Rajnath's Singh's joke is not just tasteless but also disturbing
Humour is a mysterious attribute. Some jokes are overwhelmingly funny, while others fall flat on their face. A recent witticism by the Union home minister, Rajnath Singh, has been considered in poor taste by many, although it was greeted with much laughter and applause by his audience. That is not surprising, since Mr Singh was addressing young people of the Bharatiya Janata Party in Hyderabad. He was warning Opposition parties not to team up with the Congress because that would lead to failure in the political field, and the parties would end up crying, “Me too.” In one stroke, Mr Singh reduced the worldwide, and now nationwide, explosion of women’s rage against the misconduct of powerful men into an imagined whine of bitterness and failure, and that, too, in a comment meant to be derisive and contemptuous. The belittling, apparently intended for all parties not of the BJP mind, extended by implication to women complaining against sexual harassment in the workplace. Was the trivialisation intentional? Mr Singh is heading the four-member government panel formed to draw up a plan to prevent such misconduct, seek legal and institutional strengthening of the measures against sexual harassment in the workplace, and ensure implementation of the law already in place. This pious move was probably felt to be necessary after M J Akbar resigned from his minister’s post with numerous harassment accusations pursuing him, but Mr Singh’s comment unfortunately suggests that the BJP’s commitment to gender justice may be somewhat opportunistic. Like the joke itself. In this context, the government’s decision to build up a sex offenders’ register may not be viewed innocently either.
The Bombay actor, Rakhi Sawant, did not seem to be joking. She called a press conference to accuse Tanushree Dutta — to whose accusation of another actor the Indian MeToo explosion is being traced — of having raped her. By painting Ms Dutta as a predatory ‘lesbian’ and claiming that rape is a matter of irredeemable shame, Ms Sawant has failed to be either funny or outrageous. She has, whether intentionally or no, undermined the seriousness of sexual harassment, dramatised homophobia, trivialised rape and made it into a matter of the woman’s shame. Neither Mr Singh nor Ms Sawant can be unaware that their smart digs and posturings may drown genuine demands for justice and attention. Is that what they find funny?