A party spokesperson makes a sexist remark, but fails to understand it is offensive

[dropcap]I[/dropcap]N the latest illustration of casual sexism that has come to dominate our political discourse, BJP spokesperson and Supreme Court Advocate on Record, Mr. Gaurav Bhatia, while criticising the opposition for being cowardly, decided that the best way to convey that was to compare them to women. Appearing on a news panel on ABP News to discuss the Balakot airstrikes, he advised the Congress representative to wear bangles and petticoats. When the programme anchor called him out for his blatantly sexist remark, he doubled down, failing to understand what part of his comment could possibly have been offensive.

One is reminded almost immediately of an incident exactly six years ago, where his party supremo and current Prime Minister Narendra Modi inadvertently shared with the nation his derogatory views on rural women. At a speech in March 2013, Modi expressed outrage that the Pakistani Prime Minister had referred to the then Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh as a “dehati aurat” or a rural woman. Clearly, the idea of being compared to a woman, or worse, a village woman, is the worst possible insult one can muster in the BJP corridors, where muscular, violent strength (or streanh) reigns supreme.


What exactly is wrong with being an Indian woman


Never mind the irony that the BJP’s own defence minister is a petticoat and bangle wearing woman, the question that is begging to be asked is: what exactly is wrong with being an Indian woman? They run the home, raise the children, walk miles to fetch water and wood, they farm fields, fight to educate their children, they routinely top in academics, they excel in all manner of workplaces, and all the while in the harshest and most adverse conditions. They put up with unimaginable insults, violence, injustice, inequality, danger and hardship in a society that treats them as lesser citizens and do it with grace, humour, love and peace.



The Report on Women and Men in India, 2011 (13th Issue) of the Central Statistics Office, Ministry of Statistics and Programme Implementation, Govt. of India states –

Women work longer hours than men, and carry the major share of household and community work that is unpaid and invisible. According to the pilot Time Use Survey conducted in 18,620 households spread over six selected States, namely, Haryana, Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat, Orissa, Tamil Nadu and Meghalaya during the period June 1998 to July 1999, women spent about 2.1 hours per day on cooking food and about 1.1 hours on cleaning the households and utensils. Men’s participation in these activities was nominal. Taking care of children was one of the major responsibilities of women, as they spent about 3.16 hours per week on these activities as compared to only 0.32 hours by males. Women’s Contribution to Agriculture – whether it is subsistence farming commercial agriculture, when measured in terms of the number of tasks performed and time spent, is greater than men. Most of the work that women do, such as collecting fuel, fodder and water, or growing vegetables and keeping poultry for domestic consumption, goes unrecorded in the census counts.”



Far from cowardly, it should be taken as the ultimate compliment to be compared to a woman, but how can one explain that in times when bloodlust and warmongering are the only acceptable reactions to any provocation, and violence is the only sign of power and strength?

Gaurav Bhatia is a highly educated son of a former Rajya Sabha member, and has been the Advocate General of Uttar Pradesh. He has twice been elected as an office bearer of the Supreme Court Bar Association and has recently applied to be designated as Senior Advocate of the Supreme Court. What does that say about the power of education and worldly exposure in sensitising people to this kind of sexism? Sadly, we have moved towards a society where it is considered okay for women to aspire to be like men, but far from a situation where men can aspire to emulate women.


Anodyne apology


Mr. Bhatia has since then “apologised” on the same channel. His anodyne apology started off by saying it was an idiom, however he felt regret “if his words offended any woman”. Not once did he apologise for resorting to sexist idiom, or express the realisation that even commonly used phrases can be deeply offensive. Not once did he pledge to introspect on his use of sexist language and tropes that he clearly falls back on instinctively in the heat of the moment. In any event, Indian women are well beyond the stage where apology for a statement is sufficient. What is required is an apology for the kind of mentality that allows such a statement to be made.