We are known by the words we keep our association with. Words not only represent us but these depict our inner selves. Experimental evidence in behavioral science has proved that our deep self is sometimes reflected in the choice of words we make. This works at both individual and societal levels. Words that trickle in the public discourse of a society depict the condition of the society. Of course it is a two way process. Society creates contexts and language provides the words and the use of these words help in sustaining these contexts.
The public discourse an amalgamation of media, political and other forms of societal discourse created in Kashmir in the last more than two decades is inadvertently portraying Kashmiris as a community of wretched that sustain by licking its own wounds. One such despicable example is provided by the word orphan. Scores of orphanages started functioning in the last decade or so to take care of the orphans created in the armed struggle.
The word ‘orphan’ is much more abused in the contemporary Kashmir than tools of oppression like APSPA and PSA. The word is in such demand no public domain in our society is out of its reach. From morning newspapers to mosques to loudspeaker bearing vans roaming around markets, everywhere the public emotion is evoked and enchased by the very word.
Media reports have raised doubts about the veracity of these institutions that boast of serving the destitute. While most of these have turned into pure commercial entities, many are robbing people of their hard earned money in broad day light. Our civil society and media has so far been unable to prevent this ‘orphan’ discourse from attaining such magnitude, the government also seems to be content with the activity. This could be the worst form of moral degradation a society could see when it starts selling its own destitute.
Studies conducted on the children living in these orphanages point to the lopsided psychological development and improper socialization of the inmates. The way these institutions are being run, particularly with regard to their fund raising mechanism, has resulted in attaching a stigma to the word orphan and these children have to carry the taboo along.
Civilized societies in the west readily abandon the use of such words from public domain that invoke people’s suffering and have the potential of causing mental hurt and create friction among people. Even though any English dictionary may show words like ‘orphan’ ‘handicapped’ etc but these are never being used in public. Rather words like ‘underprivileged’, ‘differently abled’ that have softer connotations are used to refer to these people.
Our collective conscience may be moribund but it is not dead as yet. The unorganized and unchecked fund raising modes of these orphanages should not only be taken care, but the use of trauma laden words like ‘orphan’ and ‘orphanages’ should be abandoned from public usage and alternative terms that are not emotionally loaded should be brought into practice. And media has a big role to play in this.