By taking on Smriti Irani, Sharad Yadav came across as a real bigot

Senior JD(U) leader is not exactly a babe in the woods.

 |  Miscellany  |  4-minute read |   17-03-2015
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Come to think of it, Sharad Yadav may not have sunk so deep into the ditch he built for himself last week during the Insurance Bill debate. What he said during that discussion was tasteless but could have been overlooked if Yadav had apologised for his choice of words.

Indeed, Yadav’s claim that he was trying to raise a sensitive topic may seem to have some merit at first glance. His remarks included an attack on the Indian craze for light skin: “People see people with white skin and are stunned. Every boy also wants only a fair bride, but he is savla.” Referring to Leslee Udwin, the maker of the documentary India’s Daughter, he said: "She had come to make a film... She saw how the whole nation surrenders to this craze for white skin. Look at the matrimonials. Every man here is looking for gori girls.”

But Yadav’s intentions, which he has been keen to defend, leave a lot to be desired. If he was trying to throw light on an important issue, it didn’t work. For starters, the fact that he raised it in the midst of the insurance debate made the topic entirely redundant. If he were really keen to excoriate the Indian fascination for light skin, he could have requested the Chair to allow him to speak on that topic separately.

But the bigger issue is Yadav’s own, decidedly poor understanding of the issue. As he made his remarks, he adopted a singularly jocular stand, expecting laughter and tittering from the stands (which, to be sure, was duly provided). He found the space to bring up the skin colour and, worse, the bodies of south Indian women. He called Ravi Shankar Prasad “savla” in a curious, if failed, attempt at fellow male ribbing. He didn’t even stop when DMK's Kanimozhi protested his remarks, going on to say: “I am praising feminine beauty. Why do you have an issue with that? Why be so serious?”

This tendency on Yadav’s part to first douse an important issue in mockery and then take umbrage when someone shows him the light was repeated on Monday in Parliament. When Smriti Irani asked Yadav to be careful about his words in future, Yadav stood up and delivered a lecture on how he did not need to be taught respect for women. “Who are you?” he added in good measure, while addressing Irani.

Now Yadav is not exactly a babe in the woods. He has been a member of the Lok Sabha seven times and of the Rajya Sabha, where he is currently member, twice. He is a senior JD(U) leader. Clearly, he believes he has the right to speak up for women’s rights. He may also, as his party took pains to assert, have taken up projects targeted at women in his constituency. But Yadav’s behaviour in Parliament exposed flaws not only in his argumentative style but also his larger world view.

When he questioned Irani’s credentials, he not only sounded peremptory but also tapped into a common Indian tendency to show the woman her place if she dares raise her voice. This was laugh-out-loud ironical because Yadav was purportedly defending himself against the charge of misogyny. One wonders why Yadav did not feel the need to be as bossy with Ravi Shankar Prasad who after all was the one to raise the issue of Yadav’s earlier remarks. Irani came in only later.

There is another element here. Irani is a former model-actor who has consistently spoken of the rights of women even before she became a minister in the Modi cabinet. Nearly everyone knows of her as Tulsi from the blockbuster Kyunki Saas Bhi Kabhi Bahu Thi. One wonders if Irani and other female performers from the visual arts feel out of place in a Parliament that by its nature represents the dominant opinion about women in creative professions. (Remember Sushil Kumar Shinde telling Jaya Bachchan that Assam was not a “filmy issue” during a debate in 2012?)

When a Yadav addresses Irani with “I know who you are,” he not only kills his supposed women-friendliness in one fell swoop but also risks sounding bigoted and, well, unparliamentary.

So what we have here is a situation where a member of Parliament raises an important issue but during a debate that has nothing to do with the issue and in a manner that does not do any service to the cause. When this is pointed out to him, he takes offence at his idea of being women-friendly being pricked so completely that he goes overboard and makes the matter even worse. I am still trying to figure out what he meant by his reference to the Nutan song, “Mera gora rang le le, mohe shyam rang de de.” Was Yadav saying that it’s ok to have skin the colour of “shyam”? Or, was he saying that light skin is better since, as depicted in the song, the lady is willing to let go of it for love?

What exactly were you saying Mr Yadav, please?


Vikram Johri Vikram Johri @vikramjohri

I write for a living. Sometimes the words comfort the heart too.

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