The word 'sexy' crept into the Indian lexicon a long time ago, but it continues to create ripples in a society where the conservative goes hand in hand with the modern. Some find it outrageous and derogatory while others say it is important to see how the term is used.
The renewed debate comes after Mamta Sharma, chairperson of the National Commission for Women (NCW), said: "If a group of boys eve-teases you by calling you sexy, you should not get provoked and instead you should take it positively."
Smriti Irani, president of the Bharatiya Janata Party's (BJP) All India Mahila Morcha, finds Sharma's statement irresponsible and derogatory.
"It's extremely unfortunate that a woman of this stature has come up with such a remark. Being the NCW chairperson, it was her duty to talk in a responsible manner. With this statement, she has made a derogatory remark about the entire women's community. It is absolutely outrageous to get comment like this from any man. It is objectionable and disrespectful," Irani told IANS.
Irani feels such remarks will add to crimes. Despite several new initiatives by Delhi Police, the year 2011 saw a significant rise in the number of rape and molestation cases - 568 rape cases were reported last year compared to 507 in the previous year.
Sharma later regretted her remark saying, "If the remarks caused offence to anyone, I apologise and withdraw any mention of it."
Social activist Nafisa Ali agrees with Irani but respects Sharma's apology.
"I think the word 'sexy' is derogatory for women but if Mamta said sorry then I don't have any problem. I think she also highlighted that men should take care of words while talking to women," Ali told IANS.
Actress and anchor Pooja Bedi says what is important is the manner in which such words are used.
"Sexy is an adjective and one that denotes physical beauty. I think the important aspect is not 'what' is said but 'how' it is said. If the eyes rove lecherously and the facial expression is sleazy, then it's pure harassment," Bedi said.
"But someone randomly shouting it or stating it in a complimentary manner is something one can choose to ignore or smile and thank," she said.
In the last few years, filmdom has gone bold and brazen when it comes to the use of slangs. In 1994, a song titled "Sexy, sexy, sexy mujhe log bole", featuring Karisma Kapoor, had to be changed to "Baby, baby, baby..." after the word 'sexy' created an uproar.
So is Bollywood responsible for popularising such words?
Item girl Rakhi Sawant, known for making headlines with her bold statements, said: "Such remarks are perfectly fine as long as they are not from an unknown guy. In fact, there are many girls who are offended when a guy doesn't notice them. I don't think there is anything wrong when someone calls you sexy. After all, you are sexy!"
Pakistani actress Veena Malik says 'sexy' is a beautiful word.
"When men call a girl or woman 'sexy', I feel it's a compliment and every girl should believe that she is hot and sexy. They should not feel bad or offended because it's a beautiful word. I personally feel great when men compliment me with such words. I hear these compliments almost every day. It's so common," she added.
Former Miss India and model Shonal Rawat feels in today's time "when modern girls work so hard on their bodies, compliments like 'sexy' could be termed as a confidence booster."
"Getting such compliments from acquaintances gives a boost to the personality and from strangers too, it is fine unless he harms you."
Perhaps model-actress Sophie Chaudhary hits bull's eye when she says Indian men should first learn how to compliment a woman.
"I don't think there is anything wrong. But there is a way of saying everything and that's something, unfortunately, our Indian men need to learn. There is a way to talk to a girl, complimenting a girl," the 31-year-old actor told IANS.
"Even if they are saying you are looking sexy, it should not be sleazy, it should not be tacky. If it's said genuinely and nicely, then it is definitely a compliment."
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