Friday, December 21, 2012

Three conflicts

The recent Delhi atrocity has sparked an outrage. On the media, on Facebook, Twitter and where it matters more than those three places – in real life. I’ve expressed myself mainly on Twitter and this post is about three very personal thoughts that I feel conflicted about.

1. The word 'rape': The Urban Dictionary page on rape runs for 20 pages and has 140 entries. In common usage, the word isn’t always used literally. It is used as slang. It is part of daily conversation among men and women. The phrase “If you’re getting raped, might as well enjoy it” is used to describe such mundane activities like being stuck in traffic, having to work late nights, etc. Is this usage justified? Those who believe it is, say that it’s a substitute for fucked and screwed and that I should not take it so seriously. Just like we use 'cripple' or 'retarded' to describe a stupid person, rape describes an unpleasant experience. So this is conflict #1 – am I taking things too seriously? Can we not use the word ‘rape’ lightly? I choose my side here and say no, I will not use the word lightly. I cannot use the word 'rape' to mean anything but that act. I also can't get myself to call a physically challenged person a cripple. Call me soft like the Americans that George Carlin describes here. (I was shown this video and told to lighten up). Rape is not slang. It’s a heinous act. I restrict its usage only to describe the abhorrent and reprehensible act the word describes. There are enough slang words to choose from which convey the same figurative meaning. No, I refuse to say 'rape' in jest.

2. Freedom of speech: A few days ago I, among others, was outraged over a one-word website which said rape is a thing to do in Delhi. The site's intent was to convey irony, satire and protest. Following the outrage, the website was taken down. So, here is conflict #2. When does mass outrage infringe up on freedom of speech? When a crowd of people gang up on someone who wants to express himself, how is it different from a lynch mob? And here’s the other side – how do you register your outrage against something you find offensive? Especially something you feel very strongly about? Are you supposed to just put out one tweet and a Facebook update and ignore it as something in bad taste and leave it be? Or, have courage in your conviction and raise your protest? After all, isn’t freedom of protest part of freedom of speech? Why is one lesser than the other? Just like you can’t control creativity, you can’t control outrage. They are both strong emotions. Even so. By ganging up against someone who expresses his freedom of speech how are you different from the Government? Like Rushdie said “What is freedom of expression? Without the freedom to offend, it ceases to exist.” I believe in freedom of speech as an absolute right, not up for compromise.  But I also believe in responsibility. And yet, I cannot expect or demand this from others. I remain conflicted on this one. One man’s protest is another man’s outrage. The line remains thin and grey.

3. Taking sides: Do you believe in taking sides or sitting on the fence? The case for sitting on the fence? It keeps you balanced and atop the two camps fighting each other. It enriches you because you understand and appreciate both sides of the arguments. And you don’t take things seriously. You are understanding and appreciative of both sides. This is important because we live in times where emotion is now more widely expressed than ever before and finding support strengthens your beliefs. But in extreme cases this takes the form of a herd mentality, mobbing, bullying, lynching and a general loss of perspective and good sense. In times like these you need an emotional, detached point of view. It helps. The case for taking sides? Standing for what you believe in and not flinching before intimidation. A sense of duty in doing what you stand for and standing up for others you believe and agree with.

Of the three conflicts, this is the easiest one. I believe in taking sides. There are things I stand for and I would not yield on any of these. But I also believe in learning and changing my stance over time. For example: I once loved Bombay and believed in the spirit of Bombay. Today I’ve taken all the emotion out and see Bombay as just a means to an end. I don’t see it as a dying city and I don’t see it as perfect city. So yes, when it comes to choosing, I will always take a side. But I will also leave room to learn and change over time. I wonder if this is called maturity and aging. Or compromising your passion.