‘Wives and victories lose their charm,’ just like the coal minister who said so
My colleague in the Delhi online newsroom asked me today if I felt offended by coal minister Shriprakash Jaiswal’s comment that “wives and victories lose their charm when they become old.” It’s like the remark that John Huston made to Jack Nicholson in “Chinatown” — “Politicians, ugly buildings and whores all get respectable if they last long enough” — but it’s not funny.
Jaiswal made his comment in Kanpur while talking about the Indian cricket team’s win over Pakistan at the Twenty20 World Cup, and predictably apologized and said that his comments were taken out of context.
As an educated woman with a job and an opinion, the answer is yes: it is offensive because it is the same thing as someone reducing you to a sex object whose utility diminishes with age.
What will this offense matter a day from now or a week from now? Someone powerful says something stupid, other people create a furore, then they protest, then Mr. Thoughtless apologises, and that’s the end of the play.
What if someone sued him instead? How is this kind of slur different than racist remarks? If a player can be kept from the football field because he made racist comments, why can’t a judge ban a politician from speaking in public for a while? He or she is clearly ill-suited for public speaking.
The offensive and reductive phrase is not the only one that exists. There is no dearth of misogynist or sexist phrases in common parlance in India. A common phrase goes “Jar, joru ya jameen, saare fasad ki jad yahi hoti hai” — “wealth, wife and land are the roots of all conflicts”. Here’s another one: “Dhol, gawar, sudra, pashu, nari sakal tadan ke adhikari” — “drums, illiterates, lower castes, animals and women are all fit to be beaten”.
Such phrases are considered an innate part of the language, and it’s hard to get people to think differently after many generations. As far as gender equality is concerned, India is pretty much in the dark ages. There are thousands of cases of sexual violence, wife-beating, eve-teasing (a euphemism for “sexual harassment”), honour killings and so on. Using the same old patriarchal phrases to make a point in the public sphere is not helping anything.
Recently, a high court judge in Karnataka said in court that it was acceptable for a man to beat his wife as long as he took good care of her. Such a remark on a public space, splashed across the media sets a wrong example, meaning if a politician can say this, anyone else can. It just becomes acceptable. The casual use of these phrases and labels objectifies women and gives a sense of entitlement to men, who think it is fine to use such language.
On Twitter, the thinking is different. One person, Shiv Aroor, asked a question that I’d like to echo: what does Jaiswal’s wife of 45 years, Maya Rani, think about his comment?
(Activists from state-run Anganwadi (kindergarten) groups shout slogans during a protest against the government to demand for their basic rights on International Women’s Day in Chandigarh March 8, 2011. Reuters photo: Ajay Verma)