November 28, 2013

Protesting castration

My generation of Indians was, with some exceptions, proud of the image of seamen at the time we went out to sea. Seamen were seen by everybody as tough and reticent mavericks that worked hard and played even harder. That the image was often- but hardly always- removed from reality was irrelevant. Especially on foreign ships, we were earning very good salaries, were young, often brash, usually blew up money ashore like there was no tomorrow, worked our behinds off on the ship and cursed like sailors wherever we were. We were proud of what we did for a living; we were proud we were different. I still am.

That Indian seamen have over the years been emasculated by a combination of factors serious enough to make seafaring a low priority career today is undisputed. Now comes another daft idea- this one from a parliamentary panel that is amending the Indian Merchant Shipping Act- that will continue their slow castration. The panel has recommended- if media reports are to be believed- that the word ‘seamen’ should be replaced with ‘sea-persons’ in the Act to make the entire shebang gender neutral.

With that, politically correct hot-air has now wafted through Indian shipping’s door, and it smells worse than undigested food.

Pardon my French if you must, but this flipping politically correct nonsensical tinkering with language has gone too far.  ‘Happy Holidays’ has always been a tame (and inaccurate) substitute for ‘Merry Christmas’; ‘sea-persons’ is similarly tame and inaccurate - most seamen are men even today, and those that are not can be called seawomen, can’t they? I mean, why do men have to disproportionately suffer loss of masculinity for the sake of gender neutral language? We already use words like chairwoman and businesswoman, don’t we?

Meanwhile, I vote that that old word for a cargo ship- ‘merchantman’- be replaced by ‘merchantperson.’ That would be funny, at least. Sea-person is just pathetic.

I have been- and to considerable extent still am- a proud seaman. I have ignored recent attempts to classify me as a ‘seafarer’- another term that I find distasteful because it seems to tend to negate my sex and tone me down to some acceptable, rubbishy idea of what is acceptable. I am proud of my scars, warts and my sailor’s temperament. I am proud of my profession. Years later, I want my grandchildren- if I have any- to use the word seaman to describe what I did for a living. Not seafarer, and certainly not some namby-pamby sea-person; I was never a sea-person and I never will be one, thank the Lord for small mercies.

I would like to ask Mr Sitaram Yechury- head of that august parliamentary panel that is tinkering with what they cannot know- to leave my identity alone. I remind him that a country is still either your fatherland or your motherland. Not personland; not yet, anyway. And I remind him that he is not performing a yeoperson service to my profession (which is not his) by mutilating the English language in a desperate and misguided attempt to be gender neutral.  In fact, and pardon my French again if you must, his committee seems hell bent on screwing it up.

Use the words seamen and seawomen, please, if you must differentiate between the two sexes for the sake of some legal document or some cuckoo notion of correctness.  Those two words celebrate gender; ‘sea-person’, on the other hand, sounds like some dainty creature found on the ocean floor. Maybe a sea anemone or a sea horse. Or even a merperson.

Stop this nonsense at once, please, Mr Yechury, because sea-person sounds like some seaman is sporting an ear-ring in the wrong ear.

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