

  2. Harsh

    Hey Babar,
    I completely agree to your thoughts on the same, however, I feel this article does look fairly balanced, as the author says, “India has had a dubious record of electing parliamentarians with serious criminal charges, including murder, kidnapping and crimes against women.”
    Crime against women has come up as a serious category of crimes that have put India to shame both on national and international stage. As our country’s culture too suggests women should be treated with utmost respect then why should a bunch of dolts who molest them be called HONORABLE!

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