Azam Khan’s “Khaki Underwear” Remark Against Jaya Prada is Sexism As Usual For Women Politicians

Politics

Azam Khan’s “Khaki Underwear” Remark Against Jaya Prada is Sexism As Usual For Women Politicians

Illustration: Arati Gujar

W

ith a new election year comes a host of creative new insults that our esteemed representatives lob at each other, in hopes of proving to us that they are the biggest bullies on the playground. Between “chowkidar chor hai” and “pappu pass hogaya”, the competition in the Best Kindergarten Comeback category has been heating up. Today, however, the dubious honour goes to the Samajwadi Party’s enfant terrible from Rampur, Azam Khan.

In fact, Khan could win a lifetime achievement award for the number of times he’s stuck his foot in his mouth. The outspoken MLA has landed himself in hot water yet again for apparently insulting BJP candidate Jaya Prada during an election rally on Sunday. While giving a speech to constituents, Khan alluded to Jaya Prada as someone he had brought into Rampur 17 years ago under the SP, protected from abuse, and who underneath it all had been wearing “khaki underwear” — a reference to the RSS’s famous uniform of khaki shorts.

It seems that Khan’s poetic analogy was meant to illustrate to voters that Jaya Prada had RSS connections all along. After all, she’s now a member of the BJP, having joined up for the 2019 elections, after she faced a tumultuous ousting from the SP back in 2010, allegedly for damaging the party’s secular image. But public outcry has focussed on Khan’s distasteful, misogynistic reference to her underwear — especially since Jaya Prada and Khan have an uncomfortable history. In 2009, shortly before she left the party, Jaya Prada had accused him of distributing nude photos of her.

Khan has “outraged the modesty” of a woman before, most notably when he called our Bharatmata a dayan. He famously accused the Indian Army, en masse, of being sexual predators in 2017. Proving that he’s always been an equal opportunity heckler, Khan referred to PM Modi as a “kutte ke bachche ka bada bhai” following the Muzaffarnagar riots, and, in 2014, claimed that the unfortunate deaths of Sanjay and Rajiv Gandhi were punishments from Allah.

Clearly, the nation would be a better place if Khan took an oath of silence.

Clearly, the nation would be a better place if Khan took an oath of silence. But Jaya Prada is not the first woman politician to face disgusting sexism on the campaign trail. Congress behen Priyanka Gandhi has been treated to a steady stream of comments about her looks and outfits from such venerable BJP politicians as Subramanian Swamy and Vinod Narayan Jha. Smriti Irani, former Minister of Human Resources and perennially the centre of the degree debate, has also been on the receiving end of sexist potshots about her appearance and her marriage.

No wonder then, that women across party lines, from Irani and Foreign Minister Sushma Swaraj to former Delhi CM Sheila Dikshit, have condemned Khan in the strongest terms. Swaraj said his remarks are comparable to the disrobing of Draupadi in the Mahabharata, while Dikshit called for an apology. The National Commission for Women has sent Khan a notice, and asked the Election Commission to take cognisance of his remarks. The BJP has called Khan’s statement “disgusting and embarrassing”, while Congress characterised it as “cheap” and “derogatory”.

As for Jaya Prada, she has stayed true to her thespian roots, demanding of Khan, “Should I die, then you’ll be satisfied?” Well-known beacons of feminism, like the aforementioned Swamy, and Yogi “Empowered Woman is Rakshasa” Adityanath, made statements against the SP. Still, there’s no denying that Khan was out of order, and strong action against him might set a precedent that will keep other politicians in line. Adityanath pointed out that his predecessor Mayawati was conspicuous by her lack of response, and hopefully will face the same impartial judgment when it comes to his own party.

But Khan, slapped with an FIR for his crude statement, has denied he ever suggested Jaya Prada in his speech. In a confusing release to ANI, he said, “I have said that people took time to know [someone’s] real face in reference to a man [who] once said that he brought 150 rifles with him and if he sees Azam, he would have shot him dead. My leaders also did a mistake. Now, it has been revealed that he has an RSS pant on his body. Shorts are worn by men.” However, Khan did not say “shorts”, or even the gender-neutral “chaddi”, but specified “underwear”. His references to protecting someone and not allowing them to be touched serves to make his defence even thinner.

Still, the fact that he never used Jaya Prada’s name is likely to score Khan a few technical points in the case against him. As usual, we’re back to law of the playground, and Khan’s sophomoric rebuttal is the political equivalent of “Am I touching you?” We’re sure to see more strong efforts at sexism, hypocrisy, and all-round ridiculous soundbytes as the elections progress — but it will be hard to beat the crassness of Azam Khan making remarks about Jaya Prada’s underwear.

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