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”.