In October 2020 the 'Hindu' newspaper had issued an advertisement of a model parliament held in a classroom. The ad, which made a realistic depiction of the unruly scenes and confrontations in legislative houses of the time, ended with a warning: 'Behave well; the youth are watching it.' When impolite words are raised in legislative houses as if from nowhere and get justified without being corrected, it becomes necessary to remind our legislators and honourable ministers, 'Behave yourself, the people are watching'.
Our legislatures have seldom been an inspiring debating venue of meaningful exchanges or cultural decorum. Legislatures have always shown a penchat for acrimonious arguments, and name-caling together with physical attacks, rather than for hair-splitting discussions on law-making. Past experience tells us that legislation has mostly been an exercise finding some a slot in rare breaks between emotional verbal duels and walk-outs. It may be a Himalayan folly to expect the legislative houses where the antagonistic ruling and opposition sides meet, to become sanctimonious cultural centres. Nevertheless, don't the treasury bench and opposition parties have a minimum obligation to ensure that they do not become a playground of nonsensical exchanges? Are the interiors of our legislative assemblies to be a show case of egos?
What led the Kerala assembly session to a scene of inappropriate phrases and battle cries was the moving of a resolution regarding the Periye case involving the murder of two Youth Congress youth by CPM workers. The calling attention motion tabled by Shafi Parambil provoked the chief minister to the utmost, as was indicated by the expressions he used during his reply and his body language. He also repeated the phrase meaning nonsensical questions several times.
The use of rude words used against an evidently agitated Opposition was shocking and shameful for cultivated Kerala. The House came to some calm only after the Speaker said that he had not passed the mike to minister Jayarajan and if there was anything unparliamentary in Jayarajan's words, they would not find a place in the House records. Even at the time the chief minister started talking, shouts were raised from Opposition. But the willingness to listen is also part of decorum; and a legislature should not be unparliamentary in actions not only in words but also in actions.
It would be quite unfair to include words of abuse in the list of permissible colloquial tradition. True, local idiom and slang are the essence and charm of language. And it belolngs to the democratic nature of language to imbibe a receptivity for regional expressions and nuances of language, even if they may be unpalatable to people from other regions. But, be it spoken or in print, words of abuse remain what they are and will be a reflection of lack of decorum. Attempts to construe them as part of slang would be an injustice to language and culture.
By and large, a word is termed indecent based on its connotations and the construction society is used to ascribing to it. However, it cannot be forgotten that in special situations of time and place, even words that are not indecent will become unparliamentary. It is a mind set of hate that gets expressed through language as abuse. No one needs to educate the left front that abusive terms take birth as a tool of authority to insult and downgrade an individual or group. Many of the words treated as inappropriate, may bear the marks of cultural and racial hegemony and prejudices. And most often they may hurt even the origins of the listeners' predecessors.
When words smacking of authoritarianism of government dominance are used, it will be unbearable in a democratic set-up. Even if not done deliberately, when a chief minister repeats the word meaning nonsense over and over, what results from that is an overbearing and hegemonistic use of langauge. Probably due to the emotional heat of the moment, the excessive use of expressions by minister EP Jayarajan also would end up paying a heavy price in democratic social order. As human beings, even people's representatives are not infallible.
But when mistakes are made, it is the willingness to correct and atone for them that makes any one a cultural being. People can easily distinguish the use of arrogance of power from the vehemence of democratic debate. And people are adept at responding in a fitting manner on suitable occasions. Legislators and the ruled alike should be aware of this. It would only befit them to revert to decent behaviour and democratic discourse for the sake of their own political future. For, the people are watching everything.