The National Commission for Women (NCW) has sought an explanation from Arbaaz Khan for the use of the word ‘laundiya’ in his movie Dabangg 2 on the grounds that it is an insulting term used to describe a girl or a young woman.
Whether the word ‘laundiya’ is pejorative or not is something that linguists and sociologists will need to debate. But as etymologists will point out, words over a period of time also change their meaning. Thus, ‘laundiya’ may have been a word not used in refined language, but over a period of time it has entered our lexicon and is used by a large number of people in cities and villages to refer to a girl/young woman.
But the bigger issue is our growing intolerance to words or depictions that offend us. Recently, a Kashmir girls’ band, Pragaash, agreed to stop performing, and artists in Bangalore were forced to take down paintings, all because different religious groups claimed they had been offended.
For the NCW to question the film director for the use of a particular word that is in everyday use amounts to an overreaction. Worse, it puts the NCW on a par with religious groups that constantly threaten the freedom of expression. Yes, there are concerns about how our films depict women and, of course, those concerns need to be addressed and changes brought about. But such changes cannot be forced by diktat. And it does not behove the NCW to go against the Constitution and our fundamental freedoms.