Mind your language!

Firstpost reports that, on February 16, 2014, External Affairs Minister Salman Khurshid said in Farrukhabad that the Congress supported Arvind Kejriwal and “gave him eight MLAs in dowry…What can we do if the ‘dulha’ (groom) fled away?”

Being a lawyer, Salman Khurshid must be aware that dowry is prohibited by law. More importantly, he should have known that, by making this statement, he was inadvertently giving a signal to many people that dowry is socially acceptable. Surely, he could have avoided the reference to dowry without in any way affecting the effectiveness of his statement.

Unfortunately, politicians regularly make such statements to ensure that they grab more attention. Following the 2004 elections, when the Congress was set to form the government and Sonia Gandhi was expected to become the Prime Minister, BJP leader Sushma Swaraj had declared, “The day Sonia takes oath as Prime Minister, I will tonsure my head, put on white clothes, sleep on the floor and eat only roasted grams.” Obviously, she was referring to the cruel treatment meted out to widows, which, fortunately, is not commonly followed these days. Inadvertently or otherwise, she was endorsing this practice. To the best of my knowledge, nobody protested against this statement, and Ms. Swaraj even defended it at a later date.

Irresponsible statements like these seriously hamper the effort to eradicate dowry, ill-treatment of widows and other social ills. Not only should they refrain from making such statements, people in public life must not tolerate any such casual references by others.

Section 3(1)(x) of The Scheduled Castes and The Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989 states, “Whoever, not being a member of a Scheduled Caste or a Scheduled Tribe, intentionally insults or intimidates with intent to humiliate a member of a Scheduled Caste or a Scheduled Tribe in any place within public view; shall be punishable with imprisonment for a term which shall not be less than six months but which may extend to five years and with fine.” ET reported on August 20, 2008 that “The Supreme Court has said that addressing Scheduled Castes people as ‘chamar’ may amount to an offence punishable under the provision of the Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989.”

Don’t Salman Khurshid’s and Sushma Swaraj’s remarks amount to publicly promoting social ills? Should public promotion of dowry, ill-treatment of widows and other social ills be made punishable offences? Perhaps that’s the only way to make our politicians mind their language.