If you have watched Ricky Gervais’ brilliant monologue Humanity, he talks of how he was called out on Twitter for calling former Olympic Athlete Caitlyn Jenner by her original name.
“Someone accused me of dead naming her,” Gervais said. “I didn’t even know what dead naming meant at the time.”
Deadnaming occurs when someone refers to a transgender person by the name they used before they transitioned. This can be intentional or unintentional, which Gervais clearly was. Dead naming can also be described as referring to someone by their ‘birth name’ or ‘given name’.
In India, a type of deadnaming (if you want to use the term for it) is being used by the BJP and Congress against party leaders Yogi Adityanath and Sonia Gandhi. While the Congress is attacking Yogi and calling him by his birth name, the BJP and its supporters are doing the same with Sonia Gandhi.
On a television debate recently, veteran journalist Rajdeep Sardesai questioned one of the panellists for calling Sonia Gandhi by her birth name, but didn’t do the same when another panellist referred to Yogi Adityanath by his birth name.
Sardesai is half right, as are members of the BJP and the Congress. It is wrong to call Sonia Gandhi by her birth name, but at the same time it is also wrong to call the Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister by his birth name as well.
Irrespective of whether you agree with Yogi Adityanath’s policies and his alleged Islamophobia, you can’t take away from the fact that he dropped out of college where he was pursuing a Master’s in Mathematics and left his house. He joined the Gorakhnath Temple in Gorakhpur as a disciple of Mahant Avaidyanath and was anointed as Yogi Adityanath – a name he has made official after dropping his birth name Ajay Singh Bisht.
The same can be said about Sonia Gandhi. She has been questioned about her nationality ever since she entered active politics. The late BJP leader and former external affairs minister Sushma Swaraj even threatened to ‘shave her head, don an white sari, and sleep like a widow’ if Sonia Gandhi became prime minister of India, as it would ‘hurt her sensibilities’.
Social media trolls, too, went on the warpath by referring to Sonia by her birth name, which allegedly is Antonia Maino. While the surname was officially Maino, there are several contrasting reports on whether her birth name is Antonia or Sonia.
It’s not even Sushma or BJP members in Sonia’s case. Sonia’s own party colleagues Sharad Pawar and PA Sangma quit the Congress Party to form the NCP, as they felt that her nationality was a problem should she be elected to power.
Sonia Gandhi has also been Indian for at least half her life; she became a citizen in 1983. So, questioning her nationality and using her birth name to constantly taunt her like television journalists and panellists have done is unfair. However, it is justified in calling her out for her management of UPA-2 and running a dynasty-run party.
While it’s not exactly dead naming them, calling Yogi Adityanath and Sonia Gandhi by their given names rather than the names that they have officially adopted is as bad as dead naming. And instead of employing petty politics over a name, we could criticise them for what they have done – or not done – to better the life in India.