Trigger Warning: This article contains sensitive terms associated with caste, gender and gender identity, which can be potentially distressing. Reader discretion is advised.
Chief Justice of India, DY Chandrachud released a handbook called, Combating Gender Stereotypes. The intent of the book is to help people in the legal community understand how some terms hold negative connotations. This also includes alternative terms for all the listed words, which was a much-needed change. But, that also raises a serious concern about how often we use derogatory words and slurs in casual conversations.
While this handbook applies to the courtroom, there’s a lot that our society needs to learn. We constantly use problematic phrases and terms that are casteist, sexist and homophobic – without even realizing their original meaning.
So, here are all the words that we use too often, but shouldn’t be used at all.
The word ‘chick’ is so often used to describe women and talk about them, that we hardly find the problem with it. This term sexualizes and infantilizes women, which is well, sexist. Men casually calling women chicks is not cool or fun. And let’s just face it, there are a thousand other ways to address and talk to a woman, without demeaning them.
The term “Chamar” can be derogatory due to its historical use as a caste label in India for a marginalized Dalit community. In today’s age and day, people use it as a casteist slur in ways that are meant to demean a person. Without understanding the origin, or use, people throw it around to casually insult other people, which is deeply problematic.
Weirdly, whenever we see people abusing women on the internet, they come up with the most offensive terms. Another such word is ‘cunt’ which is an abusive slang, and shouldn’t even exist. The negative connotation associated with the word is hardly ever recognized, and nothing makes it use okay.
The casteist slur is used by people to describe a person as ugly or unclean, today. This is problematic because the term is initially used to describe the bhangi caste. The people of the bhangi caste have been historically oppressed and were traditionally restricted to work like manual scavenging, and sweeping. Its usage today is offensive on a lot of levels.
“Chhaka” is a colloquial and derogatory term used in our society to insult or mock individuals who are transgender or have non-conforming gender identities. This term is offensive and hurtful, as it contributes to the discrimination and marginalization faced by transgender people. It also contributes into the practices where we treat them as ‘other’, which is all sorts of wrong.
Using terms like “meetha” or any other unrelated adjective to describe queers or individuals within the LGBTQ+ community is not respectful or appropriate. It is derogatory and offensive because it reduces individuals to stereotypes and reinforces harmful attitudes.
The term “jungli” is a Hindi word that translates to “wild” or “savage” in English. While it might not always be used with negative intent, it can carry derogatory connotations because it was used to refer to the tribal communities. So, referring to someone as “jungli” can be seen as disrespectful, stereotyping, and perpetuating harmful biases.
The origin of some words make us realise how little we know about our own history. It’s also concerning how little we understand what we say to people. This term is used casually to describe someone who is drunk. The problem with its use is the fact that it was used to describe traditional folk communities who were street performers.
We often use the word ‘bipolar’ to describe someone’s changing attitude or emotion. It sounds harmless but it’s not. Bipolar disorder is a mental health condition. So, it’s use to refer to temporary behaviour is deeply problematic – specifically because the intent is demeaning. A mental health condition is not an insult, and it should not be used like one.
The term has been historically used to refer to women and their emotional expressions. This implies that women overreact to all situations, which is sexist. It also leads to dismissive behaviour towards women, specifically when they have genuine concerns or cause to be upset.
‘Chapri’ is also a term associated with a marginalized caste of workers. While it was historically used as a description, the connotation has changed over time. Now, people associate the word with ‘slacking’, ‘being lazy’ and not ‘dressing well’ or looking a certain way. The usage is derogatory and problematic, which is mostly laughed off.
Change needs to take place outside of our courtrooms as well. It’s about time.