This is how the Donald Trumps and Subramanyam Swamys of this world are made acceptable – by letting political correctness run amok.
Specifically, the shrill outrage at Salman Khan’s admittedly tasteless and insensitive “rape remark”. It is a remark that everyone, the superhero included, now wishes had remained unsaid. It is also a remark that has evoked a firestorm that may singe the women’s cause more than the star.
No one has ever accused the macho hero of being metrosexual. Even his over-protective father will concede sensitivity is not his son’s forte. That may be considered a handicap for an actor but not for Bollywood’s hero number 1 – he simply lets his rippling muscles do the emoting for him. If then, his imagining of the horrors a raped woman experiences doesn’t go beyond the rigours of a demanding shooting schedule, surely that’s only to be expected? To ask for more is like expecting Swami Adityanath to empathise with the LGBT community.
Stupidity and thoughtlessness are no excuse of course. Especially when rape is the issue. Even if we set aside (for now) whether rape is the worst that can happen to a woman – though that is what lies behind the anguished response of the feminists – it is no one’s case that rape or talk about rape should be taken lightly.
Still, for us to get so steamed up over a smart-alecky comment, albeit by an A-list celeb, politicians demanding chastisement, traditional media condemning loudly, social media going into overdrive, the usually supine National Commission for Women (NCW) swinging into action, honestly, this, as we Bengalis say, is like firing a cannon to kill a mosquito.
Gender sensitivity, sensitisation to the enormity of rape is hardly engendered by such uproar. Rather, it puts people’s backs up, as it seems to have done in the case of Salman Khan who is obdurately refusing to offer a satisfactory apology to the NCW. But he has mumbled some words of “regret”. More, his objective does not seem to have been to “trivialise rape and rape culture” or belittle or disrespect women. Rather, he was, in his own inadequate, crude way, sympathising with the lot of women who have been so violated. It was an unfortunate choice of simile no doubt, but the spirit was discernible.
Surely intentions count? Why else are we asked to take seriously the prime minister’s fulsome praise for Raghuram Rajan after the RBI governor has bought his one-way ticket to Chicago? His intentions may have stood Bengal’s superstar, Dev, now a Trinamool MP, in good stead too. Overwhelmed by the huge crowds coming to see him at his rallies before the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, Dev had blurted out that it’s like being raped, if you can’t fight it, enjoy it, or some such disgusting words. Now that was truly offensive. Yet, he won massively. He had also had the sense to apologise. Salman Khan is preferring to hide behind his battery of lawyers and making things worse for himself.
But it is not Salman’s fate we need to worry about. He is quite capable of dealing with his karma, as some pavement dwellers in Mumbai know all too well. It is our reaction to his careless comment that is of concern. Every casual remark cannot and should not be treated as a matter of life and death. That’s crazy (though I run the risk of hurting the feelings of the mentally imbalanced).
As Pooja Bedi tweeted,
— Pooja Bedi (@poojabeditweets) June 21, 2016
The fusillade of tweets her tweet evoked made her backtrack somewhat but her point is well taken. So, dear feminists, cut some slack. Not Salman Khan but yourselves. Pahlaj Nihalani need hardly be your role model. Benign neglect may serve your cause better.
If not, we may be headed the American way where political correctness has mutated into a swear word and a whole election campaign has been fashioned around these two words. The Washington Post is not alone in saying, “In the 2016 presidential primary season, ‘political correctness’ has become the all-purpose enemy.” “Britain,” too, it has been written, “broke free from the European Union because it had become a wellspring of politically correct fanaticism.”
Donald Trump is offering it as the explanation for every threat he can comprehend: terrorism, illegal immigration, whatever. “I think the big problem this country has is being politically correct,” he has said repeatedly while rolling out his hateful plans against Mexicans, Muslims, others. It is also, therefore, the all-purpose excuse to say the inexcusable, make racist, sexist comments, and triumph. He’s the tough guy who speaks plain truths – a surefire seller and how.
America was ripe for his picking. You had to be very careful in your choice of words lest you hurt the feelings of someone. Hence the coinage of words like vertically challenged, hearing impaired, good thoughts and positive waves (instead of non-secular prayers), companion animal (in place of pets) and certainly not pet owner (as the companion animal may not like the idea of being owned), the list is endless.
What began as a movement to prevent causing hurt to minority or ethnic groups by replacing, say, the demeaning Negro with African-American – like Dalit instead of untouchable or Mahatma Gandhi’s appellation Harijan – in time it became a rigid, suffocating system that had evidently driven powerful sentiments underground but not expunged them.
Beliefs remained unchanged. The suppressed feelings came bubbling to the surface the moment someone uncorked them. Something not unlike what happened in India during the 2014 Lok Sabha elections and which is gaining in force with the likes of Subramanyam Swami wielding words as swords. The ongoing battle for minds cannot be won by making mountains out of molehills.
Of course, maybe, as someone has tweeted, Salman Khan “never said it. it was his driver”.