The name means a lot!
"What's in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet" - William Shakespeare
The reference is often used to imply that the names of things, do not affect, what they really are. Is it true, in the complex society of human beings, where every word often gets nuanced and interpreted differently with its wider connotations?
Shakespeare is reminded recently with the Hindustan Unilever's, HUL's realisation of its own, Fair & Lovely brand, being 'unfair' to its own customers. After 50+ years of its existence, the brand, needs a name change from 'fair & lovely' to 'glow & lovely', as they realised, though lately, everything that is fair, is not so fair, always!
Name is one thing, we often, call and recall. It remains in our subconscious mind. It's sound, often presents us, the person, event or an incident associated with. Repetition of the same strengthens its position in our subconscious. The names, knowingly or unknowingly, therefore, present the reality, before us.
In society, reality exists, which gets its depiction in various forms, mainly through names and easily identifiable nomenclatures. One such reality is racial bias, which existed since the colonial era and associated slavery. The world adopted the principles of equality, but what remained in the subconscious is inequality, based on race. Fair & Lovely, the name depicted human bias. The capability of this cosmetic product to turn a black skin into a fair one is always highlighted, through its advertising and communication to date. Its repetition, through various media channels, did strengthen the racial bias and the feeling of the fair being beautiful and dusky/ black being 'not so beautiful'. Though we got liberated from the colonial rule and slavery, racial differentiation remained in our minds, recalled every day, thanks to such cosmetic brands and their names.
The statutory laws and rules can remove the overt presence of social evils from the society but can't remove its covert presence, from our minds. It requires constant efforts from the Government and community, at large. One simple step, in this direction, is to change the negative nomenclature to a positive one. There are such instances from the past, where name helped in changing the mindset, to some extent!
Indian society is divided on the caste basis, where historically, the lowest strata, considered untouchable and called so. It took efforts from our social reformers, freedom fighters and laws post-independence, to blur this identity, of our own people, who were considered worthless, even for a touch! The most important step, was to change its nomenclature from 'untouchables' to 'scheduled caste', as recognised in the Indian constitution. The society, though could not liberate itself from the caste divisions, over 70+years of independence, but at least to some extent, could minimise, the pain caused by its daily remembrance through the word 'untouchable'.
The second instance was for another social evil, based on sex, where women, often being, given secondary status, in the patriarchal setup. It took decades for social reformers to convince, him that 'she' is 'his' equal partner in development. Their earlier efforts were termed 'women upliftment', denoting, 'she' at a lower level than 'he'. This later changed to 'women empowerment' and then to 'women equality'. This new term reminds us, that 'she' is equal to 'he'. The name change from 'women upliftment' to 'women empowerment' to 'women equality', is the forward-looking and positive step towards realising that the female being no less than equal to their male counterparts.
The third such instance of bias was based on physical deformities, where such people, often called as handicapped. It was a negative connotation, denoting a person with some physical loss. It took nearly seven decades, to change its nomenclature from 'handicapped' to 'specially-abled' or 'divyang'. It meant, a person gifted with special qualities or bodily abilities, enabling a change in perception from negatively worded 'deformity or handicapped' to a positively worded ' divyang'.
These change in names don't mean, any change in social evils or their practices. But they are the first step in the right direction. Though late, it's never too late! The realisation of its presence is enough to begin the change, at least, at last!
Santosh Ajmera is an Indian Information Service officer, in charge of Field communication for Maharashtra and Goa region. Views expressed are personal