#Opinion

RJ Malishka-Neeraj Chopra Controversy: We Need To Talk About Hugs

Who is RJ Malishka, RJ Malishka-Neeraj Chopra controversy
RJ Malishka-Neeraj Chopra Controversy: When a popular radio jockey told him that she wanted to give him a “jadu ki jhappi” Olympic gold medalist Neeraj Chopra’s discomfort was palpable, despite the smile on his face. The now viral clip of RJ Malishka and India’s most celebrated athlete at the moment has raised many questions on consent, reverse sexism and male objectification. In addition to all that, for me, this incident is also a reminder of the cultural gap between urban and rural India that needs to be addressed so that such fiascos can be avoided in future. And I will explain with my own experience in this article.

A clip of RJ Malishka interviewing Tokyo Olympics gold medalist Neeraj Chopra is out on social media, in which the host could be heard saying that she wanted to give Chopra a “jadu ki jhappi”. In response, the athlete said that he simply wanted to greet her (namaste) from afar. Soon, yet another video surfaced in which Malishka and some other women working for the same radio channel could be seen putting up a dance performance for Chopra.

Twitter not only lambasted Malishka for her making Chopra feel uncomfortable, but also questioned why was India putting our athletes, exhausted from the Tokyo event through such a painful PR ordeal. Can we not just let them breathe and carry on with their lives?

While this played out, another former RJ pointed out in defence of Malishka, that it is not uncommon for jockeys to put up dance performances or sing songs for their guests. Radio jockeying is not the same as journalism because radio, at least based on the networks that have boomed in India, is a fun-filled space catering to entertainment.

The offer to hug him was indeed cringe-worthy, because it made Chopra uncomfortable. We often forget that athletes like him come from small towns and villages and have had a conservative upbringing.

I know this because being a small town girl I know exactly what it feels like when complete strangers walk towards you with open arms and you are not prepared to reciprocate.

Men and women live very contrasting lives in small towns of our country, with their paths seldom crossing. And despite the wide social media spread, there is still hesitance among those who are shy to interact with the opposite gender or make a public spectacle out of it. For a large part of India, the only relationships that a boy and girl can have is that of a brother and sister or one with romantic connotations. There’s no such thing as heterosexual friendships, or being drinking buddies with the girl from your class in college.

This also means that acts like hugs, kisses on the cheek, going to the movies with a person of the opposite gender comes with a baggage of awkwardness, cluelessness and social scrutiny. People are simply not used to receiving hugs or being fawned over by random strangers, it makes them uncomfortable.

More than a decade of city life and travelling abroad has gradually eased me of my discomfort, but it is not gone completely. I am honestly still amused at how easily people hug and kiss each other when meeting for the first time.

Not defending Malishka, but the problem here isn’t hugging a stranger without a warning, or telling someone you want to do that, instead it is assuming that they will be okay with it. Cultural gap often prevents urban dwellers from seeing how what they think as a benign action could be disturbing for another person. This gap needs to bridged, gradually, patiently. And yes, consent is the where it needs to start.

Another important point being made online is how if the genders were reversed in this situation, the act of suggesting a hug could have come across as invasive and borderline harassment. Both are fair points, indeed us women also need to reassess our gaze at men, especially those we admire and ask ourselves, does any of our behaviour make them uncomfortable. Equality can only be achieved when there is a two way conversation on multiple aspects of every single issue.

So for starters, we need to talk more about hugs, we need to ask, and not say that we want to hug a person. We should also refrain from judging someone if they decline our offer. After all it is not about us or them, it is about bridging that cultural gap.

Views expressed are the author’s own.


Suggested Reading:

RJ Malishka-Neeraj Chopra Interview Shows Objectification Isn’t A Women-Only Issue

Here’s Why Twitter Is Trolling RJ Malishka For Her Neeraj Chopra Interview