Three years ago, in the last year of my high school, a girl friend of mine casually remarked to me – “Patriarchy has taken away the right to our own bodies too; even the slangs make it seem like a woman’s body is the origin of honour.” For a much less informed me, the insinuation that “harmless” slangs were in some way aiding and abetting the exploitation of women, came as a rude shock. It led me to embark on a process of exposing my beliefs and thoughts to rigorous objective evaluation.
One of the first things that I discovered on viewing the usage of slangs through the lens of objectivity was that a majority of the cusswords used in popular perception were demeaning to women. The premise of a slang rested upon the basis that a woman’s body was a site of honour and promiscuity or sexual independence on the part of the woman was thought to desecrate this sacred notion.
In the process of hurling abuses, one individual usually addresses the other party by a certain slang whose meaning usually varies between the vilification of the latter’s mother or sister.
The idea that demeaning someone’s mother or sister on the basis of their sex life is not only misogynistic but also feudal and medieval in character.
Note that this vilification usually happens when a woman exercises her right to bodily autonomy without paying heed to the patriarchal rules and regulations. In the case a woman’s consent is violated, there seems to be much less or no outrage at all. The hullabaloo over live-in relationships and deafening silence over the prevalence of honour killings is a case in point.
However, it is not just women that are attacked though. As it turns out, you can be lashed out at not just of your choices but also identities. A number of slurs used in general parlance seem to hinge on the notion that identifying as a trans person or not adhering to the binaries of gender identity justifies ridicule.
Any and all practices that do not adhere to the binaries are made fun of, ridiculed to the point that it legitimizes the institutionalization of discrimination against such marginalized communities and individuals.
The second observation that I came across was a more subtle one – usage of slangs that were casteist. It is common knowledge that a lot of cusswords have casteist origins but more often than not, the excuse forwarded for such usage is that these words are caste-independent, used only to point out certain unhealthy habits.
For example, the word “Bhangi” is often used by privileged individuals as a cussword to demean others who don’t adhere to cleanliness norms as set by them. That the community is marginalized, forced to risk their health and lives is often ignored in a discussion about the semantics of the word.
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It’s time to instrospect to see if we or people around us use any of these slurs. In an inclusive society, there is no plae for any of these words and efforts must be made to unlearn them. #EverydaySexism #EverydayCasteism #CasteistSlurs #Sexist #Misogyny #India #IndianSociety
Essentially, it comes down to the dehumanization of an entire community on the basis of an ascribed identity. Regional variations in castes give rise to different cusswords but the premise of the slang being casteist stays the same.
Recently in news, was actress Kangna Ranaut’s tweet equating the film industry artists to “bhands”. Even notwithstanding the irrational nature of the tweet itself, the slur used to denigrate the artists is a casteist term. It places the blame on a community that has been marginalized historically, thus furthering the narrative of casteism, even more.
Likewise, there is the extremely popular word “Pariah”, often used to denote a boycotted individual/institution/state in general parlance. However, the origins of the word are again rooted in a caste-based society. The word can be sourced back to the pariah community, traditionally a clan of drummers, who are considered to be on an extremely low rung in the perceived hierarchy and consequently, excluded from all social spheres.
The question that arises now is whether all of us using slangs are misogynist or casteist.
The answer to this lies in our consciousness of its usage. Sure, not all of us know the origins of each cussword or use it with a malicious intent to demean women but it is imperative that we understand the politics of semantics. A seemingly harmless slang leads to the institutionalization of misogyny and enables patriarchal & casteist structures.
So, the next time you have a reflexive urge to use a cussword, pause for a moment and think about the connotations and implications. It is the least we can do to start a process of correcting historical wrongs.