Actor turned politician Khushbu Sundar is receiving flaks for referring to her former party Congress as "mentally retarded" after she joined BJP. The National Platform for the Rights of the Disabled (NPRD) has filed a police complaint against her for using the term "mentally retarded" in a way that insulted and discriminated against people with disability. Reportedly, Sundar has apologised for using the term. She said, "Apologies...I should not have said that. It was a response to the Congress to what they said about me being non-brainy and thus easily brainwashed by my hubby.”
Sundar further released a statement which read, "I’m terribly sorry for the incorrect use of a couple of phrases in a moment of hastiness, deep distress and anguish. Being a self-made woman, the insinuation that I was being directed and influenced by significant others in my decisions was both objectionable and misogynistic.”
No woman should have tolerated such a sexist comment that undermines her agency and freedom to choose. But her insensitive usage of the term "mentally retarded" that tarnished an important group of the society is unacceptable. Can fight against misogyny come at the cost of a marginalised group's dignity?
Firstly, the Congress party was wrong to undermine Sundar's ability and agency to make her own choice. Or denigrate her decision as mere brainwashing done by her husband. Why did it assume that Sundar is so vulnerable that she can be brainwashed by her husband without questioning the wrong? No doubt, the comment reduced Sundar into a mere puppet in the hands of her husband with no identity and choice of her own. It normalised the idea that the husband, father, brother or other male members of the house get to decide what is right for their women and can rightfully gaslight or force them to accede. That a woman essentially has no say in her personal life, even if she is a powerful politician.
But, on the other hand, we cannot tolerate Sundar's casual and insensitive usage of the term "mentally retarded". In questioning one form of inequality, we cannot encourage or be a part of another discrimination. Using the word "mentally retarded" is a gross undermining of the dignity and equality of people with disability. Don't people with disability have the right to respect and equality? Did she ignore the fact that patriarchy has been oppressing and discriminating people with disability as well? Was it right on her part to be so irresponsible to misuse the word "mentally retarded" especially in a country where mental illness is still a taboo?
However, it isn't just Sundar who deserves to be criticised for using a derogatory terminology. Why isn’t there any complaint or outrage on the misogynist comment made by the party leaders? Political leaders in India have made sexist comments time and again, and gotten away with it, without having to apologise. Why do we turn a blind eye toward this state-sanctioned patriarchy and misogyny? Is it because we have normalised it in our society and no longer find anything problematic with sexist political discourse?
Being a powerful and influential politician, it is certainly important that Khushbu Sundar calls out the misogyny in Indian politics. The mentality that frames women as weak, vulnerable beings with no voice and agency is toxic and long past its shelf life. But her criticism is not inclusive and is marred by ignorance and social stereotypes that we are trying to excavate and fight out every day.
Image Credit: The Indian Express
The views expressed are the author's own.