October 11, 2010

De ides of demarches

A radio talk show host in New Zealand is out of a job, because he made fun of Sheila Dixit's name. Two Australian cops are suspended, because of email they sent out that's offensive to Indians. In each case, India's foreign office protested "strongly" to authorities in those countries over the actions of these men, issuing "demarches" to their High Commissioners in India. Comments I've seen on any number of news reports about all this are full of righteous invective from Indians against Aussies and NZers. e.g. One of 410 (!) comments here asserts that "the Australian way of life as it is now, is disgraceful and not an honorable way."

Yes, that's "disgraceful and not honorable" -- prompted by email between cops.

I'm not sure how to react to all this.

At one level, I have little sympathy for guys who make what they think are jokes in this vein.

At a second level, I'm reminded of our own star cricketer Harbhajan Singh. One day in Sydney, he didn't call Andrew Symonds "monkey". But he did say "teri maa ki…" to Symonds. And when Symonds thought he said "monkey" and got riled and it turned into a disciplinary hearing, Harbhajan's teammates and the cricket board and most Indians actually and vociferously defended Harbhajan's use of an epithet that most of them would have found offensive anyway. Because it wasn't "racist" as "monkey" would have been. No matter, it was still offensive, wasn't it? (Please don't try to argue this Harbhajan case if you don't agree with me about it, I'm not interested).

At a third level, at least one Indian media personality chose to make remarks that ended up offending another country too. No word on whether s/he is out of a job.

But at a fourth level, why this extreme sensitivity about names and stupid remarks anyway?

Doesn't everyone make fun of names? For one example consider the anonymous playing around with "lund" that happened here. For another, how many times have you heard the tired puns that involve "Bush"? Should the people responsible for these lose their jobs?

And consider the travel contest entry I once ran across that had this to say about some fellow bus travellers: "[they were] low income African Americans. Their size and perpetual scowls can be quite intimidating." Did this person lose their job?

I'm sure you have more examples. My point: should India really have been so officially offended by the incidents in Australia and NZ? Should you? Are you?


Raj said...

I agree. Our attitude should be " bricks and stones may break my bones,but names...".

Anonymous said...

But the lady was so close to the first family. If it was mango man being abused they wouldn't care much.

Chandru K said...

Both Australia and New Zealand have been absolute jackasses throughout these games, with their barbs, jibes, insults and ridicules. It's not just about a one-off remark, like Harbhajan's, about calling someone a monkey.

Anonymous said...

Dcubed - I think there is a difference. There is no objective equivalence in racially/culturally insensitive insults/actions.

The same difference that exists between a wrestler punching an old woman and the vice versa. Its not the same.

A Union Carbide executive mocking a Bhopal victim and the Bhopal victim calling him the worst possible curse word possible are NOT equivalent. One is certainly pardonable.

Much like you I am not interested in this case as these are peripheral issues and mean very less. Personally, I do believe political correctness is important but the equivalence and evaluation should not be purely on a semantic level.

Applying the same standards to Indian cricketers as that to Australian cricketers is ludicrous, given the history of bullying, sledging, abuse and racial intimidation.

Dilip D'Souza said...

What is the difference between a NZ man making fun of "Dixit" and an Indian one making fun of "lund"?

What is the difference between an Australian sending email offensive to Indians and an Indian writing that "the size and perpetual scowls of African-Americans can be quite intimidating"? Or indeed the Indian who wrote that the "Australian way of life is disgraceful and not honorable"?

Applying the same standards to Indian cricketers as that to Australian cricketers is ludicrous...

The only reasonable way is to apply the same standards.

Anonymous said...

What is the difference between a NZ man making fun of "Dixit" and an Indian one making fun of "lund"?

In a post racial environment there is none. But we don't live in one.

The difference is that NZ and other western countries (especially Anglo) have a history of trivializing and mocking previously colonized culture. This is a systematic pattern.

Indians doing that to them is only getting back and I don't see anything alarming in that. It is in bad taste, rubbish, puerile no doubt - I don't laugh or partake in such non sense. But its not equivalent.

an Indian writing that "the size and perpetual scowls of African-Americans can be quite intimidating"?
Here I agree with you. We as a society do have an issue with self inflicting white supremacy. So that is certainly equivalent because it stands for the SAME phenomenon of white supremacy. Here it is okay to apply the same standards.

Or indeed the Indian who wrote that the "Australian way of life is disgraceful and not honorable"?
If it is pointed out in terms of the genocidal past, racist bigotry and homophobia in Australia then its just a statement of fact. But of course it is MORE SO a statement of fact about India with its genocidal present, racist bigotry and homophobia. So I do tend to agree on this point too with you.

The only reasonable way is to apply the same standards.
A wrestler punching an old weak woman publicly is not the same as an old weak woman publicly and hence 2 different standards need to be applied to the same act of punching.

In general, I think what ails us i.e people from India who insist on reason is that we are dishonest sometimes in our eagerness to establish moral equivalence. Self criticism is a good thing and in India we REALLY need a lot of it but in some matters we have to give ourselves the benefit of doubt/ be lenient. Please don't mistake this for a "political correctness has gone mad" argument. It is not.

We have a lot of problems with ourselves. If we beat ourselves for the not so serious ones constantly we will soon become irrelevant.

For ex. forward caste people regularly calling dalits and enslaved communities "choodha" or Marathi Hindus making fun of names of minority communities in Mumbai and other names IS equivalent to NZ man making fun of Dixit. That I think is more alarming than an Indian man making fun of Anglo names.

Anonymous said...

(posting another comment as the previous comment was too large)

My problem here is a larger misgiving with the reasonable people of our country. We are too hasty to establish equivalence to the point of being dishonest and superficial.

The discussion in your post and the whole name calling episode is so superficial that its is irrelevant. "A man from NZ" is not a good enough qualifier: what is his past? is he progressive/corporate media personnel? has he/channel any history of racism? I also think you deliberately wrote "a man from NZ" to establish that equivalence. Because you (and me too) are scared as coming out as biased towards "our kind". "a man from NZ" said this "a man from India" said that is not good enough.

I agree we should be harder on ourselves as WE are morally answerable for OUR actions. Discussing actions of somebody else ("you never criticize the belgians in congo, u only see Hindus massacring muslims"), has no moral value whatsoever. But sometimes even our rubbish, unfair, unfunny, bad tasted actions are just not as bad as that of someone else. We have to forgive ourselves for that.

Additionally, if you want to establish any equivalence between the Eurocentric racism against Indians, finding examples of Indo-centric racism against Europeans is almost pythonesque. Forward caste Indians racially abusing Dalits and Oppressed minorities is however morally equivalent to eurocentric racism against Indians.

Dilip D'Souza said...

you deliberately wrote "a man from NZ" to establish that equivalence. Because you (and me too) are scared as coming out as biased towards "our kind".

I'm lost here. how does not writing "a man from NZ" qualify as being "biased towards our kind"?

Chandru K said...

Anon's posting above is one of the most eloquent and incisive on this blog. However, I would add that Hindus criticising or even abusing Moslems in general, cannot be taken as equivalent to crude, racist, Kiwis and Aussies doing the same to Indians. Hindus and Moslems have a complicated history, which is also wrapped into the politics which created Pakistan, and which are defining the Kashmir separatist movement. So there's no question of 'oppressed minority' here, rather a turbulent set of circumstances. The same can hardly be said of Australia and New Zealand. It( the comparison) would have validity if ethnic Indians possessed such a cantankerous history which included partitions based on ethnicity, or violent separatist movements, again based on ethnicity. For one reason or another, Australia and New Zealand have had a free ride in this matter.

Anonymous said...

I got around to reading the remark about Malawi being one of the least developed countries. It was probably inappropriate to make during an opening ceremony. But it is hardly the same kind of vile remark that the Australian police or the New Zealand radio host uttered.

Anonymous said...

Wow! It' interesting how some of the comments here have actually tried to justify one wrong by juxtaposing it on another, ostensibly wronger, wrong. It's like saying, "If you can't punish the murderer, why bother about my theft?"

But the alarming thing is that the examples seem to have their orders in reverse. In my book, one religion maligning another, however complicated their mutual history, is far far worse than the New Zealand 'man' who made fun of the name Dixit.

My surname is Dixit, and my schoolmates (all Indians, in India, and way way back in the day) made fun of it regularly. The only thing that changed it was the arrival of the ek-do-teen girl. Suddenly, Dixit wasn't a funny surname anymore. Although it does lead to the inevitable question of whether we're related. Still, that's better than the alternatives I suppose.

I do see a very strong trend of the Indian government using their new-found clout in the international arena to forward such petty agendas. One fears it's a ploy to curry local favour in their political games on one level and to play the big bully on another. Much easier to say, "See, we forced them to sack that so-and-so for saying so-and-so about Aadarniya so-and-so." than answering tougher questions on more pressing issues where such clout seems non-existent. And this is not directed at any political party as such; I don't harbour fallacies that if it were any other party in government, the scenario would have been much different.

They say that if you want to know the true nature of a person; give him some money and give him some power. On a macro level, India as a nation now has both of these; what we do with them will shape the decades to come.

Chandru K said...

Anonymous( whose surname is Dixit) you are wrong on that religion issue. The fact is, in any other country, the government, security forces and general population would have gone berserk, if they went through what India has- violent partition, separatism in Kashmir, repeated serial bomb attacks, not to say 4 wars on Indian soil. Right now, there are discussions going on in the Western Liberal democracies about the role, situation, implications, and behaviour of Moslems; and this is without any of the events above named in India.

Anonymous said...

I really don't see how this works. So if a certain 'they' do it, it makes it all right for 'us' to retaliate and do the same? Even if 'our' retaliation harms innocents on 'their' side, essentially giving them as good a reason as 'we' have to retaliate?

Thinking like this is part of the problem, not the solution I'm afraid.

Global terrorism is not a religious issue. It never was. The issue is state sponsored terrorism; and the fact that the perpetrating states in most cases are not secular. Which basically makes the problem an old one: Marriage of religion with state.

One way to go at it is to enforce democracy from without. Well, Afghanistan and Iraq have clearly shown it doesn't work. The only way forward then is encouraging and helping reasonable, forward thinking leaders in these states to effectively become the vehicles of progressive change.

Anonymous Dixit

Chandru K said...

If a country like India is suffering from terrorism, of course it has to retaliate, as best as possible against the perpetrators. In the process of such action, you cannot guarantee that innocent lives will be lost. But not retaliating at all, only invites bolder action from the terrorists and their sponsors. The task is to raise the cost of the terrorists and the entity supporting the terror( in India's case, Pakistan) so that their support of violence no longer becomes 'cost -effective'.

Incidentally, the other Anonymous made an excellent point about different racist slurs not being entirely equivalent morally, in a still racial environment. While not condoning racial slurs, an Indian or and African making a silly comment about Australians or New Zealanders, still doesn't have the same hard edged history behind it.

Chandru K said...

Then direct your comment to the other Anonymous, who made the incisive observation, that since we are far from being in a post-racial environment, there is still no moral equation between different racial slurs( i.e India vs New Zealand, as opposed to the reverse). If you actually read the New Zealander's remark in full, he didn't just make fun of Sheila Dixit's name, he linked her name to living conditions in India.

Homophobia is a different ball game. Perhaps the correct analogy would be if a lone, grossly outnumbered gay person, out of frustration or bitterness, made a sweeping denunciation of straight people. Even if it was done in jest or a little malice, it would certainly be deplorable, but not contextually the same as a vicious or hostile anti-gay remark.