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#RespectWomen: Recalling Abhijit Mukherjee's controversial 'dented and painted' remarks of 2012 on women

Abhijit Mukherjee, a then-Congress MP, described women protesting against the heinous Nirbhaya gangrape case in 2012 as "dented and painting". His own sister Sharmishtha expressed "shock and anguish" over his remarks, after which he apologised.

Aveek Banerjee Edited By: Aveek Banerjee @AveekABanerjee New Delhi Updated on: April 04, 2024 15:04 IST
Abhijit Mukherjee
Former President Pranab Mukherjee's son Abhijit Mukherjee, who is now a member of Trinamool Congress (TMC).

New Delhi: Congress leader Randeep Singh Surjewala on Thursday sparked a major controversy for his apparent "sexist" remarks against Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) MP Hema Malini, saying that the veteran actress "was elected to lick". The objectionable remarks brought strong condemnation from the BJP, which accused the Congress of being misogynistic and abhoring women.

Such controversial remarks against women in the Indian political landscape are not a new phenomenon. The controversy is reminiscent of another row that was sparked by former President Pranab Mukherjee's son Abhijit Mukherjee in 2012 after he made some controversial remarks against women who were protesting against the heinous Nirbhaya gangrape case in December of that year.

What did Abhijit Mukherjee say?

Abhijit, a then-Congress MP, described women protesting against the gangrape of a 23-year-old trainee physiotherapist as "highly dented and painted" as women visited discotheques and then appeared at India Gate to protest the gruesome crime on Christmas Day. "Those who are coming in the name of students in the rallies, sundori, sundori mahila (beautiful women), are highly dented and painted," he told a news channel.

"What's basically happening in Delhi is somewhat like Egypt or elsewhere, where there was something called the Spring Revolution, which has very little connection with ground realities. In India, staging candle-light marches, going to discotheques - we did all this during our student life too, we were students too - I know very well what kind of character students should have," Abhijit further said, adding that it was "fashionable" to attend protest marches at the time.

"I have grave doubts whether they're students because women of that age are generally not students," he added. It is important to mention that the attackers of the 23-year-old student had inserted an iron rod inside her private parts that ripped her intestines apart. The brutality of the crime had sent shockwaves across the nation, leading to widespread protests and a drastic change in the country's rape laws. 

Reaction to Abhijit's remarks

Abhijit's "insensitive" comments sparked a major row, with his own sister Sharmishtha expressing "shock and anguish" at his remarks and apologising on his behalf. "I am quite surprised and disappointed with what my brother said. I apologise on his behalf...I express my utter shock and anguish. I really apologise to every woman, man and every sensitive person in this country," she said.

"Not only as a president's son but as any sensitive man, he should not have made this kind of statement. Forget about being a political leader, it shows a certain degree of insensitivity," she said in New Delhi, adding that even her father would have been embarrassed by his son's remarks on the protesting women.

Current Union Minister and then-chief of BJP's women wing Smriti Irani said it was distressing that the remarks came from the President's son at a "challenging time" for women. The BJP also attacked the Congress for failing to tackle problems and instead attacking peaceful protesters.

"If it is what he has said, it is truly regrettable. I think that is so far away from reality. As a representative of the people, obviously this is an insensitive statement... That is why the suffering is increasing," said BJP leader Kiran Bedi at the time.

Did Abhijit Mukherjee apologise?

After the furore over his remarks, the then-Congress MP withdrew his statements and tendered an unconditional apology. "I withdraw the particular sentence 'dented and painted' women. I have no intention to insult any woman. I apologise to all the people whose sentiments who got hurt because of these sentences and these sentences are withdrawn," he said.

However, women leaders and political activists were not satisfied with his apology. CPI (M) leader Brinda Karat also said that political leaders should not be allowed to get away with a mere apology after making "outrageous and highly condemnable" remarks that demean women and called for a code of conduct for elected representatives. However, Congress took no action against Abhijit for his controversial remarks.

The Nirbhaya gangrape case had made global headlines, led to weeks of protests and also forced India to introduce strict laws for crimes against women. The main accused in the case was found dead inside the jail a few months after the crime. Four others were hanged in March 2020 while a juvenile convict was released after three years - the maximum punishment allowed under the law.

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