|E D I T O R I A L
P A G E
Sunday, December 20, 1998
Sabha member for ninth time
I was manhandled by Mamata Banerjee! It is hard to imagine a tiny lady barely five feet tall doing anything of the sort of a hulking male member of Parliament. But it wasnt the veracity of Daroga Prasad Sarojs exclamation that caught my fancy but his choice of words.
Manhandled? Isnt that rather a peculiar choice of words to describe something (allegedly) done by a woman. The tides of political correctness are sweeping over the world, swamping even the English language as they pass. There has been a concerted attempt to rid everyday speech of (alleged) sexual bias. Which is why Najma Heptullah, who presides over the Rajya Sabha in the absence of the Vice-President, is properly addressed as Madame Chairperson.
I agree, of course, that Madame Chairman is a horrendous oxymoron, a contradiction in terms. But why is the attempt to neutralise (in every sense of the word) the language being confined only to those words connoting dignity or power? Take the aforementioned manhandle; going by strict feminist logic, shouldnt that be personahandle.
Come to that, people should be falling down personalities. Political parties should be releasing personifestoes. Policemen should put personacles on prisoners. Scamsters should personipulate the unwary and the innocent. Farmers should spread personure on their fields. And at the end of the day every lover of language, grammar, and syntax would be left tearing the hair by the roots at this mangling persongling? of common words.
Once we begin the task of gelding everyday speech, we cant just stop with individual words. Phrases, even perhaps time-honoured adages and proverbs, shouldnt be sacrosanct. Can we continue to say, for instance, that behind every successful man there is a woman. Or, for that matter, can we refer with the same scorn as of old to a man who hides behind a womans skirts? In an age and a time dominated by Monica Lewinsky and her sisters, arent those phrases totally wrong?
I suggest that we should change some of them. Women dont propel their men to success any longer by standing behind, or even beside, them; they are just as likely to stand in front of some man who seems to have it made and then trip him up. Ask Bill Clinton or Mike Tyson (the latter was sent to jail on a womans complaint and the former may just follow him there).
Hiding behind a womans skirts? A close study of that same Bill Clinton suggests quite a different policy today. To escape the consequences of the Lewinsky affair, he hides behind Saddam Hussein. When the scandal broke out openly in January, it was immediately followed by threats to Iraq. The American public was still digesting the release of the Lewinsky tapes eight months later when the White House hurriedly issued a final warning to Baghdad. And when indictment by the House of Representatives seemed imminent, actual bombing succeeded in postponing the vote.
(I am irresistibly reminded of Ian Flemings immortal creation Goldfingers words to James Bond. There is a saying in Chicago, he said, Once is happenstance. Twice is coincidence. The third time it is enemy action.)
But to return to sexist phrases, there are some which shall remain unchanged and that is just as well. Politicians, for instance, are often referred to as our lords and master, both blatantly masculine nouns. But there really is no alternative, is there? I mean we can scarcely refer to the female of the species as ladies and mistresses. Mercifully Prime Minister and Chief Minister are unisex terms. But if India ever get a woman as Head of State, can we still address her as Rashtrapati?
But there should be times
when one can declare an armistice in the battle of the
sexes, and Christmas should be one of them. So, in the
words of some ancient lyricist, God rest you merry,
gentlemen and gentle-ladies too!
HAD the BJP not flouted established conventions in the last session of the Lok Sabha, P.M. Sayeed would not have got so much of media attention. Conventionally, the Deputy Speakers post goes to the Opposition while the ruling party lays claim on the Speakers office. The BJP, when it was in the Opposition, had its party man as the Deputy Speaker but the partys leadership began dilly-dallying when the turn of the Congress came.
The convention would have been given a burial but for the intervention of the BJPs two allies Mamata Banerjee and Jayalalitha who insisted that it would be unethical to bid goodbye to a well-established practice. The two assertive ladies also threatened to vote for Sayeed in the event of an election. The BJPs leadership had no option but to retract its step as an inevitable defeat would have meant loss of face.
Controversy over the Deputy Speakers election notwithstanding, Padannatha Muhammed Sayeed has many little known facets of his personality. He is only 57 with streak of gray hairs but has come to acquire the status of the father of the House. None of his distinguished predecessors the late Seth Govind Das and Indrajit Gupta have achieved that exalted position so early in life. The senior-most member of the House presides over as members of a new Lok Sabha take oath and elect their Speaker. Sayeed sat on the Speakers chair as the new Lok Sabha met in March after the mid-term poll.
Sayeed has been elected to the Lok Sabha successively for nine times from the strategically located Lakshadweep Islands. The cluster of 36 islands, spread over 220 to 440 km off the western coast of Kerala, are breathtakingly beautiful. The population is 95 per cent Muslim but they are absolutely secular. The islanders live in peace and harmony; there are no crimes, no violence and anti-social elements do not exist. Sayeed is the moving spirit behind the development of the islands. The literacy rate in the islands is as high as 80 per cent and its economy has been thriving, though the mainstay are coconut and fishery.
Sayeed was in his early twenties and a student of law when he was elected to the Lok Sabha in 1967 as an independent candidate. As the youngest member of the House, he drew wide attention. This was the first time that Lakshadweep had representation in Parliament. The newly created constituency then had a total electorate of only 14,505 and Sayeed secured a little over a quarter of the total votes cast.
Sayeed recalls that his first meeting with Indira Gandhi was at the behest of Mohan Dharia. She asked the young Sayeed: Why dont you join the Congress? This was, as if, a God sent opportunity to the young islander. He complained: I did write a letter to you seeking the Congress ticket but in the absence of a response I jumped in the electoral fray as an Independent.
Taken a little aback Mrs Gandhi said: Yes, I received your letter and passed it on to Kamaraj (the then Congress President) for consideration. Apparently, Kamaraj did not take any action thinking Sayeed might be one of the wayward youth eager to enter Parliament without any experience. Mrs Gandhi acted promptly and admitted Sayeed in the Congress. Being short of numbers in Parliament, she needed the support of more MPs.
During the 1969 split of the Congress the role of young turks, led by the bearded Chandra Shekhar, is well known but few know that Sayeed was also part of the team. Since he also sports an almost identical beard as Chandra Shekhar, he was described jocularly as the youngest turk.
When I talked to him shortly after his unanimous election as the Deputy Speaker, Sayeed was nostalgic. He looked three decades back when he first entered the Lok Sabha and sought to compare it with the present one. Parliament in 1967 comprised of stalwarts; Nath Pai, Acharya J.B. Kripalani, M.C. Chagla, Asoka Mehta and Hem Barooah to name only a few.
I was most impressed by Nath Pai, he recalled, adding I felt I was, as if, a student amidst so many towering personalities and I have a lot to learn, miles to go. Subsequent Lok Sabhas declined in terms of dazzling brilliance of parliamentarians but they reflected wider representation of the people, wider sections of society.
In a sense Parliament over the years became more of a living, thieving forum reflecting the rising aspirations of the people, Sayeed felt.
Sayeed has had three terms
in the Union Council of Ministers. He was Minister of
State for Steel, Mines and Coal in 1979-80, served in the
Home Ministry from 1993 to 1995 and was Minister of
State, Ministry of Information and Broadcasting, in
1995-96. This is for the first time that Sayeed will be
presiding over the Lok Sabha and deputise for the
Speaker. Having been in the panel of presiding officers,
he is well versed in parliamentary procedure and rules
and regulations. The present House is a difficult one
because of its composition.
Mr C. Keelan pronounced orders in the case in which an ex-Guard, Mr Meredith, was charged under Section 323 IPC with having assaulted and hurt Mrs G. Williams. The prosecution story was, that a person was standing near an empty house alongside of the complainants quarters. Her companion, one Mrs Edwards, went up and asked who he was and what he was doing. The person gave his name as Smith but Mrs Edwards son, who had come up, identified him as Meredith.
The accused asked her to come and have a drink with her in an empty house, but she asked him what he took her for. The accused left saying, Alright, Mrs Williams, Ill see you tomorrow. But after about ten minutes only he returned with an iron rod behind his back.
The two ladies asked him what it was. The accused answered with poking Mrs Williams with the rod. He also abused her. The accused failed to put in any defence, although he had ample opportunity to do so. He submitted, however, that he never used the rod, although he used a harsh word. She slapped him and he pushed her.
The learned Magistrate
held the offence of striking the complainant with the rod
proved, and remarked, the affair is not a serious one,
resembling more a storm in a tea cup and a compromise
would have been more expedient than a court case with its
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