By Sanjana Sanghi:
“In the entire country there are more saanvle (dark skinned) men. The women of south are beautiful, their bodies…their skin … we don’t see it here. They know dance,” said Sharad Yadav, President of Janata Dal United, during a session on the Insurance Bill in the Rajya Sabha on March 12.
It definitely is a daunting challenge to make head or tail of that statement. It isn’t a challenge, however, to conclude that it is entirely sexist. To worsen the situation, feeling encouraged by the laughter of his fellow party members after the former mentioned the remark, Yadav added, “Here people are awed by (gori gori) fair skin. Matrimonial ads also ask for fair skinned brides.”
Yadav is of the firm belief that Leslee Udwin was only able to shoot for her much talked about documentary, “India’s Daughter”, because of her white skin. Seemingly unaware of the range of derogatory and misogynistic statements he had made already, he added, “All doors open for fair-skinned women, they get permissions easily.”
A proposed increase in the cap of foreign investment from 26% to 49% is, according to Yadav, solely a result of an affinity towards white skin. This was exemplified through his remarks, “The proposal to raise foreign investment is a symptom of this obsession (with white skin).” We hope that this statement was made by him because he may have thought that such feudal sexist remarks would somehow correlate to the ongoing discussion of the Insurance Bill.
“Your god is dark like Ravi Shankar Prasad, but your matrimonial ads insist on white-skinned brides,” Yadav said this in the presence of Ravi Shankar Prasad, IT and Communications minister. “There was also a dark man — Mahatma Gandhi, who drove the whites out of the country,” retorted Prasad, a much needed remark for restraining Yadav.
As though this was not enough, he also made a comment using the term “parkati auratein” (short haired women) in an attempt to argue against the Women’s Quota Bill.
Reactions of the fellow party men and other politicians
Yadav relentlessly made all sorts of condemning remarks in a Rajya Sabha session, which had a shamelessly low turnout. Mixed reactions were invoked by his absurd comments. The male party MPs had a good laugh, wherein they almost seemed like the amused audience enjoying a stand-up comedy show. The women parliamentarians were, however, dumbstruck.
The misogynistic statements seemed to have reunited the Congress and the BJP as both of them hold the same viewpoint. The Congress spokesperson, Shobha Oza, firmly spoke against these remarks and said, “I would request all the elected representatives in the country to speak about women with dignity and honour and not pass any loose comments about them.”
Brinda Karat of CPI (M) urged Yadav to express regret over his statements, as she believes, “It’s shocking and highly objectionable. These remarks should be expunged and not allowed.”
The Tamil Community of Delhi has also expressed their objection and demanded an apology from Yadav.
Must we brush these appalling incidents aside and give the politicians, who very unhesitatingly make these statements, a break?
Let’s not. Let’s look at the more grave implications of these statements and understand their repercussions. As a staunch supporter of freedom of speech and expression, I was unflinchingly directed towards respecting Sharad Yadav’s right to voicing his opinions, and he is entitled to express those as he is a citizen of this country. However, when a citizen is elected as a representative for the other citizens (more so a leader), his opinions are tantamount to those of the people he is representing.
Further, the insistence that the parliament discussions should not be taken “serious(ly)”, suggested by Yadav, as much as we would like to accept this, we know that this cannot be the case. The Rajya Sabha and Lok Sabha discussions need to be taken seriously because these discussions are necessary for any matter in this nation to move forward. Sexist and condescending remarks cannot be put aside by a casual suggestion that they be taken less seriously.
If this were a friend’s living room, we could definitely consider doing so. However, as much as this particular session of the Rajya Sabha resembled one, with continuous banter, cross talks, and casual conversation making the rounds – the truth remains that it is the Upper House of the Parliament, the Council of States. A space conceptualised by our nation-builders as a sanctorum for peaceful negotiations and formulation of key policies in the interest of the nation.
So where do we stand?
Yadav was urged to express regret over his statements by politicians. It assumed this form, “If his comments have hurt anyone I want to apologise. But, Sharad Yadav only spoke as a father figure.” We await for an apology or expression of remorse from Yadav himself, while these words by his party colleague and JD(U) leader KC Tyagi serve as an apology for now.
We stand at a crossroad, where one path leads us into a whirlpool of several incorrect statements which should be forgotten; and the other, where we take an uncompromising stand that certain statements are an outright overstepping of societal norms, especially when made by a leader, and must never be forgotten.
What’s worse is that similar statements representing the deep rooted feudal and patriarchal mindset of certain members have been made many times before. I’ll leave you with just one of the many –
“New victories and new weddings both have their own importance. As time passes, the joy of the victory fades, just like a wife becomes old and loses her charm as time passes,” said former Union Coal minister Sriprakash Jaiswal, comparing India’s victory over Pakistan in the ICC World Twenty20 match to a woman.