I was going somewhere with my parents in an auto. My father was telling us about a license he had to renew. The auto driver barged in on us and asked him which license he was talking about. My father is not particularly loquacious with strangers and gave precise, short answers. The attitude of the auto driver was not very pleasing; apparently, all laws were beneath him. He was proud of not having renewed several licenses himself. I started talking to my mom about something, when he suddenly swore, “Maadarchod hain sab ke sab…”(all police officers are motherfuckers).
My ears pricked up instantaneously. I knew this was the time for some humbling. I addressed him and asked, “Bhaiya, kya aapne kabhi baap chod bola hai?” (Have you ever cursed someone as father-fucker?) He turned behind and blurted, “Kya?” (What?) I calmly repeated my question. After that, we did not hear any single word from him till we got down from the auto and paid the fare.
I do not blame him for what he did; he has not been socialized the way I have been. It is not unusual to see even educated men (as well as women) hurl women-centric abuses at each other quite casually. They never question why all their cuss words are aimed at degrading women if they are meant to abuse men. Words like mother-fucker and sister-fucker are commonly used by people to address and abuse each other. On the contrary, swear words like father-fucker or brother-fucker would sound as odd. Why so?
One reason is also that India remains a homophobic society. Even while abusing someone, one cannot imagine a man to be homosexual, copulating with his father or brother. Moreover, fathers and brothers enjoy a high status in the family. People are offended when asked, “Tere baap ka maal hai kya”? (Is it your father’s property?) Why doesn’t anybody ask if something is their mother’s property? Well, because women are hardly allowed to own property in a patriarchal society.
The problem is precisely that, we do not perceive these things as a problem. I know silencing one person is not going to change anything. It is a disease of the psyche and needs to be treated at a deeper level. But the underlying proposition is that we need to show a mirror to an inherently patriarchal and sexist society. People ought to realize what they have been doing and saying is wrong, no matter how much they might or might not be respecting women at home.
Women are not public property to be abused every time one is drunk or feeling angry, frustrated, or bored. Language transmits discourse. Everything about language, including the slang, curses, and idioms also depict the values of the society. The discourses so shaped thus reflect the perceptions of the society about its women. It must be noted that none of the men abused so have had sexual intercourse with their mother or sister, as indicated by the words. The swear words are an expression of rage. No matter how serious the crime, such indecent language outraging the modesty of women cannot be tolerated.
We are often advised not to mess with such people, or else ‘woh hamaari maa-behen ek kar denge’. What they really need to do is deal with and take care of their ‘baap-bhai’; our ‘maa-behen’ are strong enough for themselves. Perhaps the auto driver will be reminded of me every time he uses that word again. Or maybe he will use it to describe me while narrating this incident to his cronies over daaru (alcohol). I hope he feels ashamed of what he did and resolves never to use such abuses in the future. But in a country where women are meant to be nothing but childbearing (read son bearing) machines, I might be expecting way too much.
Note: A version of this post was first published on the author’s personal blog