His image irreparably dented, Abhijit Mukherjee has painted himself into a wretched and abject corner. The apology by the Congress MP and son of President Pranab Mukherjee, however, is hardly going to make amends for his monumental folly. What he said about the women who protested against the brutal gang rape of the 23-year-old in Delhi cannot be explained away with the usual disclaimers — that it was said in jest, that it was taken out of context, or that it was a throwaway remark open to misinterpretation. His shocking comments — describing female protesters as “painted” and “dented” women, suggesting that they hopped fashionably from discotheques to street demonstrations — were in the nature of an extended and deliberate commentary that he offered on not one but two separate occasions. His insincere apology does little to erase the sexist nature of his remarks. In July this year, when Abhijit began lobbying for the Congress ticket for Jangipur — the seat his father vacated — this newspaper counselled in an editorial against treating constituencies as an inheritance. “The Lok Sabha is not for him yet”, we wrote. (“Descent of the Republic, July 25, 2012). The correctness of that assessment has been proved today by Mr. Mukherjee’s own words.
Sadly, Mr. Mukherjee is not the only public figure to be caught nursing regressive and gender discriminatory views in the aftermath of the recent gang rape incident. Another West Bengal politician, Anisur Rahaman of the Communist Party of India (Marxist), put his clumsy foot into his wide open mouth by making a personal and deeply offensive remark against Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee while criticising the limitations of a policy that allegedly does little more than compensate rape victims financially. Earlier this week, Andhra Pradesh Congress president Botcha Satyanarayana dismissed the rape as a “small incident” and said women shouldn’t go out during the late hours. The irony of these backward comments is that a horrific assault which highlighted the failure of the state to ensure the physical security of a citizen is being used by politicians as an excuse to further dominate, control and regulate the lives of women. Once made, these misogynist statements are invariably withdrawn in the face of public outrage but no action is ever taken by senior party leaders against the offending legislators or party men. In a society where crimes against females are rampant, proper legislation and implementation of laws are paramount. But it is also extremely important to change social attitudes towards women. Going by the remarks made over the last few days, we need to start at the very top — with the very people who seek to govern us.