Friday, July 31, 2009

Mind your language

Complementing Jane Sahi's thoughts on the power words chosen carefully have in conveying a wealth of meaning and raising our consciousness, here is a wonderful post by Huma Yusuf in the Pakistani newspaper Dawn about how words chosen carelessly or possibly even intentionally can have a demeaning and deleterious effect. Huma provides some telling though sadly common examples of chauvinism and prejudice against women expressed through words like eve-teasing and sharminda (ashamed, shy):

...the Karachi police surgeon, the man who oversaw all medical examinations that could have a bearing in criminal cases, was referring to women who had been raped and gang-raped as girls who had ‘become sharminda’ or suffered a ‘beizzati’. The surgeon’s choice of words instantly bothered me. They inappropriately cleansed the act of rape of all violence and violation. Even worse, they seemed to put the onus of the heinous act on the female victims – instead of having been violated and abused, the surgeon’s description implied that the women had done something they should be ashamed of.

...let’s be honest, ‘eve-teasing’ is a charming way of talking about blatant sexual harassment...Eves are not being ‘teased’ – there is nothing flirtatious or innocent about men fondling women on buses, yelling out obscenities to college girls crossing the street, or groping young girls outside schools.

Do words reflect the true intent and conception of the speaker? Or, is this merely a cultural or linguistic handicap? It probably varies from person to person using such terms, but there is no doubt about the cultural acceptance of such verbal euphemisms that transform ugly truths into tolerable constructs, in not just Pakistan, but across the border in India and the wider world as well.

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