Tag Archives: society

Honorable disrespect

A wife is calling a husband to dinner . Below are three general types of interactions that can happen : 1- positive, 2- neutral, 3- negative

Type1 : Positive

wife: Dinner is ready , dear

husband: I will be there in 5 minutes sweetheart.

type 2: Neutral

wife: Dinner is ready

husband: I will be there in 5 minutes.

type 3: Negative / shows inequality of gender

wife: Dinner is ready oh-human-deserving-of-respect

husband: I will be there in 5 minutes female-who-is-inferior-to-me

That last one is quite a mouthful…Isn’t it? But it won’t be if you talk Tamil.

Tamil – or rather KondunTamil as the version in use is appropriately called – is a language that makes showing gender and other social inequality in everyday conversations a breeze. Tamil uses Honorific suffixes of all kinds- some showing respect and some showing disrespect. (More about it here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tamil_honorifics)

This language reflects the culture of a society that promotes overt display of social hierarchy, in social and interpersonal relationships, where in every interaction the power balance between the two parties conversing is expected to be shown. This language is the vehicle societies ride on to propagate inequality in age,gender,socio-economic status, power and caste.

Are honorific suffixes bad? Not necessarily. Suffixes that allow the show of mutual respect , love and intimacy is  a good thing. But using suffixes to show disrespect  is in my opinion undesirable.

Moreover, this honorific suffix usage promotes gender inequality in a marriage , validates male privilege and propagates the “culture of abuse“. Which is obviously my main area of focus in this article.

It is to be noted that not all humans who speak this Tamil language avail themselves to the ‘privilege’ of showing disrespect even though they ‘can’ under societal norms. I have witnessed many – male and female alike – address younger or  people in lesser status then them  with respect – using respectful honorific suffixes- and I applaud them for them for their dignity. These people bring out the beauty in the language and are role models for others to follow suit. But they are still in the minority.

Now, How do these honorific suffixes work and then how do they promote a culture of abuse?

For illustration ,let’s take  Tamil’s honorific suffixes: “di”  and “da”

“Di”  suffix is informal, denotes that a  female of lesser or equal status  is being addressed.

“Da”  suffix is the male counterpart.

So for example, if you want to call your younger brother towards you, you can say :

” Enga va da

The rough translation for the Tamil trans-literation sentence is:

Come here “you male who is inferior than me in either age or social status or power or all”

Or it can also be:

Come here “you male who is  equal to me because you are also allowed to respond back with a “di” or “da” “.

This latter ‘equal’ usage is the case in informal friendly /intimate relationships, where both the parties considers themselves equal, irrespective of age/socio-economic status.

The “da” or “di” gets translated into disrespect showing  the subtle inequality of the relationship when the person addressed with this suffix is not allowed to respond back with the “di/da” suffix in their response to the speaker.

E.g. A person can address his servant , disrespectfully, with “da” but the servant cannot use “da” towards his employer (if he expects to be gainfully employed). Instead he is expected to use another honorific suffix that shows respect like “ar” or “enga”- which denotes respect and reinforces his lesser economic status relative to his employer.

Some husbands use the suffix “Di”  when talking to their wives: publicly and privately. Wives are not allowed/expected to respond back or use the “Da” – they may do that in private (who knows?) but publicly it’s a huge ‘no-no’. The conversation between husband and wife  is expected to follow the pattern of the man/servant relationship, setting the stage for gender inequality – male superiority.

This “Di”, that husbands use when talking to their wives,  is  like an annoying sibling eating grapes and spitting the seeds at you – through out your lifetime.  It’s an offence where if you go to court and say “he spit a grape seed at me five times a day , 7 days a week” , and ask for justice everyone will laugh at you and ask you come back only when your limbs are broken.

The “Di” is like a vaccine – with a slightly ineffective virus – that builds immunity so when the real virus hits the nervous system – the body is prepared to deal with it.  As an immunized person may not even know that a deadly virus entered their body and was dealt with deftly – the female soul immunized with “Di”  doesn’t even feel much difference when an explicit disrespect is thrown at her. Say for example she is called a ‘bitch’ or to say in Tamil “nÃy” .

“Di” is just   a simple syllable- an innocuous reminder in every interaction that you are lesser than your husband and he deserves more respect than you get. A mere trifle of disrespect that is expected to roll off women’s back like water on a fish’s.

Some may argue that the usage of “Di” shows the intimate nature of the relationship between husband and wife and therefore “Di” expresses a romantic undertone. But if those same people, frown upon the wife’s usage of the “Da” and do not consider that usage romantic – their argument is not valid.

This  in-equal “Di” is just one example of a honorific in language usage that establishes the power structure within a marriage – and accepting this societal norm as normal  is to accept that women are lesser than men and therefore entitled to verbal abuse.

Honorific or not , gender inequality is conveyed in speech of all languages depending on how it is used and more importantly in the tone that it is delivered. Tamil and such languages that use honorific are not at fault . Fault if any lies in the society that uses it and normalizes disrespect towards one gender.

The issue in particular with honorific languages is that it makes showing overt disrespect easy, while cloaking the intent of disrespect under the ambiguity of grammar/societal norms of usage.  Whereas in non-honorific languages showing disrespect has to be explicit ,showing intent. e.g. ” I will be there in 5 minutes female-who-is-inferior-to-me” or  a short-cut  “I will be there in 5 minutes bitch”

Husband and wife (or Partners) should both bring love and respect to the marriage table and to their language. Bringing  love and expecting more than love (servile respect) in return is not fair. Bringing nothing but expecting both love and respect is even worse.  Our language is only an outward expression of these subtleties of inequality.

So how can we banish  “Di” and other such disrespectful words/inequality from our speech? Maybe we should switch mother tongues – move from Tamil to say English (or any other language that does not have honorific)  at least temporarily – and try to convey the whole message – subject/verb and honorific (and mainly the intent of respect or disrespect).

Since there are no such simple honorific suffixes substitutes in English as in Tamil – except maybe  “Sir/ Madam” or “Your highness” perhaps? –  in order to bring over all the inequality  to English we have to use more words than necessary ,making intent very clear and sentence structure very complicated. We would no longer be able to hide under the ambiguous shadow of honorific suffixes then.

Switching to English , carrying the baggage of honorific over , will be hard work.  Or we can make a true effort to have every interaction a positive one in our own mother tongues – turning Koduntamil (corrupt Tamil) into SenTamil (pure Tamil) . That will be harder work if one is not willing to let go of privilege, easy if one realizes that all humans- male are female-  are  equal.

Now , you may ask why all the fuss about one word ? How will discontinuing the usage of  honorific ,say  in-equal “Di” by a husband ,change the inequality of their relationship? What prevents the husband from taking the more explicit route to express disrespect for his wife if “Di” is banished?  Won’t “Di” be a more honourable disrespect (there’s a new oxymoron for you) than ,say, ‘bitch’?

I agree that eliminating the usage of a gender in-equality honorific suffix will not change the world , in itself. But it can do three things:

1- Those who take the subterfuge under the honorific today will be forced to be chose from the 3 word choices: explicitly disrespectful  ,neutral or respectful. Many will choose neutral without the  grey area of “honourable disrespect” to chose from.

2- It brings the enemy out of the shadows in to the open – the intent of disrespect will be explicit. It is easy to confront the enemy when he’s in front of you – easy to assess the threat- easy to formulate a defence strategy.  The fight comes out in the open. Today a father can tolerate his daughter being called “Di” by her husband in front of him – but will not tolerate the unwarranted and explicit disrespect of ‘bitch’ or ‘fool’ or any such thing.

3- It sets the societal expectation that both genders in a marriage are equal. Female babies are not born with the sense of inferiority , ready to accept verbal abuse, they learn that from the interactions they see playing in everyday life, day after day after day, at their homes, in the TV and around them. Neither are male babies born with the sense of superiority , ready to abuse. The girls see, father using “Di” and mother not using “Da” and intuitively learn that they should not use “Da”. The boys learn that they should use “Di” and not expect a “Da” back.  If they grow up seeing mutual respect in their parents language  and in the society around them then a new positive culture is formed- gender inequality and the evils associated with it will slowly fade away.

While this may seem applicable to only one segment of the world population that uses honorific suffixes, the basic premise  is respectful communication and being aware of  gender in-equality in language and the impact it has not only on relationships but on culture as a whole.

So, respected-reader-who-is-equal-to-me, what do you think?

Note: There are many other languages in the world that use honorific devices to show social hierarchy with more degrees of complexity…Tamil is the only one I speak, so I have used this as an example.

Disclaimers: (to keep trolls in bay) The intent of this post is to show the gender in-equality inherent in the usage of some languages today  not to put down any particular language. I do put down certain cultural norms that treats women as inferior though.

India is not alone

The blog, tweets and comments  defending Indian’s government ban on the BBC documentary ‘India’s daughter’ makes one claim: “The rest of the world , even so called developed nations, are no better when it comes to women’s right and safety. Solve your problems first before pointing fingers at me”.
It’s a very valid claim. If you google “TOP 10 countries with highest rape”, you will find that India is wedged between US and UK who lead and trail India respectively. If you take India’s huge population in comparison to the population of UK and US the statistics would paint a much brighter picture of India. But lets not forget that the incidence in India is less than the rest of the world due to a significant population  guarding its women like ‘flowers’ and under-reporting.
Rape and misogyny is not just an Indian problem. Governments, Feminists and gender equality proponents all have a huge challenge on their hands throughout the world as shown in this WHO info-graphic:
The supporters of the ban use the above statistics and are responding:
“I know my house is dirty….you don’t have a right to point it out because your house is equally dirty”
A mature response from the Indian government should be like one or more of the below, instead of a ban on a documentary:
1) A call for Collaboration:
“Thanks for pointing it. By the way you too seem to have the same issues. Why don’t we work together to solve this to make the whole world a better place”
2) A chance to lead the world:
“I’m going to do these following steps to fix the problem <list the steps>. You also may want to implement the same in your country’
3) Offer help:
“I thank you for your concern for the welfare of our society. Let us know how we can also help you”
Here’s a compilation of misogynistic pubic statements made by prominent US citizens that rival  our world famous Indian defence lawyers: ML Sharma and AK Singh
The fact remains that the US government did not ban the above post or any such videos in the media.
I commend the actions of the Indian bar council that has issued notices to the two defence lawyers for their misogynistic remarks in the documentary “India’s Daughter”.
It’s great to see a portion of India taking positive action! Its time to lead the world in meaningful change.

Maze Builders – An allegory of sorts

                                       maze1
The maze builders were constantly busy. The maze walls built over the centuries were crumbling under the onslaught of time. It needed constant repair. They also needed to innovate ; chart  twisted paths that led nowhere; build circular loops that bought one to the starting point again and again and design dead-ends that could be mistaken as safe havens. They were skilled men and it was no challenge to them. They built mazes that paralleled their twisted minds.Together they made a network of mazes and they marvelled at the power of their collective accomplishment.
They lived in the maze all their lives; that was what they knew. That was how their ancestors had lived. That was what their ancestors commanded them to be. Some commands were written down centuries ago and these were venerated.  Some were not written yet passed on through the generations as tradition. Some commands were encoded in their DNA. No one knew why or how these commands came about. The maze builders didn’t care to ask  “why?”. They interpreted the commands the way it suited their individual purposes. And they knew the way in and out, so they had the power.
Some maze builders decided to give up and live  under open skies with no walls. They were called bad names and sneered at. “Not man enough”, the maze builders declared. Though some secretly wished their daughters and grand daughters live a life out there without walls with these “pussies”.
Now and then a daughter got lost in the maze.These same men, the fathers and brothers uncles and nephews ,those who contributed the bricks and the brawn ;Those who helped built the maze ;Those who helped sustain it, Wondered how to find her. They scratched their bald heads in bewilderment. They cried. They stood helpless. Powerless in spite of their intellect.
“Woman, How can I find my sister? How can I get her out of that maze? Where is the way in and where is the way out?”, a maze builder asked of the one who was always there for him. He opened his heart and showed how it bled for his sister trapped in someone else’s maze. She looked at him from where she was sitting, with her back against the wall, with compassion. Her heart bled too for his sister and all such lost. But she was too weary to think. There was no words of hope she could offer.  No solution that she could think of. No action that she could do to at least save his sister, if not all. All she could do was to make comforting noises. His big tears dropped into the cement , which his hands kept mixing by habit. There was no need to add water….so much was his tears. He continued to work as he brainstormed a solution, picking up the bricks and building by rote. Soon his work was close to completion , but the solution was not.
He laid the last brick with the skill of a master’s hand that could work without any input from the brain. Thoughtlessly, you could say as his thoughts were elsewhere, with his lost sister. The blue print of the dead-end he designed fluttered in the wind. The woman, the one who listened to his worries, the one who comforted him , the one who was someone else’s daughter, sister , would now forever be trapped in the dead-end, with her back against the wall. His work was done.
As darkness descended over her as the last brick was laid; as she huddled to rest her weary legs after the run in the circular maze, a question arose in her foggy mind. “Why didn’t she, his sister,  ask for help?”.
 ————-end of Allegory —————
The above is an allegory of the hypocrisy of men that still persists in our “society”, especially the Indian society. These men wish and encourage their daughters/grand daughters to be brave as “Jhansi Rani – a fearless queen who lead her country to battle”  yet treat their life partners as lesser humans. They expect  the women to fear them; worship them. With no thought to the example that they are setting and how their actions shapes the society that their own daughters end up living in.
I have witnessed personally these “powerful” men stand helplessly in front of a equally aggressive male, less than half their age, who is abusing their daughter/sister/niece. With all their alleged intellect and power they have been unable to even dream of a solution that doesn’t involve heartache for all the involved parties or some form of destruction. They continue with their aggressive behaviours towards women like animals ,that are incapable of change or evolution , if they are not pleased with the smallest innocuous thing. Yet they  never take that tone with this aggressive male on larger issues and walk on egg-shells around him.
But what confounds me even more is the inability of these abused women to ask for help. I blame the  ‘take whatever shit comes your way with patience and a smile  only then your are an “ideal woman” ‘ mentality of this society where women are worshipped (and whipped) for their high tolerance to non-sense and patience.
The solution in the case of the maze-builders is simple, men: rip down the walls; women: scream for help. In real life, men: treat women as you want your daughters/sisters/nieces to be treated. Let all learn from your actions. And women , ask for help and do not tolerate non-sense… If not for you, for the future of your daughters.

Who I am and Why I’m here

 
This post is triggered by the “Blogging 101” course’s first assignment: write and publish a “who I am and why I’m here” post.
Although I have stated some of my reasons to write in my first post , I thought this was a great opportunity to summarize the intent and establish the theme of this blog.
The some questions were posed to help get us started:
  • Who am I?
    • Answer: I am.
  • Why are you blogging publicly, rather than keeping a personal journal?
    • Answer: Because I can.
  • If you blog successfully throughout the next year, what would you hope to have accomplished?
    • Answer: Have a meaningful conversation with society.
That’s it..No need to read further if you are someone who gets the meaning behind the cryptic and minimalistic answers.
The answer “I am” has a very profound meaning in various religious contexts. Yes, Religion will be a strong theme in my blogs. Why? Because religion impacts all aspects of our life: Internal and/or External. Our evolving concepts on religion will help define the future of the earth: either making it a better place or a war torn hell.
Why blog publicly? “Because I can” . And there is a significant percentage of women who can’t. Women have fought for and won several battles to get basic rights such as to vote, to own property , to have an education and to work. Yet gender equality is not fully within reach.  Gender inequality will be another topic that I would want to write about. Some people have defined me as a ‘feminist’ but I have some reservations about that word. One day I’ll post more on that subject.
From a very young age I heard about this “society” ,,,As in ,”What will society think of you?”. “Society will not accept you if you talk like this!” .So I have always been curious about who all make a society and how to communicate with this mass creature – of multiple eyes, ears and mouths- and initiate a meaningful dialogue. My hope is that through sharing thoughts and ideas through the medium of blogging I reach multiple ‘societies’ and finally get that conversation going.