Have we become a nation that takes offence too easily, and for all the wrong things?
We are becoming a nation of individuals and groups who get offended at anything and everything. If it is not the out-of-context remarks of well-known academic Ashis Nandy at the Jaipur Literary Festival then it is the presence of Pakistani writers at festivals and sportspeople on playing fields.
Of course, the favourite of this “republic of the offended” remains writer Salman Rushdie irrespective of whether he says something or does not. And if academics, writers and sportspeople are not enough to give offence, we find politicians who seem ever ready to offend someone or the other. And of course we cannot forget filmmakers, Kamal Haasan being the latest to join this list of people who are “offensive”. So the fraternity of the “offended” continues to grow by leaps and bounds even as India completes 63 years as a Republic, a respectable senior citizen.
The Shiv Sena in Mumbai is “offended” that the Pakistani women’s cricket team is participating in the Women’s World Cup in India. Not because they are women, but because they are Pakistani. Yet, ironical is it not that these women have succeeded in pursuing a sport in a country where there is growing intolerance of women in the public space, where in some provinces, groups like the Pakistani Taliban are trying to enforce dress codes. But when they come to a country where their counterparts face no such problems, they have to contend with this kind of prejudice and intolerance.
Instead of stopping the Pakistani women, we should be “offended” that sportswomen, whether they are Indian or Pakistani face the same challenges just because they are women. If you are a woman playing a sport, particularly one deemed a “male” sport, you have to fight harder to succeed, you are more than likely to be ignored by your sports authorities and the media and you will have a tough time getting sponsors and financial backing. Yet, the fact that women’s cricket exists and is becoming more successful is a tribute to the determination of all these women, Indian, Pakistani and other nationalities. So let us by all means be “offended” but not by these pointless issues such as people from a country, whose government they do not represent, taking part in sporting events.
For instance, when we read news day in and day out about little girls, some as young as three years old, being raped, do we get offended? Recently, in Mumbai, there was the story of a five-year-old girl in Dharavi who was lured by a man who offered her chocolates and then raped her. Her parents went looking for her and found her crying outside a public toilet. She was bleeding and could barely explain what had been done to her. Such stories should outrage us. What is happening to our society that even little girls on their way to school have to be protected from these predators?
Look at our cities. All of them are turning into giant garbage heaps. The authorities claim the mess is beyond their control. And citizens, the very same who take offence at so much else, seem not to mind as they add their might to enlarging these mountains of garbage. It never occurs to them that perhaps they too need to reduce the amount of waste they generate. So we live in the midst of this filth and do not get offended. We point fingers. Or we simply look the other way. Many of us were offended and angry enough to come onto the streets and demand that something be done after the terrible December 16 incident in Delhi.
Since then Justice J.S. Verma and his team have brought out a path-breaking report that locates violence against women within the context of denial of justice and equal rights to women. The report has rightly emphasised that until these larger issues are addressed, merely tinkering with one law or another will not make a difference. But should we now stop being angry?
Here is my list of things about which all of us should be “offended”: that in this “free” country, where our 63-year-old Constitution promises women equality in all spheres, they continue to be second class citizens; that they continue to be denied the right to even be born; that they continue to be denied the right to education if they are poor; that they continue to be denied the right to have control over their own resources; that they continue to be tortured and killed for not bringing enough dowry; that they continue to face verbal and physical abuse inside their homes if they so much as dare raise their voices; that they continue to be assaulted and raped irrespective of their class or creed and that they continue to be abandoned and isolated if they become victims of sexual assault because they are deemed “spoiled goods”. Yes, take offence by all means but on issues that a civilised society should not tolerate.