Kanhaiya Kumar, former Jawaharlal Nehru Students’ Union president and leader of the Communist Party of India, has offended many with his “were you wearing bangles” comment during a debate on national television a few days back.
During a debate on India Today, conducted by journalist Rajdeep Sardesai, Kumar and Bharatiya Janata Party’s Amitabh Sinha were engaged in a heated exchange on the killing of 76 Central force jawans in 2010. On April 6, 2010, 76 Central Reserve Police Force jawans were killed in a Maoist ambush in Dantewada of Chhattisgarh, which is considered one of the most horrific attacks on the paramilitary forces that the country has ever seen.
BJP leader Amitabh Sinha, also a JNU alumnus, alleged that following the death of the jawans, students of the Left students’ union at JNU were celebrating and distributing sweets. Kanhaiya Kumar objected to this allegation, and said that he was enrolled in JNU in 2011 and therefore his participation in the alleged celebration was not possible.
The popular Left students’ leader then went on to ask Sinha what he was doing during that time. “Where were you then? Were you wearing bangles?” Kanhaiya Kumar asked. Wearing of bangles alludes to a commonly used stereotype of women – that is associated with the notion of weakness and inability to act or react due to lack of strength, diffidence or shyness. This deeply problematic notion of womanliness has been criticised often but still finds place in a culture that is influenced by the use and dominance of “male” language. Such “off the cuff” remarks or “slip of tongue” comments indicate how deeply entrenched the patriarchal notions are in the “accepted” language around us.
Social media posts over the past few days indicated that many were offended by Kanhaiya Kumar’s comment. The former JNUSU president has often been viewed by the young and the old alike as a hero and leader aware of and sensitive to gender equality.
According to theatre practitioner and gender rights activist Panchali Kar, “Misogynist slurs are not welcome, no matter how noble the intention. We need sensitised and inclusive argument. Looking at the demography of oppression perpetrated by the fascist state backed by the corporations, we can see that every minority is at the receiving end – be it the poor, so-called lower class & caste, women, gender & sexual minorities. Every community is contributing in its own way to fight tough times, and therefore, ostracising one community while commenting on fascism is just not acceptable”. They run a Facebook page which posted the following:
Many others reflected similar thoughts on social media over the past couple of days. According to Ratnadeep Banerjee, “Kanhaiya, kahe itna gussa hote ho? [why are you so angry?] And secondly “churi” bangle is not a sign of weakness. My mother, my sister, my friends, all Indian females wear bangles. Remember Mr Kanhaiya it is not a sign of weakness”.
Shambhavi Siddhi wrote on her Facebook account: “Kanhaiya Kumar’s debate is sooo gender insensitive…” Not cool at all, the post continues, and questions how he could “bring revolution”.
Some were more “forgiving” though. Another Facebook user Rima Modgil wrote: “… I have heard his opinions on patriarchy, on gender… he has too refined a mind to make such a vulgar statement. The attack on him by some of my favourite pages is exactly the disease that ails the Right… they selectively pick and choose words, phrases to vilify their rivals and we are beginning to do it to our own… If he has indeed said it, let him explain himself. And apologise.”
Panchali Kar added, “What is the problem with bangles, really? Hard working women around the country wear them. Daily labours, domestic workers, those working in mills and factories and brick kilns… In most cases women’s works aren’t documented and accounted, which doesn’t mean they are just non functional because they wear bangles.”
The Bengal Story tried contacting Kanhaiya Kumar for his reaction, but he was not available for comment.
Here is the relevant part of the debate:
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