The alarming fall in public discourse standards is directly proportionate to the speed and reach of communication today through Internet and social media. Apart from Facebook, Twitter and YouTube, we also have text messages, BBMs (BlackBerry messages) and other communication apps such as whatsap.

So even as Hurricane Sandy was battering the eastern regions of the US, causing misery and destroying homes and public infrastructure, it was extremely annoying to get this BBM: “I’m sure the US is regretting throwing Osama (bin Laden) in the sea…. That guy just won’t stop!!!!” The reference was to Osama’s body dumped into the sea by the US Seals, and the inference was that the sea waters were now ravaging the US again.

It was sickening to think anybody would rejoice or crack jokes at the misery caused to ordinary people during a horrific natural calamity.

Then of course, we had the Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi making the extremely distasteful and sexist comment on HRD Minister Shashi Tharoor’s “50 crore girlfriend”. Addressing an election rally in Himachal Pradesh he said: “Bhaiyo aur behno mujhe bataiye, 50 crore ki girlfriend kisine dekhi hei… is garib desh mei? (Tell me if any of you have seen a Rs 50-crore girlfriend; and that too in this poor country?” )

Modi would have been well within his right to attack, ridicule, sneer at the alleged “sweat equity” not of Rs 50 crore, but Rs 70 crore that Sunanda Pushkar, – then Tharoor’s friend, and now his wife – is supposed to have received vis-à-vis the Kochi IPL team. But to refer to a woman, or a man too, if that was the context, as a Rs 50-crore girlfriend or boyfriend, is to stoop to a new low in political discourse. And for what? Thunderous applause and votes; he has anyway been getting the former and is all set to have a rich haul of the latter.

So it baffles the mind that the man all set to storm back to power on the plank of development, and is projected as the next prime minister of India, would need to make such a derogatory/demeaning reference to a woman. And he needs to take on Shashi Tharoor from the Congress camp?

Then there was this postscript in a column of Khushwant Singh titled “In love with Urdu poetry”. As usual, the veteran columnist signed off with a reader’s contribution, which was in gross bad taste. Meant to be a joke it went thus: A man from Bihar, working in Mumbai hadn’t met his wife for four years. One fine day he distributed sweets saying his wife had delivered a son. To a query from astonished colleagues he explained that in Bihar it was customary for neighbours to “take care of the wife” while the husband was away.

So, how would he name the child? It would be Dwiwedi, if the second neighbour had “taken care” of the wife; Trivedi, Chaturvedi and Pandey, in case of the third, fourth or fifth neighbour’s involvement. What if it’s a “mix of neighbours”? The name would be Mishra; if the wife was too shy to name the neighbour, it would be Sharma. What if she had been raped? Doshi.

If all this is not gross enough, here comes the last question. What if the whole country was responsible “for the happy arrival”? “Deshpandey”, was the reply.

In this shocking “joke”, forget insulting the woman with such innuendos, you are insulting an entire State. Bihar might lead the Bimaru States and might have been sending out its men for livelihood to other States. But surely Biharis, men and women included, don’t deserve such crude and vulgar abuse. As the man who put this on twitter RaghunathAS (@asraghunath) tweeted: “Khushwant Singh’s last piece in this column was in bad taste, even if it was not written by him. Avoidable.”

I fully agree.

rasheeda.bhagat@thehindu.co.in

(This article was published on November 1, 2012)
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