Ranjona Banerji: Sexist media goes ballistic over ‘dehati aurat’ remark

01 Oct,2013

By Ranjona Banerji


What a drama over being called a “dehati aurat” or a village woman. Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi made a speech in Delhi where he claimed that according to media reports, Pakistan prime minister Nawaz Sharif called Indian prime minister Manmohan Singh a “dehati aurat”. Modi was furious at this insult (this is a media column, so we shall ignore the insults that the BJP and Modi have chucked at the prime minister) and ready to go to war with Pakistan over this comment.


Then the “media” involved, as in Barkha Dutt of NDTV and Hamid Mir of Pakistan’s GEO TV jumped into the story. Dutt said that she had been part of that interview with Sharif and he did not call Singh a village woman or any such thing. To murmurings that Sharif told a parable which mentioned village women or things were said off the record which mentioned village women, Dutt was unequivocal – Singh was not insulted.


The role of Hamid Mir was not so clear. First reactions from him seemed to indicate that there was something in what Modi had said or indeed that Mir was the source. After that, Mir appeared to confirm what Dutt was saying.
The end result was just a lot of hot air. But let us assume that Sharif did say what he was accused of saying, for the sake of argument. Modi will play it up in a speech because that is his wont. What is less acceptable is the media reaction. Just because random politicians ratchet up the atmosphere with a bit of sabre-rattling does not mean the sheep who seem to run TV studios have to run behind him. A herd mentality does not have to be a media speciality.


It might have made better sense to first investigate the source of Modi’s accusations, if indeed better sense is an expectation one can seriously have from television.


The media also need not become over-excited to become part of either the political process or a war-mongering effort. Some political parties may want to use them and others will appear to ignore them. The effectiveness of the media is best served by staying aloof and sceptical of everyone. The Dutt-Vir Sanghvi-Niira Radia conversations only remind us of the dangers of thinking that as journalists we are duty bound to start assisting political parties or formations. If you want to do that, quit your job and join a party.
Moreover, young reporters and anchors seem to let their patriotism sway them in the direction of war-mongers without taking a look at the bigger picture. I am not sure how cynicism can be inculcated in a person but when I was starting out it was hammered into us by our seniors. Or it could be that when journalism was a low-paying vocation, only cynics, nutcases and those so inclined ventured towards it. Now that it has become a “career” with prospects, the vocational or passion aspect has dimmed. I have no proof of this, only empirical evidence but still.




As for the village woman remark itself and the reaction to it, the media might have stopped a moment to consider the innate sexism which takes the phrase to be an insult. The fact that being a village woman or more properly an unsophisticated female is a legitimate insult is something which the media needs to reflect on. These sexist postures run deep in Indian society and the media at least needs to jump on them and expose them for what they are.


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One response to “Ranjona Banerji: Sexist media goes ballistic over ‘dehati aurat’ remark”

  1. Guest says:

    The issue really is not the age, gender or place of residence of the person the PM was compared to. The tone, context, allegory were all casual, flippant, disrespectful of a senior statesman who was battling domestic criticism for the meeting to take place at all. Compare this to President Obama’s rare gesture, in the nature of a farewell, of walking the PM to his car. That shows the true class of NS and BO.