Sunday, July 17, 2011

The Power of Stigma( revised)

July 2, 2011

By Saeed Qureshi
A stigmatized life is the most traumatized life. A stigmatized person carries with him shame, calumny, slur, disrespect, aversion and hatred from others. Such a person is treated by the community to be a social pariah while in return he or she turns mostly apologetic or aggressive.

It depends upon the level of the sensibilities of a person, how much miserable or wretched he or she feels or how they take the stigma attached to them.

However, not all stigmas are factual. Some are fabricated for maligning others or for vendetta. Some are genuine and some germinate from misunderstanding. These misunderstandings are caused by a word, phrase, joke or a comment that can be interpreted both negatively and positively leading to the appreciation or aspersion on one’s character.

The stigma right or wrong can seldom be erased and becomes permanent part of the name and image of the target. It follows him throughout his life like a shadow. A maliciously or wrongly stigmatized person cannot go to everyone to explain the truth and therefore, remains a victim despite being guiltless.

Once born, the bad name or stigma gets wings and reaches maximum numbers that continue rising. The humans have a propensity to exaggerate the spicy information particularly digging at some one’s character and personality. It is utterly impossible to clarify the misunderstanding to everyone.

Invariably, politicians, bureaucrats, VIPs, big business tycoons, army generals, aristocrats, clerics, poets, philosophers, journalists, writers, actors, artists and members of other groups carry some kind of stigma or infamy tagged with their names.

On the lower levels in schools, colleges, hospitals, public and private institutions and working places, there are individuals who are marked or known by some error, some habit, some felony, some mistake, some flaw or wrong doing or a statement or utterance that earned them the lifelong millstone of stigma. The kings, queens, rulers and famous personages in the past carry stigmas with their names.

The higher one is in status, the more he is talked about his questionable actions or for the particular flaws in his character. People have a propensity to talk of shortcomings more than mentioning someone by good traits.

Tony Blair, the former Tory prime minister got the nickname of a poodle of former American president G.W. Bush which he cannot never get rid of in his lifetime and even afterwards.

Social stigma is also related to the sacrosanct social taboos and customs whose violation can bring someone a bad name that keep him in lurid colors for all times. Social stigmas come to the lot of those people who defy or break the traditional norms of morality and day to day ethics.

While the religious beliefs may be condoned or occasionally overlooked, the social stigma based on misconduct or immodesty cannot be taken lightly and remain indelible blot on the character or image of the concerned individuals.

A physically deformed person such as a leper may draw more sympathy than a stigma. A rapist, a homosexual, a thief, a liar, a bad tempered or a grumpy person, a miser, a man with a incest backlog, a murderer, and individual with similar human failings and negative leanings, carry forever the disgrace of a social stigma either in their locality or on a broader spectrum depending upon their social leverage.

In human set up such remarks and strictures as “he is a serpent, don’t trust him” or “he is a shylock” or a “backbiter” or a “heathen”, “hypocrite”, “bootlegger”, “homosexual”, “pimp”, a “womanizer”, a “gay”, a “drug addict”, a “cattle lifter” , a “fake saint”, and a “swindler” are common to portray the shady, irksome or repulsive character of a person. These are the abominable social stigmas.

A sensitive person labeled with an untrue stigma based on hearsay or purposely framed for defamation suffers from a nagging guilty conscience and self condemnation. A highly placed person under the gnawing pinch of a stigma either turns socially hostile, recluse or overly obliging and forthcoming.

He tries to please the people in doling out favors by using his authority. He believes under the erroneous belief, that by placating others, the common impression about him would thus be nullified or diluted. But it seldom happens.

The recipients of his favors tend to exploit him or her more and in their private conversations they ridicule and castigate him or her more. The others stigma targets turn thick-skinned and obdurate.

Stigma can be broadly divided into three categories: the personal, the local, and the historical or universal. The kind of stigma that falls under the personal category carries such insinuations as gluttony, jealousy, drunkenness, bad temper, miserliness, loose talking, cynicism, superstition, backbiting, emotional flare-up, foul mouthing.

But more serious stigmas delve on such base attributes as incest, lewdness, financial or moral corruption, un-patriotism, treason, fornication, prostitution, secular or atheistic outlook towards religion and so on.

Some of the personal stigmas also overlap with the local stigma. Yet there are peculiar features of the local stigma that target a culture, a country, a specific cultural or ethnic group, a segment of population or a region.

In Indian and Pakistani context, there are several poltical leaders defamed and rebuked for certain gross misdeeds that will go along with their names as inerasable stigmas and disgrace. Pakistan’s first military dictator Field Marshall Ayub Khan in his waning phase of power was labeled with a nickname that cannot be mentioned for reasons of modesty.

Former, President Pervez Musharraf of Pakistan is demonized as selling Pakistanis for bounty money, if not for killing Baluchi leader Akbar Khan Bugti or storming an Islamic school in Islamabad.

Ziaul Haq another military dictator has gone in history for plotting and engineering legal murder of Prime Minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto and ushering Pakistan into a culture of drugs and Kalashnikovs.

As prime minister of Pakistan, Nawaz Sharif is accused of abetting the storming of the Supreme Court building and manhandling the then chief justice of Pakistan. In India, Rajiv Gandhi would bear the stigma of bribe in the purchase scandal of Bofors Guns.

Narasimha Rao, another Indian prime minister would be remembered for grafts and bribe charges and Indira Gandhi for attacking the Sikh holy shrine in Amritsar besides impostion emergency. President of United States, Richard Nixon, despite his lofty accomplishments, had to disgracefully resign due to his involvement in the Water Gate scandal.

Former American president Bill Clinton’ image remains tarnished due to lewd Monika Lewinsky affair. The Roman emperor Nero is stigmatized for his abhorrent act of playing flute while the eternal city of Rome was burning.

A famous Urdu poet of classical poetry turned a miserable wretch by uttering one sentence that patently denigrated his patron, a famous Nawab and local suzerain of wealthy state in India during the British colonial rule.

Inashullah Khan was the court poet, jester and a personal friend of Nawab Saadat Yar Khan. Nawab was the illegitimate son of one of the concubines of his father.

There was discussion going in the court about a word that connoted multiple meaning one of which was the son of a harlot. The unlucky poet in his exuberance uttered the word that aptly meant the son of a concubine. The Nwab turned the poet out of court, stopped his privileges and the he died in abject misery.

The Mongol hordes are known as the human wolves that devoured millions of human beings and pillaged countless cities. Adolf Hitler is viewed as a monster for massacring 6 million Jews in Europe. Pick up a history book and you will find almost all the luminaries besmirched for some mega or minor lapse or misdeed.

The ethnic stigma is labeled against particular races or nationalities that paint them in ludicrous or clownish colors. The people of Ireland are idiots for those living in England. The residents of England have coined countless funny jokes about the Irish people.

In Pakistan as well in India, Pathans, Punjabis, Sikhs and inhabitants of Rajputana and many other nationalities, races and ethnic entities are stamped with comic fables and amusing jokes.

Universally or historically, there are many figures that have indelible paint of stigma with their names. For instance, the person who betrayed the Muslim heroic ruler Tipu Sultan of Mysore (1750-1799) (India) in the Battle of Seringapatam (1799) against the British colonial army was his prime minister Mir Sadiq, who withdrew half of the army from the battlefield during the raging battle.

Tipu Sultan was killed and his rule came to an end. Mir Sadiq is treated as a contemptible creature and a despicable traitor by the Muslims of India for all time to come.

Mir Jaffar, the commander of the Muslim army of Nawab of Bengal Sirâj-ud-Daulah (1733-1757) has earned the lasting notoriety for his treachery. He withdrew half of the fighting force at the nick of the time in the battle of Plasey (1757) against the British army that resulted in the defeat and death of the Nawab.

The conspiracies of the grand vizier of an Ummyad caliph in 1258 prompted the Mongol warrior Hilaku Khan to attack Baghdad. The barbarian invader burnt and massacred the entire population of this bustling city.

Yazid the son of powerful Ummyad caliph Muawiyah would be cursed and condemned by Shia community for mercilessly killing the family of the prophet including his grandson Hussein, at Karbala near Baghdad in 680 A. D.

It has been observed that many stigmas come out of mere hearsay, social gossiping or misinterpretation of a certain situation, a write up, a speech or an unguarded utterance that can be variously interpreted.

For instance Zulfikar Ali Bhutto’s famous comment during the 1971 crisis, “uthar tum, and ithar hum” has been interpreted by his opponents to divide Pakistan.

Another remark “eliminate him” written by him in one of the files relating to Ahmed Raza Kauri, constituted the evidence for initiating murder case against him that resulted in his death on gallows. Now “eliminate him” can be interpreted in many ways.

Currently, we are not aware or certain if Mr. Asif Zardari in effect is 10 percent or not. But it’s a stigma that goes along with his name both in Pakistan and globally even now when he is the president of Pakistan.

A powerful and prestigious position as the head of the state, instead of erasing or diminishing the onus of stigma, on the contrary, enhances it.

“The higher one goes the steeper one falls” is the adage. That is why the political and prominent figures get a heavy share of rebuke and diatribe than commoners for their follies because they are exposed and their moves and actions lay bare before the people.

President Zardari’s nickname of 10 percent outshines his good parts of personality. For instance he believes and practices the culture of friendship like an article of faith. He is famed for never ditching his friends barring poltical allies or coalition partners. He is fond of glamorous, hilarious and joyful companies.

He laughs heartily, has a knack for fascinating conversations and interjects his conversation with humor and pleasant anecdotes. In a way he is spendthrift too and prodigality is ingrained in his character. But his corruption suppresses the endearing traits of his personality.

Stigma weakens the confidence of a person and renders him docile and an escapist avoiding public places and social congregations. So the lesson is that one must always remain on guard because one slip of tongue or one carelessly or casually done act can ruin his life and turn him or her into a social pariah.

The stigma once created never recedes and instead keeps swelling. That is why sages have cautioned that “think before you speak and watch before you leap.”

Revised version

The writer is a senior journalist and a former diplomat
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