It’s been a month since India rose in protest – against not just the one horrific bus gangrape, but against gender disparity as a whole. Apart from laws and punishment and safety measures, there was a lot of discussion about how we’re part of the problem if we do certain things in our own lives. Serving our sons food before our daughters, letting our sons go out at night but keeping our daughters at home, dancing to Honey Singh’s songs at parties, worshipping Krishna – who molested women and stole their clothes – and Rama – who made his wife take a fire test to prove her fidelity. Cheering Salman and Aamir on in Dabangg and Dil, as their characters stalked and harassed the female lead until she capitulated to their dubious charms. We all agreed that change must begin at home, social mores need a complete overhaul, pop culture needs to be more responsible, we all need to introspect.
So how come the same doesn’t apply to our views on Pakistan’s Foreign Minister? I don’t see any male politician being so mercilessly ripped apart – in the media or in drawing room chatter – because of his clothes, his briefcase, his shoes, his watch. But with Hina Rabbani Khar, it’s always less about what she says or does and more about the Birkin and how it somehow makes her a less capable minister. I remember the same criticisms levelled against her in 2011 when she became Foreign Minister, and I remember wondering why people spent so much time bitching about her appearance when what we should really have been concerned about was the abysmal standards of journalism in our own country.
Even Firstpost, which usually carries fairly balanced and thoughtful articles, has just such a piece today, which can be read here: http://www.firstpost.com/world/why-its-hard-to-get-excited-about-hina-rabbani-khars-peace-offer-591138.html. It’s about why Khar’s proposed peace talks in the wake of ceasefire violations by Pakistan are unlikely to lead to anything concrete. That, of course, is a separate topic, but what’s disturbing is how the writer, devoting the opening paragraphs of the article to her looks and sartorial choices, first calls her “a victim of her own artfully cultivated image”, and then goes on to absolve the media of its role in the propagation of that image by saying it is one she herself has “assiduously fed”, and that her clothes and accessories seem intended to draw attention – effectively saying she asks for it. Not so different from statements by Asaram Bapu, Mohan Bhagwat, and others like them – statements that, rightly, come under such strong attack from all thinking quarters.
Are our memories that short or is it because Khar’s a Pakistani so all bets are off and it’s okay to be nasty about her? Neither thought is particularly comforting.