Dear Mr Mukherjee,
Let me start out by admitting that I had to google your last name before I started typing this down. I might never be able to afford one of your sarees, so you are free to write this off as just another urban poor millennial whose rant would remind you of the old adage about sour grapes. I will even concede that I think I am being too hopeful when I write this reply to your open letter. You have sarees to design, and sarees to sell! So, here’s me, writing this letter, simply because I just had to respond to your open letter after I heard about the very last sentence in it.
I was not moved to respond to your comment at Harvard about what kind of Indian women deserve to feel ashamed. I do not even feel the need to add to the voices that have come out on social media to respond to your statements. You may or may not get what feminism stands for. I may or may not wear a saree. On an average day, I might even want to actively oppose what passes for “Indian culture” these days. But all that (to me) seems inconsequential after your three-part open letter.
Frankly, I only brought myself to read all three of your posts on Instagram after someone read out the very last sentence in the third part of your open letter. For your convenience, here’s a verbatim reproduction of the same, “For us, for better or for worse, it will be business as usual.”
That. Those 13 words. To me, that effectively helped you undo all that you sought to achieve from your three-part open letter. I am assuming that your open letter was actually meant to be an apology as you stated at the very beginning when you said you “sincerely apologise for the words that I [sic] used.”
Between that first line and that last line, you waxed eloquent about your hurt sentiments because of the negativity surrounding conversations about the saree. You even touched on very important topics like the issue of women being body-shamed and the gender pay gap. As a law graduate working in the field of human rights, I do appreciate the fact that you feel strongly about these topics – like every decent human being ought to. However, it also reminded me of our Prime Minister’s concluding remarks to the motion of thanks to the President’s speech about how Gandhi wanted a Congress-mukt bharat. It may or may not have been right, but was completely irrelevant to the NDA government’s performance in the past year!
Which brings me to the reason I suffered through all that you had to say in your three-part open letter.
What you said in Harvard was an answer to an impromptu question. We get that. The social media frenzy surrounding that statement did everything from shaming you, teaching you about feminism and choice, pledges to blacklist you, and maybe even a few potshots at how expensive your sarees are. Not everything may seem warranted in light of what you might have intended to convey. We get that too. You turned to your social media team to help you clarify your position. Given the backlash, we understand why you did that.
But please do not underrate the intelligence of one half of the Indian population by ending an apology letter with a statement about how you and your business will remain unfazed by the events that have transpired. It just does not help your case!
Anju Anna John