Contempt Our National Language Of Conversations

Contempt Our National Language Of Conversations

Lulu, my parrot, flew in from the window, landed on the sofa and looked at the newspaper in my hand. “Prashant Bhushan’s contempt case has created quite a storm,” he said.

“Yes. His tweets have led to his prosecution. The lawyer fraternity is up in arms,” I pointed out to another news story. “How do you look at this situation, Lulu?”

“Well, Hmmm….., I don’t know what to say. I think it is all about our language. Also about the language we use at home.”

“Ha, ha… I remember my school days. I remember my friend’s aunt who gave him a new cricket ball and asked how many days he will take to lose it.”

“Everything was costly, rare. It required careful handling. But the aunt expressed contempt for his ability to understand it. Parents are often mindlessly critical. And children copy it.” Lulu playfully nudged the ball to my grandson.

Lulu, my parrot

“You said it, Lulu. And by the time we discard parental messages, and learn new ways, we would have already made a few enemies.”

“I am sure your friend would have held his aunt in contempt. Contempt begets contempt. But there is more to the issue of contempt than parental messages.”


“Like people mistake speaking critically to be a sign of intelligence of the speaker. Thin line divides critiquing and being critical.”

“Hmmm…. I agree. They come from two different positions….”

Lulu interrupted me. “…. You got it right. When you are critiquing you judge the thing. With its pluses and minuses. Dispassionately. When you are critical you are also contemptuous, you look down upon the person, institution or the issue.”

“True. We Indians are very expressive. Using contemptuous language comes naturally to us.”

“Don’t forget that the critical language used in the judgement in Shah Bano case caused big trouble.”


“Zia Mody in her article on Shah Bano case says, ‘It was not a unique case; in fact, it was rather ubiquitous – the very same court had judged similar cases earlier…… And though the case was a watershed in the protection of women’s rights in a largely chauvinistic nation, it also showed how judgements of courts, which are in fact intended to resolve conflicts, can often transform into sources of conflict themselves………. The Shah Bano judgement was laced with undertones suggesting that the court was critical of Muslim personal law, especially in the context of women.’”

“Oh! I did not know it. I thought contemptuous language is the privilege of political leaders.”

“Haven’t you heard Sanjay Raut? Or Raj Thackeray? Rahul Gandhi who used ‘Chowkidar chor hai’ ad nauseam? Amit Shah? Contemptuous speech and behaviour is almost the way of life for us. Civility, decency and tolerance has deserted us. And Trump’s language is pure distilled contempt for others.”

“Good to hear that we are not alone. George Floyd episode’s underlying driving emotion is contempt. ”

Pic courtesy Sarah Ardin Unsplash

“That’s the emotion behind every caste conflict, every racial conflict. We do not respect any difference. Difference of opinion included.”

“Yes, tolerance is the key. It needs to be inculcated. By the weak as well as the powerful.”

“True. And Dalai Lama says, ‘In the practice of tolerance, one’s enemy is the best teacher.’ Have you understood what it means?” Lulu looked at me inquisitively.

Vivek S Patwardhan

What you leave behind is not what is engraved in stone monuments, but what is woven into the lives of others.

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