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The Bigger Problem That Salman’s Rape Joke Brings Up

Posted on June 22, 2016 in Society

By Karan Mujoo:

We were watching TV panellists trade insults about the recent Salman debacle, when suddenly my roommate got up and started raging, “They all know what’s going on! Every single guy in India says this. It’s not as if Salman is the first one. They all just want to sensationalise things. How will they make money otherwise?”

Now, at first glance, especially to those of a more liberal bent of mind, this statement might seem to be defending Salman, but on closer inspection it reveals a truth. This is not just a Salman problem, it is a social problem. The evolution of language is a complicated process, over which we have little or no control. Somehow, somewhere down the line, the practice of using rape in a metaphorical sense spread throughout the Indian society like gangrene. I know many educated, generally well-mannered gentlemen who after having been thrashed in a game of cricket quip, “Rape ho gaya yaar.” So many times, after a hard day at work people say, “Aaj toh rape hi ho gaya.” This word somehow managed to sneak into our lexicon without us noticing it, till now.

There must be lakhs of people who must be thoroughly confused about this whole row. They must be thinking, “Bhai ne sahi hi toh bola. Din bhar kaam karo toh aisa hi lagta hai na (Salman wasn’t wrong. It does feel like that after a hard day’s work).” This is what is scary. It is not as if they are malevolent people who have been using this word to spread hatred. They are ignorant. They do not realise the power of what they are saying. When millions of people, for an extended period of time, use a serious word carelessly, it can and it has, turned into a joke.

It is not the only word which is used carelessly in India. People joke about serious diseases like cancer and AIDS. I have been on the receiving end of such insensitive remarks a few times. My mother is fighting cancer and many times people in my vicinity have cracked jokes about the disease. They have no idea about the struggle patients and their families go through to try and defeat this horrible disease.

This is exactly why people use “rape” in such a casual manner. They don’t know anybody that has been through it personally. Far removed from the horror and suffering of someone who has been through this traumatic act, they joke and laugh about it. For them, it is a drama that takes place in someone else’s life. It is 9 p.m. entertainment and an opportunity to watch tiny faces crammed in square boxes to take part in the who-can-scream-loudest contest.

Yes, Salman has screwed up. There is no doubt about that. But in doing so he has brought a larger linguistic and social problem to the fore. A problem which has been festering under the skin of our society for a long time now. Criticising Salman is the easiest thing to do. Go ahead, by all means do it. But the harder thing, the thing which will require more time and effort would be to eradicate casual usage of the word ‘rape’ from the dictionary of a billion people. And I doubt if we are up for that?

Featured image credit: Pramod Thakur/Hindustan Times via Getty Images.