Abhijit Mukherjee’s foot-in-mukh moment steals spotlight from rape cases

December 27, 2012

(Any opinions expressed here are those of the author, and not necessarily of Thomson Reuters)

India is angry. India is protesting. Rallies continue in New Delhi after the gang rape of a 23-year-old girl on Dec. 16. The rapes continue too. On Wednesday night, three men reportedly raped a 42-year-old woman and dumped her in South Delhi. There are more cases being reported every day.

The biggest story in India, however, is Abhijit Mukherjee’s comment about the Delhi protests — “These pretty women, dented and painted, who come for protests are not students. I have seen them speak on television, usually women of this age are not students”. He added that students, who go to discotheques, think it is a fashion statement to hold candles and protest.

The West Bengal lawmaker, also the son of President Pranab Mukherjee, apologised for his foot-in-mouth statement, but he has unleashed another wave of scorn from the world’s most vocal democracy. Anchors on a Times Now prime-time show asked what kind of example Mukherjee was setting, and whether withdrawing his comments allows him to “get away” with his remark. Headlines Today called his comments “sexist, obnoxious, patronizing,” and asked viewers to call in to answer the question, “Should Abhijit Mukherjee be sacked for ridiculing women protestors?”

Mukherjee’s statement was something he should have kept to himself. Leaving aside the merit of his words, why is there so much reaction? Are such comments by lawmakers rare? Why are we so sensitive to something that anyone, anywhere in India says? There were similar reactions when Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi called Human Resource Development Minister Shashi Tharoor’s wife a 50-crore-rupee girlfriend. A few days ago, Sanjay Nirupam’s comment about a fellow politician — Till some time ago you were dancing on the TV screens and now you have become a psephologist — freaked people out. And let’s not forget the case of the impromptu “theek hai?” on the part of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh earlier this week. It threatened to become bigger than “mission accomplished.”

Rather than debating Abhijit Mukherjee’s comment and his suitability for public life, what if we spent more time talking about what is happening to India’s women?

In reality, we’re not that shocked. This is not the rarest of rare crimes. It is practically the most common of common. The nation’s anger is frequent and harsh, but it’s not everlasting. In the end, it needs variety, and that is why we can’t sustain it for the problems that really matter.

(You can follow Aditya on Twitter at @adityayk)

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