I was recently on a flight to New York when I bumped into a well-known television actress who has become a household name in India with her hysterical portrayal of an earthy Gujarati housewife. At JFK airport,I offered to help with her luggage but she politely declined,insisting she would engage a porter. She then saw one in the distance and yelled out at the top of her voice to summon him: Ay Negro! Come here!! As passengers all around us froze in horror upon hearing this hugely insulting racial slur,I grabbed this naïve womans trolley and bundled her out of the airport before she was either arrested or a race riot could break out.
As countries like the UK and US grew into a melting pot of diverse ethnicities and cultures,it became imperative to be sensitive to slang words and terms designed to offend the sensibilities of different groups.
For example,pejoratives like Nigger,Negro and even Black are today considered anathema. The Politically Correct or PC term is African-American,stressing the heritage of these proud people. Native American is the term now used to describe the indigenous inhabitants of the US and not Red Indians,as many of us still call the Apache,Sioux and Cherokee. Whites should be referred to as Caucasian,whilst Mexicans and Puerto Ricans as Latino or Hispanic.
Indians,Pakistanis and Bangladeshis,who were once all offensively dubbed as Pakis,are now clubbed as South Asians. Non-white ethnic groups are referred to as Persons of Colour. But its not just diverse cultural groups that have been given new PC sobriquets. Various gender-neutral terms are now employed in the work place,such as Chairperson instead of Chairman,Firefighter instead of Fireman,Actor instead of Actress and Homemaker instead of Housewife.
Interestingly,a garbage collector is now a sanitation engineer. Terms relating to disability,such as visually challenged and hearing impaired are used in place of blind and deaf. People are no longer described as handicapped but differently-abled or even handicapable.
Instead of retard,the correct term is mentally challenged. We are also no longer fat but horizontally challenged,and vertically challenged instead of short.
Racially offensive titles of books have also been changed. Hence Agatha Christies Ten Little Niggers was re-released as And Then There Were None. Enid Blytons The Three Gollywogs is now considered unacceptable reading for children whilst Tintin in the Congo has been banned for its racist content.
Whilst a debate has sprung up in the West as to whether the world is becoming too PC,we Indians seem to be blithely unconcerned with it all and continue to use racial epithets and ethnic slurs with impunity.
Mallu for Malayalis,Madrasi for all South Indians,Chakkas for homosexuals,Mozzies for Muslims. There seems to be no shortage of pejorative terms in this vast and diverse country of ours.
Given how incorrectly our politicians behave at the best of times,perhaps a little political correctness amongst the populace is the need of the hour.
Fahad Samar is a filmmaker,inveterate traveller and intrepid chronicler of society firstname.lastname@example.org