“I Want To Change My Surname.”

Proactive Indian‘s post, “Just having harmless fun” or simply being cruel?, made me feel it was time to share my thoughts on the subject.

A few days ago, Anu (firstborn) came up to me in the evening and said,

I want to change my surname?

I asked,

Why? What happened?

She tells me,

That Dev in my class keeps making fun of me calling me ‘Gyaani, Gyaani’.”

To this Lil Love comes up with,

Next time he does so, call me and I’ll punch him on his nose.

After making the angry young woman a bit cooler, I told Anu,

The very next time he calls you ‘gyaani‘ or makes fun of you tell him that you learn ‘dhyaan se‘ because of your surname (which is Dhyani). Also tell him that it is not good to make fun of others. But if he still wishes to, he must first learn to dissect his name and surname and ask himself if it is right to do so.

I am sure she wouldn’t have gone and told him anything, but I had to calm her with whatever little came to my mind at that point of time.

What troubled me more was not Anu being hurt, but Lil Love’s rage, because it reflected the me that I was when I was a child.

While I was in school, some of the boys in our class used to make fun of me because of my maiden surname), ‘Nair‘. They would dissect it and call me a ‘Nai‘ which in Hindi meant a barber and in my native language Malayalam, it meant a dog. Though I was a shy and quiet child, I still remember how hard I had hit one of those boys when they started dragging my father into it. Yes. I had hit a boy when I was in class fourth. And he was hurt but did not complain, because he knew he was at fault. It’s a different story that we both are still ‘friends’. That incident troubled me so much that at many places I had started writing my surname as ‘Nayyer‘ instead of ‘Nair‘.

Later on when I joined my first job at 19 and my Dad used to drop me at the World Book Fair venue where I had a stall duty, one of my colleagues made a remark about my Dad being bald. I didn’t say anything that day even though I was visibly upset about it. But when it started becoming a routine I gave him my piece of mind without any sugar-coating, which the poor fellow had to accept without a single word in return.

Aren’t such careless and seemingly ‘harmless’ remarks meant to be banished at the very onset of it?

It is such remarks which later on end up making one unaware of how he/she is hurting others without even having an intention to do so or realizing how the other person is getting affected. The change has to being at ground level or rather root level. Yes. It has to be my responsibility as a parent to not engage in something that I am not party to, like making fun of others, poking jokes about religion/sect/caste, belittle someone based on their skin color/height/weight etc.

The recent killing of Nido Tania is the consequence of one such seemingly harmless remark from the shopkeeper. My heart goes out to the wailing parents who lost the boy. I sincerely wish that the attackers get punished and the public gets a lesson.

Man dies in India following alleged racial-tinged attack

Delhi: Arunachal MLA’s son beaten to death, autopsy report awaited

Racial attack: Students from northeast demand justice over Nido Tania’s killing

Youths protest against Nido Tania’s death

This case is highlighted so much because the deceased is the son of the chief minister of Arunachal Pradesh.

Do you think it was a one-off case?

I just need to go to the close-by market place or the nearby school or college entrance and I can hear countless remarks like these. Some hushed ones, some louder ones. But all of them exposing their shameless selves.

Sometime back I had written a post And then we talk of racism across the globe! and there was a college student who tried educating me about the difference between racial discrimination and such ‘harmless’ remarks on one of the FB groups. I am not sure if he reads me anymore, but I wish to ask him: Does he still feel that ‘harmless’ remarks need not be a reason to be agitated about?

If we engage in a productive conversation with even a toddler, I’m sure he/she is sensible enough to understand and make amendments. Isn’t this easier for parents like us to do over a simple game of snakes and ladders or scrabble? Teachers too can make a huge difference by educating students about the ill-effects of such ‘harmless’ remarks. But definitely someone/somewhere has to make an effort and raise the flag. Then, why not me?

NE-students
Image Courtesy: Times of India

So next time you get a funny SMS, FaceBook message, email from any of your friends or acquaintances, stop them right there. ‘Paki’, ‘chinky’, ‘firang’, ‘angrez’, ‘madrasi’, ‘takla’, ‘bhoora’ etc., are some of the phrases one should erase from one’s dictionary. And if our youngsters are fed with more of these, we’ll never ever progress in our thoughts, in our actions, in our mentality towards fellow humans which in turn will definitely affect us in more than one ways.

This has to stop meaning this has to stop. Period.

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24 Replies to ““I Want To Change My Surname.””

  1. Couldn’t have put it any more aptly or proficiently than how you just did Rekha. It has to stop indeed. I too have been the “butt” of many jokes in school. It was probably a lot more worse because we had students from all over the world in my class, since I studied abroad. And it shouldn’t come as any surprise that my surname, my first name, my race, my skin colour, my religion, everything has come under scrutiny and mockery. But then my parents helped me get through it, and once I grew up, i started to take everything lightly. The more we react to taunts, the more the “taunter” gets motivated to do so. But yes, I digress slightly. Racial discrimination needs to be nipped in the bud, and as parents, we’re in the best place to do so. But what if the parent’s themselves are “strongly opinionated” on this? Unfortunately, the truth is that we are far more out numbered by the idiots than by the sensible ones.

  2. Excellent post, written, as all your posts on such issues are, straight from the heart!

    You’ve highlighted 2 very important points:
    a. A seemingly harmless remark can even lead to death, as it did in the case of Nido Tania
    b. Each one of us is, knowingly or unknowingly, guilty. Each one of us must change for the better.

  3. You have like covered a vast spectrum of topics…about the teasing part, I would stay it’s present everywhere even in the developed countries. It does not depend upon the topic but the sense that people feel that can bully someone. Institutions (read schools) should be pro active in dealing with such situations. Saying that even the person who bullies is also a child. So, it’s complicated.
    As far as the part where you quoted your colleague making a remark about your father, I feel Indians generally make a lots of personal remarks which one should avoid. When I encounter these kind of people I think they definitely didn’t had the privilege of good education like me and I forgive them and definitely avoid themfrom then on.

  4. Have to completely agree with your point of view on this particular topic Rekha, and more importantly we have to imbibe in our children the fact that discrimination on any basis must not be tolerated, encouraged or practiced by them in any form or fashion.

  5. I was bullied as a child for being a sikh. They called me joodi. I thought how lucky are the kids who are Hindu, they never get bullied. Then, I realised that the Muslim kids had it worse. Didn’t realize it had nothing to do with religion. Its alright to be enraged but I think the bullies would always be there around you. Its best to ignore them, not to take them personally and do your thing. Ugly is the face of bully and it should not be looked at.

  6. Very true. Many people would consider many terms like these harmless and in ‘good’ fun, but unfortunately, it’s a very thin line between light joking and being offensive. It’s best to sensitize our children to this issue right when they’re very young.

  7. First of all, read this: http://kimicolney01.wordpress.com/2014/02/01/an-open-goodbye-letter-to-india/. It is just a coincidence that it is written by a resident of one of the NE states.
    We are holier than thou when it comes to people being racial towards us, but we conveniently ignore our own biases under cover of a joke.
    Your post stirred a latent memory.
    I stayed in the hostel for one year during my undergrad. My mom would come to visit me every week because the hostel was close by. One of my room-mates very insultingly asked me why my mom doesn’t wear sindur/ mangalsootra/ bichhiya- all the symbols of a married woman. Her words implied that my mom was a characterless woman to be so ‘brazen’. And this was when the girl had barely moved into the hostel a week ago!
    There was such venomous censure in that 1st yr student’s voice that I was silenced for a few minutes. The next minute I slapped her so hard she cried for hours. And requested the warden to change her room… which was very okay with me. The mean little runt and a busybody to boot!
    Yeah, I know what you are talking of. Hurting, mean, and downright nasty. Ugh!

  8. Rekha, I could so relate to this post of yours. I’ve been a victim of such remarks in my school , college and even in office. I shall do a detailed post on it. It used yo hurt me, when boys used to tease my dad for his SOUTH accent. People don’t understand that these small.things, stack up and then one day, the volcano erupts and messing up lives forever.
    Very well written! And proud of the way you dealt with Anu

  9. Agreed Rekha. It’s high time we put an end to such seemingly harmless remarks that hurt others. The initiative should be taken by us elders and parents. We often find parents/elders laughing off such remarks/ actions made by/ of children, that hurt others without realizing the fact that they are only emboldening them. It’s always better to nip such remarks/ actions in the bud itself.

  10. We have to stop it but you now, I somehow find that such things are more prevalent now. When we were kids, we didn’t know that much but now things go out of hands easily and they are blown out of proportions, like north-indian, south-indian, mallu, punjabi.
    Sad! Wish we stop this passing remark thing and also dividing people on stupid grounds.

  11. Absolutely! Completely agree, Rekha! I wonder if there is anyone in this country who has not been a butt of joke for some reason or another It is really very sad how parochial our mindsets are when it comes to picking on others for their surnames, regions, food, dress, language, accent, caste, class, skin color… On and on, the list goes! I wrote a post about this very dichotomy of being an Indian http://www.rachnaparmar.com/2013/04/indian.html

  12. Rekha, The line which meant the most to me, “Some hushed ones, some louder ones. But all of them exposing their shameless selves.”. I felt as if my teacher had scolded me. Do you know why? Because we have too shared jokes of santa & banta, we too have used words like Mallu or madrasi or similar. I am totally in agreement with you and do not think that we should make fun of others. At the same time, I feel there has to be a moderation. When we used those jokes or those words, we were equally comfortable reading about Puneri jokes or called a Marathmoli. I think in a way it taught us to laugh at ourselves too. That is very essential. The whole thing goes wrong when we lose our perspective and do such things with an attitude to be cruel and hurtful. This attitude of causing harm to others and I mean in any way – physical, emotional, mental, intellectual… has to stop. And love your thought that our kids need to be taught that this attitude is not acceptable and should not be cultivated. I loved reading your post. sorry for such a long comment.

  13. All my life I have been called ‘FAT’ and I still do, by so many who are even ‘close’ to me. And believe me the consequences have been sometimes really extreme. Even today, in retrospect, I feel as I child it did affect me in many ways. It affected my actions and abilities in more ways than one.
    Now I understand what you say here. Racial discrimination is something larger but bullying is everywhere. In schools, on the play ground, in the family functions, at the kitty parties, on the bar stool…everywhere. Sad that it is even considered as something that needs to be nipped. Agree that parents/institutions must begin to regard it as being offensive and try and curb it.
    A good article here, Rekha. Kudos for bringing the issue to the fore.

  14. Bang on Rekha. The names abound…Bihari, Madrasi, Paki. And when we are not able to slot a person in any regional category we move to physical attributes like Fat Butt. You did the right thing as a parent. Wish all others are as sensitive and as sensible.

  15. Live and let live. Extremism of any kind can be counterproductive and often results in hurting/harming people, victims as well as the culprits. Take it easy. Life is short. Respect the feelings of others around you.

  16. Agree with you completely on this! Name calling is considered as harmless fun but it surely has effects on the victim which can be pretty devastating, and sometimes the scars last a lifetime! I wonder, how people can be so ruthless and nonchalant about hurting someone’s feelings and emotions.

  17. Discrimination on the basis of caste , colour , religion , physical appearances etc exists in every nook and corner of the world disguised as jokes and fun. Some may argue that we just do not possess humour or are not sportive enough to laugh at ourselves.But fun and jokes apart , the insults and hurts heaped are a scar on the psyche. This has to STOP.

  18. It’s very sad how so many people pass of these ‘jokes’ as harmless! How would they feel when the ‘joke’ is on them, I would like to know! I hope you were able to talk more about this with Lil’ Love!

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