Hardik Pandya, a bright star of the Indian men’s cricket team, found himself at the centre of an outrage storm, after an appearance on a TV chat show.
Appearing on 'Koffee with Karan' with his team mate KL Rahul, Pandya spoke about checking out women, having casual sex with them, and talking to his parents about his sexual escapades, including the losing of his virginity. The furore that followed, what was essentially a risqué conversation between Karan Johar and his guests, has left Pandya’s career in tatters. He has been dropped by sponsors. The BCCI has suspended him pending investigation. Reports suggest that the investigation may hamper his selection for the cricket World Cup. And, as the outrage subsides, the question is are we, as a society and institutions, over reacting so much that there is a human cost that is probably too high?
In the last few years we have seen a heightened awareness of women’s rights. The right of women not be ogled at, objectified, or pawed. Society at large has come to realise this – especially men – that these kinds of acts are neither welcomed, nor appreciated. Women may say nothing for the fear of drawing attention to themselves, or exacerbating this kind of behaviour – but it definitely falls under sexual harassment. However, maybe in the pursuit of acceptable behaviour, there is a tendency to publicly vilify men, and some women, who do not fall into the acceptable range of woke behaviour. And, that has implications on their right to the freedom of expression.
In any liberal democracy, we have the right to express ourselves without fear of consequences on our right to be, and our right to livelihood. Hardik Pandya’s comments maybe seen as misogynist by some, and as a welcome addition to talking about sex openly with people – including one’s parents – by others. In either case, the question is did he have the right to say it? Can we actually prevent people from speaking, because they are politically incorrect? How far can we as a society go towards imposing a single view on acceptable conversation, and punish people for what they say?
When we speak about the freedom of expression, and it being curtailed – we usually mean government restrictions on free speech. However, in India most of us are more subject to restrictions caused by hurt sentiments from various parts of the republic, than we are to restrictions imposed by the government. Whether we look at the film
Padmaavat, or the outrage against Perumal Murugan’s book One Part Woman, the objections didn’t come from the state. It came from the fact that the state was unable to stem the tide of hurt sentiments, and those who used it for their own ends. It is this republic of hurt sentiments, that causes people to bay for blood and a human sacrifice that needs to be curbed.
People, of course, have the right to protest those ideas or conversations that they disagree with. But, to stifle all other forms of expression, that don’t resonate with your own doesn’t bode well for the society we live in.
Sexism has to be fought. There are no questions about that. However, in a country where this form of behaviour is the norm, it would be more prudent to train men on appropriate forms of behaviour, breaking them out of their programming; rather than baying for their blood. Pandya’s statements were obnoxious, not criminal. He has not broken any law by saying what he did. At the most he hurt sentiments. And, hurting sentiments can be reprimanded, but not penalised.
It is easy to defend the rights of those you agree with, or views that don’t cause us cognitive dissonance. However, the true test of believing in freedom of expression is standing up for the rights of those whose views you don’t agree with. The punishment that Hardik Pandya has had to face far outweighs anything he has said. And, it is time that organisations such as the BCCI, as well as his sponsors understood that.
Harini Calamur writes on politics, gender and her areas of interest are the intersection of technology, media, and audiences.