Treat minister’s ‘joke’ as sexual harassment

After insulting woman journalist, Vayalar Ravi calls it a ‘joke’. No one’s laughing, sir


Jasleen Kaur | February 15, 2013

Union minister for overseas Indian affairs Vayalar Ravi has claimed that he was joking when he made an offensive remark to a woman journalist in Kerala.

Asked about the Congress party’s stance on Rajya Sabha deputy chairman PJ Kurien, allegedly involved in the Suryanelli rape case in Kerala, Ravi responded, “Do you have anything personal against Kurien? Has something happened between you and him in the past?"

The minister might have subsequently apologised to the journalist concerned but his words reveal a further lack of insensitivity — this being the season of that shortcoming, especially among the political tribe, in the aftermath of the Delhi gangrape case — by calling his remark a “joke”. If a senior politician reacts rudely to a woman — and a journalist to boot; for, let’s admit it, journalists have more voice and media backing than the average person on the street —one can well imagine the plight of common women.

So let us put this in perspective: Ravi’s comment must be treated as sexual harassment, as he shot back deprecatingly to a journalist who was only asking a question that fell within the ambit of her job.

But having said that, I feel the minister cannot be blamed entirely for his comment — he was, perhaps, only reflecting the societal mindset. After all, he cannot be blamed for what he has learnt over the years — his remarks show the insensitivity of the society towards a woman, exactly how women are seen by most Indians.

Sexual discrimination, denigration of women, and justifying violence against women — all this is deeply rooted in the Indian psyche (read Rape: eyes wide open, a man deconstructs the male gaze for more on this). The young women protesting the government’s lack of concern for security in the aftermath of the Delhi gangrape for much of December and January faced similar stonewalling by the politico-religious leadership, President Pranab Mukherjee’s MPs-son Abhijit and religious ‘guru’ Asa Ram Bapu among them.

Vyalar Ravi’s comment should thus be seen as a form of violence — psychological, without being physical — to subjugate a woman.
The question is, why should PJ Kurien not quit his post as deputy chairman of the upper house of Parliament following a charge of rape against him? He can always rejoin if he is proved innocent.

And what’s stopping Congress president Sonia Gandhi from asking him to resign?

Worse, Gandhi even met Kurien on Thursday, though the accused wanted to keep the discussion and deliberation of that meeting “secret” from the media. Asked what had transpired in his conversation with Gandhi, and whether he had been asked to step down, Kurien said: “I will not comment. I will not divulge what was discussed in my meeting with the Congress president. This is not for media.”
But is it all right for the president of the country’s oldest and largest political party to give audience to a rape-accused senior party leader holding an important constitutional post, unless she met him to demand his resignation? And since he has not stepped down in more than 24 hours since, there is little to believe Gandhi asked that of him.

The point is, no amount of fast-track courts can address the crises of rape and other forms of violence against and harassment of women. The solution lies on learning to deal with the source of the problem, to understand its root. What we really need is a law that is equal for everyone — even those in important position.

Rape and crimes against woman exist because of our patriarchal culture, and though a stricter law against such crimes could help to an extent, and fast-track courts can also help to some extent, the most important requirement is to bring in social change — a change in the mindset of people, to make them look at women as equal, and to see rape as a crime against humanity.

While this cannot be a sudden change and would involve education right from the primary school level, zero tolerance for rape, and for those accused of rape, can be a start.




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