The Alarming Trend Of Casual And Normalised Use Of Sexist Slurs

Using sexist slurs has become so common that uttering these words does not come across as jarring anymore. The problem is deep-rooted and patriarchal.

Sunil Jaglan runs Gaali Bandh Abhiyan to check the usage of sexist slurs.

For the past few weeks, the cream of the crop of Indian wrestling has been eating and sleeping on the road at Jantar Mantar in Delhi. Olympic bronze medallist Sakshi Malik and Bajrang Punia, Commonwealth Games women’s gold medallist Vinesh Phogat, and others have taken to the street to protest against the Wrestling Federation of India (WFI) chief Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh. They have accused Singh and several coaches of the sport’s governing body of sexually harassing female athletes.   

The medal-winning wrestlers who are protesting in the capital hail from Haryana, a state that has over the years produced many sportspersons who have won awards and accolades for the country. Even after so many days, the government has not given them any assurance of justice. And it’s a bit demoralising for 15-year-old Nisha Gadhwal from Kabali village in Hisar, Haryana. A budding basketball player, she aspires to be like the wrestling champions from her home state. 

Gadhwal’s daily routine includes undergoing rigorous training after school, which she looks forward to. However, the one thing that makes her uncomfortable is that sometimes her coaches use sexist slurs to put pressure on players to perform better. 

“Many players, most of whom are teenagers, also end up using the words to express their outrage or failure,” she says. 

Initially, for her, these abuses were mere words that people blurted out under the strong influence of sentiment, but eventually, she grew up to use them too. 

Many sportspersons, including star players across different sports, have been guilty of using abuses to express anger, frustration, or displeasure on the field. Though muted, these moments are sometimes broadcast live. However, abusing and using sexist slurs has become so common in our day-to-day lives that such actions don’t come across as jarring anymore.  

A disturbing trend 

Slurs are usually reduced to words spoken to injure the feelings, irrespective of the gender the words attack. It is, however, not difficult to deduce that most slurs are aimed at female physiques to either mock someone or demean them. 

A disturbing trend has emerged wherein youngsters, often ignorant of the literal connotation of sexist slurs, use these words even during casual chats. They are guilty of phrasing their day-to-day conversations around slurs that may or may not be female-centric.

“I used to abuse a lot,” says Sanju, 15, who hails from Hisar. “When I was in 8th standard, my teacher sat me down and made me understand the meaning of these words.”

Anu, who is Ladwa village in Haryana, says, “People often use sexist slurs without understanding their meaning. When I was in 10th standard, I asked my mother the meanings of these words and then I stopped using them.” 

Priyakshi Jhakar, 25, affirms that it is mostly the males who draw upon sexist slurs to derogate one another. For a country that is overly sensitised about the females in the house, such slurs have only proven to incite worldly exchanges into physical combat. In some extreme cases, they end up in violence and the use of guns. 

“In a confrontational situation, if you can’t say anything positive to lighten the situation, don’t use negative words at least. You only aggravate the situation this way,” says Sonia Dhanda, 22.  

Slurs have thus been attributed as yet another structured strategy to smother the limits of women empowerment. A comment directed at a body not only prompts the guard of a person but also adds to the objectification of their being. 

A trend of casually greeting each other using slurs has been witnessed especially among boys to win over the unspoken hierarchy of position. Slurring also has a sexist dimension and is slanted towards the ‘advantaged’ gender group.

Sanju experiences this routinely as she sees parents in her village overlook the slurred banters of their two sons and the girl gets slapped for uttering the slightest inappropriate word. 

For Gurgaon-based Rishida, 18, the normalisation of a boy being defiant for rules of selective speech springs up all the time. She says, “It’s the ‘woh toh ladka hai, woh toh karega hi’ mentality.”

Creating awareness is key 

Section 504 of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) states that any provocation to a person intending to break peace or commit an offence can be punished with a jail term of two years or a fine or both. This specifies intentional abuses or offensive words as criminal in nature.

Even though the law is in place, creating awareness is key. 

In 2014, Sunil Jaglan launched the Gaali Bandh Abhiyan when he was the Gram Pradhan of Bibipur village in Haryana. The campaign, which began as a response to the casual use of abusive language within his village, was a crusade against the misogyny that goes hand-in-hand with swear words.  

As a father of two daughters, it bothered him that in the panchayat meetings, men would casually use slurs — most shamed women or their anatomy. 

Jaglan adopted a non-violent method of systematically reducing the practice of slurring in houses and schools in Haryana through a simple task of tracking the number of times a person has used abusive words and making a note of them in full public view. 

A committee was formed in the village to monitor the language of the residents. If found guilty, the perpetrators risked social boycott and it could escalate to even police action under Section 294 of the IPC which provides that those found guilty of obscene acts, songs, or words in public could face a prison sentence of up to three months. 


Gradually, Jaglan’s campaign spread to 100 other neighbouring villages in Haryana. 

“It worked. For instance, within a few months, many teachers stopped using slurs and actively took the initiative to be conscious of their language,” says Jaglan.  

There are small victories. Bala, a middle-aged woman from Hisar, proudly narrates the instance when her mother beat a drunken man with a laathi (stick) for incessantly abusing them in front of her house. Calling it ‘pathar ka jawab patthar se’, the two generations may not be educated but they acknowledge and stand up for their rights. 
Patriarchal mindset and Social conditioning 

While many such initiatives have been launched across the country, the problem is deep-rooted. There have been instances of politicians using abusive language on camera.   


“Sometimes, police also abuse. In my village, people have been reporting instances of abuse, but nothing will change unless men and women in authority will learn to behave,” says Jhakar. 

“The society is based on a patriarchal mindset. Even adults use these words like they have no impact. Many laugh upon hearing these words, especially if they are being used in a casual, non-aggressive setting,” says Kumud Sharma, a Bhopal-based social worker. 

She adds, “We often tell our boys that it is their duty to protect girls. This narrows down to solidifying the patriarchal mindset. It gives the male gender a sense of superiority.” 


It perhaps explains why men get away after uttering abusive language, but women don’t.  

The use of abusive language and sexist slurs has got so ingrained in our day-to-day life that often parents, both in urban and rural setups, end up using these words in front of their children. Many times, in aggravated situations, these abuses are used on children.  

“It definitely has a negative impact on them. They start showing signs of emotional and mental issues, so much so that sometimes their physical growth is also affected. They lose self-confidence and experience anxiety and indecisiveness. Some cases lead to clinical depression,” says Shyam Mithiya, a Mumbai-based psychologist.  


When we talk of culture, there is no doubt that a child knowingly or unknowingly would follow what is observed around them. 

“A slur often also becomes so normalised that it eventually loses its literal sense, and everyone picks it,” he adds. 

Easy access to web series 

Another factor that is worth taking into consideration is the easy access to web series on OTT platforms where the use of abusive language and sexist slurs are very common. The onus is on the makers of such web series.   

“People from the entertainment industry are also a part of this society,” says Barnali Ray Shukla, a scriptwriter. “We hear slurs right from the beginning of the day. In public space, there isn’t any regulation. Similarly, when we make a film which reaches out as mass communication, there are some boundaries that are transcended.”


While giving an example, Shukla says that she was an assistant director on the sets of Satya, which was set in the world of gangsters and a certain kind of language was used in the film. “Intent is much more important than content. If such language is used for effect, it is wrong, but if it is used to etch out a character, then there shouldn’t be any problem.” 

Shukla, however, agrees that it’s alarming the kind of language children use today. 

“Probably there are places where censorship saw a lag in the theatrical setting like OTT before,” says Shukla. 
Pravesh Bhardwaj, a filmmaker, says none of us have learnt these slurs from movies. We picked these words in schools, colleges, or on the streets. 


“Scriptwriters have not created this form of language. They are just using it. If the language of the street becomes the language of art, there is a huge sense of liberation. We can tell more stories. But I also realise that these abuses are becoming a formula for entertainment. There should be a certain discipline for using it,” says Bhardwaj.