D. Murali

TO know the meaning of `goonda' many people are referring to gundu (fat) dictionaries and only ending up disappointed because the definition is not as dramatic as recent headlines. The Concise Oxford English Dictionary defines the word quite simply as "n. Indian a hired thug or bully," and Encarta doesn't elaborate either when saying, "South Asia ruffian or hooligan."

The common man is obviously in a hurry to get to know the goonda. And an indication of his ubiquitous curiosity has been showing in my inbox with strange `subject' lines such as, `goonda who,' and `help with goonda,' though I've been shift-deleting these mails as spam. In atonement, therefore, here is some guidance on the subject.

Who is a goonda?

Goonda means a person, who either by himself or as a member of or leader of a gang, habitually commits or attempts to commit or abets the commission of offences, punishable under Chapter XVI or Chapter XVII or Chapter XXII of the Indian Penal Code (IPC), 1860.

Is there a Goonda Act?

In fact, the legislation has a long name: "The Tamil Nadu Prevention of Dangerous Activities of Bootleggers, Drug-offenders, Forest-offenders, Goondas, Immoral Traffic Offenders, Slum-grabbers and Video Pirates Act, 1982." However, it's common to use the shorthand `Goondas Act' in news bulletins, so as not to offend listeners' interest. Goonda Acts, as listed in the IPC's chapters, include `offences against the human body' such as murder, `offences against property' such as dacoity, and `criminal intimidation, insult and annoyance.'

Where does goonda come from?

I guess they can come from all places, but if you're looking for the origin of the word, one suggestion is Hindi gunda `rascal.' Another theory is that goondas are related to goons. Well, you never know if the local bully has a foreign branch too, but goon means thug, whose designation is professional gangster, and job-description involves beating up or terrorising people.

Less violently, and more insultingly, goon is a clumsy person. Goon originated from a 1933 comic strip character named `Alice the Goon' in Popeye, informs www.word-detective.com. However, it seems Hugh Rawson's `Wicked Words' traces goon to the Hindi gunda, spelt goondah in British newspapers of the 1920s. One more instance, that is, of our contribution to the language.

Aren't goondas a tax on our society?You're right, they can act in a manner "prejudicial to the maintenance of public order," thus causing "harm, danger or alarm, or a feeling of insecurity among the general public." In which case, the Government can arrest them. There's also what's called `goonda tax' to refer to a common malaise that manifests in many forms, such as simple bribe, money extorted as `protection,' or unauthorised collection to permit passage on roads.

Can I ignore goonda?

Normally, it may not be possible to ignore a goonda, I think, because he would come too menacingly with a knife or cycle-chain and send a chill down your spine, rather than allow you to say, "Hi mister, howdy?" If your problem is one of Word that's innocently redlining goonda, and suggesting `gonad' instead, you have the option to `ignore' or `add.' Since goondas are increasingly part of our daily diet of news, I'd suggest you `add.'

SayCheek@TheHindu.co.in

(This article was published in the Business Line print edition dated February 2, 2005)
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