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Last Updated Saturday September 21 2019 07:44 PM IST

A Kerala minister's misogynist remarks expose deep-rooted prejudices

G. Ragesh
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A.K. Balan

Politicians in this country, cutting across regional and ideological lines, are infamous for making slanderous remarks about women whenever they spot an opportunity to do so.

Kerala's minister for welfare of scheduled castes and scheduled tribes probably added his name to the long list of misogynists recently with his brazenly insensitive remarks.

The minister said “he was not responsible” for the pregnancies of tribal women, who conceived during the previous UDF regime.

It was not a conversation that took place behind closed doors.

The minister made the remarks in the state assembly in reply to a question from an opposition legislator regarding the recent infant deaths in Attappady, a backward tribal region in Palakkad district.

"Four (infants) have died (since the LDF came to power). None of the deaths was due to malnutrition. One was an abortion. The woman got pregnant during your period," Balan said looking at the Opposition benches.

"Only the delivery happened in our time. I am not responsible for that," he said with a wry smile.

Was the minister only making light of the situation with his ill-conceived sense of humor?

No one with a sense of the harsh social realities faced by the tribespeople who upholds democratic values can applaud Balan's remarks.

Such remarks deserve condemnation from the highest quarters. Is the chief minister and the assembly speaker listening?

Balan committed two errors. First, he sounded so insensitive when he referred to the deceased infants just by number. Then with his repeated claim of not being responsible for the pregnancies conceived during UDF rule, he insulted the women in reference personally, the tribal communities as a whole and the entire womenfolk.

The minister could have given his explanation, the crux of which was about releasing Rs 3 crore for development of tribals since his government came to power, without resorting to cheap rhetoric.

But, in an obvious show of male chauvinism, which is deep-rooted in society and reflected in all spheres of life, the minister chose to add some comic elements to the session, though only at the cost of the self-esteem of women.

Is Balan the lone culprit? No. He knew pretty well that such a remark would make the House, again male-dominated, laugh out loud. The minister's comments and the ensuing laughter only reflect the mentality of the so-called social servants who make tall claims of women empowerment, but do not understand how women are being subjugated by even their own ego.

They talk of inclusive development, but do not understand the meaning of exclusion.

Our political masters should understand that their own words, deeds and apathy accentuate the exclusion of dalits, tribals, women and sexual minorities.

To go a bit deeper into the discourse, with the very choice of the word "responsibility" Balan underscored the patriarchal notion of man being the owner and woman being the mere carrier of an embryo -- the future citizen.

Governments can always boast of allocation of funds for development of tribals or initiatives for gender equality. But such acts would remain mere bureaucratic exercises unless those at the helm of affairs put their heart into their deeds.

Balan represents the communist party which claims to be the champion of all human rights, and handles the portfolios of development of SC/STs and cultural affairs.

With just one remark, the person, who is otherwise known to be a no-nonsense leader and a prominent dalit face of the CPM, proved his incapability to handle the responsibilities he is vested with.

And with their laughter and apathy, the legislators on the treasury and opposition benches have also proved that they too are novices on the issues of gender rights and inclusive development.

Remember, these were the same people who cried foul against PM Narendra Modi when he infamously compared Kerala to Somalia. But everybody, except a few on social media, are silent now.

It seems we need elections in the near horizon to express outrage. Otherwise, anyone can get away with such insensitive remarks.

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