Soft bigotry of possibly insincere politeness
Alal O Dulal seems to have a certain kind of verve that I haven’t seen in the Deshi blogosphere since the heydays of 2006-07 — just before and after 1/11. Do visit, and participate in debates there. This particular one caught my eyes.
To quickly summarise: one of the bloggers note that while talking about the corruption of Syed Abul Hossain or Nazmul Huda (both communication ministers, AL and BNP respectively), no one uses the salutations Janab / Sahib, but Suranjit Sengupta is frequently addressed as Sri / Babu, which has the effect of reminding people of the minister’s religion; and one of the commenters argued that Sri / Babu salutations aren’t necessarily communal, but reflect the general social manners.
Suppose the commenter is right. What does that tell us about our society?
Why do we discriminate in our salutations? What is wrong with addressing Suranjit Sengupta as Janab? In India, all officials, irrespective of religion, are addressed formally as Sri. Why not do a Bangladeshi equivalent?
The fact that as a society we grow up addressing Hindu men differently from we address Muslim men is a reality of social division. There is no getting around that fact. And that’s not necessarily problematic.
But what is problematic is when, in the context of a corruption allegation, the salutation is seen as a sign of politeness. Is that politeness sincere? In my observation, Bangladeshis are not particularly polite about powerful people — politicians, businessmen, army officers, dead leaders. So, in the current context, Babu Suranjit Sengupta reminds me of American pundits discussing the spirituality of Barack Hussein Obama.
Not convinced of the soft bigotry? Here is another example. Remember this:
Reactions to this speech varied from “gee, that’s funny” (my first reaction) to “this is what happens when politics is full of turncoats, sigh” to “why is BNP courting these losers, sigh” to “why is everyone focusing on this loser when there are bigger issues”. I have not seen a single reference to the fact that it’s incredibly offensive to use the word tilokwali in this context.
This soft bigotry of insincere politeness is bad. But perhaps even worse is the bigotry ingrained in us — the supposedly secular, progressive, liberal people.