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Amrita Tripathi
Saturday , March 23, 2013 at 22 : 55

Sexist is as sexist does


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The MLA who told the national kabaddi women's team coach that she should wear appropriate clothes - that is, a sari instead of shirt and pants ("shirt-pant" is really the last domain of the Indian male, according to one school of thought) - should really face some sort of action.

Unfortunately it wasn't him, but the coach Sunil Dabas who reportedly fainted, and needed medical help. This after MLA Rao Dharam Pal told her this in public, though he now claims that he didn't mean to humiliate her, only to tell her, in a paternal sort of way, and through her, spread a good message to the students at a college he was addressing.

It doesn't take a genius to realise that this is really the wrong climate to make idiotic, sexist remarks, disparaging women or women's choice of clothes. In fact, after decades of "putting up with" MCP attitudes, to the extent of near-subservience, there are enough empowered articulate vocal women out there, saying they've had enough. Luckily it's not a fight that women are fighting alone - there are lots of empowered men in India too, let's not forget - but I only wish their numbers would multiply exponentially.

It took the gruesome Delhi gangrape to galvanise people - spectators, most of us, for much of our lives, as an apathetic city drilled into us that we must look away when stared at or cat-called, put up with attempts at molestation on buses or in public, or at least remove ourselves with minimum fuss, and above all, to not provoke anything. A look, a comment, and who knows what beyond. All things we're trying to collectively unlearn, as the aftermath of that horrific case has been the clarion call for change. Enough really is enough.

A lot has been written and said and debate about how we're going to institutionalize this change, how we need to sensitise everyone, our policemen, our young men, our old men, teachers, students, citizens, all need to be sensitized, and also taught that it is important to pitch in, to intervene when something awful is going down, whether it is an attempt at molestation (eve-teasing by any other name), or something as simple and seemingly non-insulting as a sexist remark.

The fact that Rao Dharam Pal is a Congress legislator is neither here nor there, except for the fact that his party and government are pledging to crack down on violence and crimes against women, talking of the need to sensitise the police on how to deal with and address women. And why not politicians then? There have been enough that have had major foot-in-mouth on the issue, in the past few months. The Coal Minister apologized for comparing wives to cricket victories, the President's son was taken to task for his "dented-painted" comment, a CPI-M leader was condemned for his utterly unacceptable comment about what the CM would charge for rape and the list goes on.

How does it really matter what people say, you might ask. Sticks and stones, after all. But it's our words and actions that convey our real attitudes, not our rehearsed speeches, nor our posturing or even PR-polished nuggets. And I'm not even getting into how we're role models for those who are younger. Let's stick to public figures. People in public office have a responsibility far greater than we fully comprehend, in this day and age, when we're inured to pretty much everything. Not just in questionable taste, then, these are statements that validate, these are statements that endorse and propagate cultural mores that are just not okay.

The only cause for cautious optimism? You can't get away with this sort of thing anymore - or at least you can a whole lot less - people are noticing, and will take you to task. The kid gloves are off, politicos.

And it's time to realise, the only way to combat anything as intangible as social attitudes, is to begin at home. Practise what you preach. No more of this damn lip service, please. Women can do - and are better off - without.


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More about Amrita Tripathi

Amrita Tripathi is a news anchor with CNN-IBN, and also doubles up as Health and Books Editor. An MA in Philosophy from St Stephen's College, Delhi University, she has also taught a few undergraduate classes at her alma mater, informally! When she is not tracking health issues, Amrita is busy chasing the literary dream. Her debut novel Broken News was published in 2010. Before joining CNN-IBN, Amrita worked with The Indian Express.

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